Digitized industry: 10 action fields

Digitization permeates all business areas. It is a key contribution to consistently aligning business processes with customer needs, quality and efficiency – in short: to achieve operational excellence.

Smart digital operations, the digital development stage of operations excellence includes ten specific fields. The description of the characteristics and the usefulness as well as concrete application examples and trends provide orientation for digital beginners and inspire digital precursors to take further steps.


Digital Sales & Customer

In the age of digitization, many markets are undergoing a fundamental change. In order to keep pace, companies need to realign their business models. This is the only way to continue to grow and remain competitive despite all market changes and disruptions.

It is particularly important in this regard to innovatively expand the traditional portfolio of products and services. In some cases, however, this is not enough. Then it is time to rethink and re-focus your own action on the market. The demand of solving customer problems has priority - not clinging to individual products in their current form. The development of strategic partnerships with other companies, e.g. in the IT sector, and bundle solutions of third party and proprietary goods and services promise an increase in customer benefit and a useful expansion of the core competencies. This is the only way to maintain, optimize and enhance value chains in a digitized industry.

Business Models between Disruption and Evolution

Rethinking and redefining your own activity completely - digitization makes it possible. The focus is no longer on the product but on the provision of services. Using operator models creating value throughout the product lifecycle management, value creation does not end with the sale of a product. Accompanying services throughout the complete product lifecycle are playing an increasingly important role. In addition, big data tools help you to better understand the wishes of the customer and to continually improve your own product on the basis of this information.

If disruptions in the market segment are still off in the future, the company's own offer can also be altered and expanded in an evolutionary way - by adapting it in individual aspects to the new market conditions. This is called digital refinement. One model are "business ecosystems" platform solutions, bringing together different actors of a value chain as a performance-enhancing partner in order to offer extended services. "Smart services" in the form of digital additional services can also be very successful, especially in the niche. Just like in production processes, the value added is digital, horizontal and continuous. A third model is "Mass Customization": It allows to take account of customer-specific demands and requirements for a product within series production. Digital added value is created by industrial companies working more closely together with partners in the IT business. Products can then be distributed as a bundle together with suitable software solutions.

Business Model Development in Detail

In all these processes, it is important that companies deal with the control of complex systems at an early stage. For this purpose, models are required allowing to present aspects of modularization, virtual commissioning or digital systems.

No matter which kind of realignment is chosen: Business models must be focussed and adapted with a view to the needs of the customer. In doing so, it is a good idea to combine classic models such as the SWOT analysis with the canvas model where the building blocks of the business model are shown in a structured way. The GEMINI method can also provide pioneering results. A value proposition, a business model and a value-added system are developed thereby in three levels in a database- and IT-supported form. The market is not viewed from the company's perspective, but externally and neutrally in terms of values. "Think outside the box" is the credo of this approach. It also takes into account that there is not one customer, but different customer groups. A separate approach has to be formulated for each of these groups. These approaches are transformed into offers, market performance and benefit promises are clearly defined. This is followed by the development of added value.

All the processes listed here pursue the aim of preserving proven business models, but transforming them in a profitable way. The end result of successful business model adjustments are profitable, continuous value-added systems.

Identifying and Understanding Customer Desires – Focus on Problem solving

Big data and usage patterns of customers allow to learn more about customer needs. The question of how these needs can best be satisfied is opening up new business areas. But the concentration on products is not all that needs to be done. On the contrary, a pronounced service mentality is required, since entire service areas are increasingly offered in a digitized economy. Value-added services can be provided, for example, in the field of logistics or mobility: Delivery services boom, car sharing has also become firmly established in big cities. Apps create a link between hardware and software and enable customers to be involved in IT and production processes, to be able to take their feedback directly into account.

Platform solutions bundle a variety of offers under one umbrella brand. Various services are thus all given a higher logo. The platform company benefits from any purchase, download or stream. Infrastructure is also increasingly offered as a service solution – this is particularly relevant in the area of telecommunications as well as within the context of cloud services. More and more applications only exist in remote servers, the cloud becomes essential.

In addition to such generalist approaches, the service directly related to the product also plays a role: Even before ordering and producing, the customer can use interfaces to customize their product. Clocked production lines are replaced by highly flexible systems, which can be addressed and controlled via IT platforms. As a result, the product undergoes continuous updates and improvements and is partially able to request and feed them automatically. At the same time, the usage behavior allows conclusions to be drawn on any further need for changes and the benefits the product provides to the customer.

People & Health

Digital working environments offer a variety of ways to support employees. At best, the workplace and the work environment are designed to be stimulating and motivating. One action in this context is to relieve employees of repetitive or physically stressful tasks by automating work steps. If these are done instead by robots or hydraulically driven exo-skeletons, space is created for value-adding, productivity-boosting activities.

Work-oriented Learning and decision-making Support

Digitization is revolutionizing the "training on the job", thus opening up new opportunities for entrepreneurs to address the urgent problem of skills shortage. While the demand for unskilled labour continues to decline, more and more highly qualified specialists are being sought, in particular with digital affinity.

In this situation, assistance systems provide valuable services by simplifying complex decision-making processes through analyzing aggregated data. They actively support users in the evaluation of the situation and decision-making. For example, optical signals from a part picking system ("pick by light") are used to show the employee which parts are needed in the production process. Foreign employees having language barriers will benefit from digitization in the future. Imagine that machine operation or repair no longer takes place only in German but is translated in real time into the heritage language of the employee. A simple task in the future, providing a great benefit.

In addition, data glasses or augmented reality allow to control work steps or to explain them clearly in the display. The data are presented directly to the employees through overlays. Moreover, technical interfaces automatically establish contact with the respective contact persons in case of problems. The specialists no longer have to be on site but can also provide remote support. With assistance in decision-making processes and workflow specifications or possible solutions, even an untrained and inexperienced personnel can be used very efficiently.

Assistance systems adapt without any problems to the level of learning and knowledge of the respective employees. This always ensures the optimal level of support, avoiding an overload or underload.

Ergonomic quantum Leap – the perfect Workplace

Digital technology designs a highly individual workplace. Ambient factors such as volume, light and temperature can be visualized and, thus perceived objectively and comparably. The effects of the work environment are quantifiable and can thus be positively influenced. The direct measurement of pulse or stress values of the employee is also possible to give immediate feedback on how the work affects the health condition.

Physical overload can be avoided, for example, by using an exo-skeleton. It helps to lift heavy things if the work environment does not provide another solution or a load crane is not available.
Moreover, very monotonous work can be relaxed and stimulated by means of gamifaction. Play-type elements such as high scores, rankings, experience points or progress bars are used to create a stimulating challenge.

However different the solution may be in a particular case – the perfect workplace of the future is modular and flexible: It adapts to the employee.

Digital Production

Increasing Value Stream Performance

Quality, cycle and set-up times, employee productivity, machine availability, output: Whatever are the challenges of a production - it is already continuously improving due to the proven principles and methods of lean production. Digitization provides additional methods and tools for further improving efficiency in the value stream.

Dynamic markets and individual customer requirements lead to an increasing diversity of variants. As a result, production workflows and processes become more and more diversified and complex, and the challenges in planning the production are increasing. Digitization of production helps industry to master this growing complexity.

Digitizing the shop floor

Digitization supports further decentralization of decision-making on the shop floor, an important lean principle. Information and recommendations for action are communicated in a more targeted way; the responsible value stream teams act more autonomously and efficiently.

The context-sensitive assistance systems provide an essential building block in the factory of the future. This means the targeted provision of information for the worker or team leader in order to assist him in his activity, to notify him about "events" or to give him recommendations for action. In production, the associated interface, the "Operator Support Interface" can be visualized on touch screens, tablets, smart glasses or even smart watches.

The context-sensitive assistance systems rely on the automation of control circuits and processes. Events in the form of deviations trigger a digital process: a quality problem, a standstill, a defective system. Using smart work instructions, they also allow to increase operational safety during assembly processes and machine setup and operation.

Digital tools further improve the efficiency of shop floor management. All key figures of production can be retrieved immediately and up-to-the-minute. And even more - real-time analytics are used in production to break down aggregated key figures (e.g. OEE) into their drivers and to identify causes or problems.

Flexible, cooperative and integrative production technology

Digitization of production makes it possible to meet the challenges of increasing diversity of variants, wage inflation pressure and cost-effective production of individual products.

Flexible production technology allows a wide range of production as well as quick set-up or rapid conversion for a product change. Standardized, interchangeable modules/systems which can be used as "Plug and Produce", as well as self-adjusting and self-fitting systems allow for the dynamic adaptation of the production processes.

A new era of customer orientation with high profitability has opened up. Mass customization (individual mass production) or process customization (individualized serial production) can be realized through the above mentioned flexible and intelligent production techniques.

Human-machine interaction is another form of digital production. Robots leave their cages and cooperate with the worker in assembly processes. The service robots allow assembly steps to be parallelized and non-ergonomic manual intervention to be replaced.

Cyber Physical Production System

Networking, communication and interaction of all production equipments and components with each other and with humans are the basic elements of Cyber Physical Production Systems (CPPS). All physical objects get their own virtual identity and all production-relevant systems and workflows  can be digitally mapped and simulated. The linking of the real world (equipment, processes, products) with the virtual, information-processing world in real time opens up new possibilities to support production and logistics processes. Production units get "intelligence"; they can communicate with each other and with the operator and can also make recommendations for action or act autonomously. For example,  CPPS-virtual adjustments of the production process are able to simulate if the overall situation changes (in incoming orders, product startup, resource bottlenecks) and provide recommendations for action in real-time.

CPPS requires fundamental changes in production and its environment: IT architecture, communications technology, intelligent production units, data analytics, smart products, to name only a few. It is often advisable to follow an evolutionary Brownfield approach, i.e. to build up and expand digitization on the basis of existing systems.

ERP, APS, MES and IoT – the evolutionary digitization

The product-human-machine networking does not develop its full value until it is integrated into the business processes. ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) with its function blocks remains an inviolable element of digital production, even if these systems have to evolve towards modularity, mobility, big data and modern user interfaces.

As a supplement to the ERP system, APS (Advanced Planning and Scheduling System) and MES (Manufacturing Execution System) systems are used for real-time planning and control of production. APS programs control the entire supply chain and ensure resource balancing according to demand as well as scheduling.

Whereas MES solutions ensure the seamless flow of information between management and automation levels so that throughput can be continuously increased throughout the entire technical order processing.

MES provides close-knit production planning and control, in particular by using operational data in real-time rather than obsolete MRP daily data, accelerated calculation and simulation of demand, deadline and capacity situation, automatic process planning and control as well as coordination of material supply.

Using an IoT interface or a cloud, the objects in the production (equipments, products, transport equipment, ...) and the subsystems are integrated. In networked interaction, the digital production enables the so-called vertical integration (collection of shop floor data, information processing via the control, management and operational level as well as return of the control information to the production facility). The systems integrate all emerging data from production facilities, robots, manual workstations, services and places, provide transparency of product tracking (wall-to-wall) and automatically control the entire material flow.

Finally, digitization of the production process also makes a significant contribution to the improvement of energy efficiency by comprehensively collecting and linking various sources of information: All consumption data (e.g. current, compressed air, illuminants, heat loss zones) are permanently monitored and excessive use of resources can be systematically reduced. In energy-intensive industries, these data, coupled with information on the order network and the energy prices, will increasingly enable energy- and cost-oriented production planning.

Autonomous production

Digital Production facilitates and accelerates decision-making – and will gradually pave the way for autonomous production in the future. Intelligent software solutions ("agents") will be able to directly and autonomously intervene in the processes by means of complex rules and on the basis of various sensor data.

Smart Digital Supply Chain

Intelligent & digital creation of value

Globalized markets provide a wide range of growth potentials for many industries. This is accompanied by a rapidly increasing complexity of value chains. What is more: Additional stakeholders are steadily creating new challenges for supply chain management, and the logistical processes within a production plant or within the immediate production environment are also affected. Result: Reaction and throughput times must be further shortened, stocks reduced and production resources optimized.

Using smart digital supply chain, value chains are continuously optimized and quickly and smoothly adapted to changing requirements. Smart digital supply chain means:

  • Transparent and documented processes across all participating sites
  • Faster capture processes and reduced lead times
  • New possibilities for optimizing non-value-added areas (intra-logistics)
  • Effective risk management of complex logistics systems (internal and external)

Data integration on all levels

The smart digital supply chain transforms data into useful information and knowledge. The essential elements are:

  • Automated information management (Track & Trace, data collection along the value chain including integrated systems from the Internet of Things/IoT, process control via Advanced Analytics)
  • Simplified and optimized planning (scenario-based planning proposals, precise forecasting based on real data, increased planning speed)
  • Supply chain intelligence (event impact analysis and business intelligence aspects including interdependence analysis, country risk analysis and risk combination report)
  • Real time supplier management (transparent processes on supplier side, early warning systems and supplier intelligence for the detection of quality problems, transport or production interruptions, real-time data exchange and mobile apps for escalation management)

Modern information management

In addition to all conventional methods, the smart digital supply chain also provides comprehensive possibilities for continuous optimization of internal business processes. Digital logistics provides the appropriate, comprehensive and precise control of all process components using state-of-the-art technologies (barcode or RFID systems, digital image recognition, auto-ID). Example:

  • Behälter-Management
  • Document management for shipping, receiving and matching
  • Automated information flows (from receiving inspection and storage to return and complaints processing, picking and outgoing inspection)
  • Inventory intelligence (inventory management with inventory records, posting of entry and removal from storage, inventory management including network inventory management in real time, issue management and consideration of in- and outbound inventory transits)
  • Decentralized, automated intra-logistics processes
  • Technology-based picking (robots and image recognition, smart glasses/picking, pick-by-light)
  • Container Management

Logistics on call & by pointing

Smart digital supply chain does not only optimize existing logistics processes; the intelligent, digital supply chain alters the roles of all parties involved and also enables the provision of new services for which traditional logistics systems hardly offer the necessary space. In conjunction with digital factory planning, tools for 3D visualization provide shorter distances in local production facilities. In future, driverless transport systems (FTS) will be available that precisely identify oral instructions or human gestures and immediately translate them into action, with no need to manually change control programs.

Digital Order Management

Paperless and almost at speed of light

Browse online through a virtual product catalogue, pay the desired product immediately per mouse click and then find out the expected delivery date: Today already routine in the B2C sector, it is is still linked with bureaucratic processes, bulging file folders and expensive archives at B2B level. At the same time, hardly any element of digitization offers such high and almost immediately visible efficiency gains as the electronic processing of customer and supplier orders. And, incidentally, digitized order processing also ensures drastic reduction of paper mountains and a minimum of filing burdens.

Commissioning, incoming orders, delivery, service and invoicing - thanks to a completely automated process chain, digital order management shows various effects:

  • Shorter lead times from order to order confirmation
  • Increased performance of all ordering processes
  • Faster response to requests or change requests
  • Cost advantages and increased productivity due to reduced administrative costs

Linking and harmonizing individual steps

Digital Order Management harmonises already existing tools (e.g. ERP systems) into an uniform environment and transforms previously separate – and often still manual – individual steps into automated processes. One focus is the full exploitation of the potentials of EDI solutions: Although "Electronic Data Interchange" is often practised, most existing applications are far beyond their capacities. EDI enables companies to convert data from their own ERP system into standardized e-documents (orders, delivery notes, invoices or product catalogues) and to quickly exchange information with customers and suppliers.

For large-scale customers or for serial supply, Digital Order Management offers targeted solutions for linking the mutual EDI systems so that legally secure business documents are available to all parties as quickly as possible (and paperless). Small or medium-sized customers are integrated via B2B-platforms along the lines of classic online shops, the e-commerce systems used seamlessly integrating into existing IT structures including ERP. Beyond the actual digital order management, the corresponding platforms can also integrate areas such as CRM or product data management, as necessary; resulting in holistic solutions for customer support, which also offer, in addition to order processing, context-related marketing and comprehensive services.

Increased reliability and improved risk management

In the order process, Digital Order Management uses e-procurement and e-invoicing tools to reduce costs and efforts by automating and electronically processing all transactions up to payment. This results in significant efficiency gains in risk management: Delivery dates or potential bottlenecks are automatically and promptly communicated so that production processes can be quickly adapted as required and customers can be promptly informed about any changes. Digital Order Management helps to avoid unplanned interruptions of the supply chain and enhances reliability at all levels of the value chain.

Lower IT costs and strategic benefits

Reduced workload and reduced paper requirements on one hand, Digital Order Management also ensures lower IT costs: Instead of operating and maintaining the necessary software tools on their own systems, a wide range of solutions are already available as software as a service (SaaS) in the cloud. And in addition to individual and bilateral order processes, Digital Order Management will also make a valuable contribution to the company strategy in future: Enriched with information from external sources (social media, news platforms or macroeconomic economic and financial data), big-data analyses early show whether suppliers should be changed due to raw material bottlenecks - or political changes in certain regions result in a change in incoming orders.

Digital Factory Planning

State-of-the-art factory planning means a highly dynamic process which has to be adapted quickly to changing conditions. Accelerated product development with ever shorter product life cycles, a greater variety of variants, each in lower quantities, ongoing variations of regulatory requirements: this is hardly achievable with conventional means for factory planning and also entails high risks in terms of capital expenditure and profitability.

The solution: Digital Factory Planning. Three-dimensionally virtualized, factories of all types and sizes can be comprehensively created and, if necessary, quickly restructured. From the outset, Digital Factory Planning integrates all relevant elements into the planning process – from buildings and production plants, passing by equipment and IT to HR resources control. Digital Factory Planning networks real and virtual worlds, integrates mechatronic components into intelligent systems and facilitates the planning of additional systems.

Digital Factory Planning does what conventional (two-dimensional) planning instruments can hardly offer:

  • Dynamic 3D viewing of complete factories and material flows
  • Quick and easy simulation of conversions or placement of new machines
  • Integration of additive production processes into existing processes ("Rapid Manufacturing", 3D printing)
  • Smooth integration of new automation systems
  • Comprehensive consideration of all effects in individual workplace design

Existing planning worlds – such as building design and building engineering systems, machine and equipment planning or IT networking – are by no means obsolete when using digital factory planning. Thanks to specific CAD interfaces, all elements follow a higher-level system, which automatically adapts the changes made to the current rules. As a result, the effort required to maintain layouts – particularly for smaller system interventions – is also significantly reduced.

Digital Factory Planning also provides the necessary (software) basis for future mechatronic components to be easily added without being connected to a central control system (IoT, Internet of Things) of an existing production facility.

Digital Administration

Digital administration is far more than the paperless administration or paperless factory. Digitizing the administrative processes increases the strength of your organization! Lean business processes promise customer orientation, process and information acceleration, transparency, finally resulting in the reduction of the indirect costs of a company.

In order to change business processes sustainably, a process reengineering and the application of proven Lean methods are required. Complex administrative processes must be "fractionated" into small controllable sub-processes, optimized and subsequently merged. Consistent processes are ensured by avoiding media discontinuities, digitizing the documents, preparing and ensuring the availability of information and the (partial) automation of processes. The transparency through process mining helps not only in design, but also in subsequent process control and when ensuring sustainability.

Paperless management and factory not yet implemented!

Digitization has long since reached all business processes. Nevertheless, companies came to the sobering conclusion that despite the use of ERP, CRM & co, organizations are still far from paperless work. All departments of a company such as purchasing, customer service or production benefit from a changeover to digital administration processes.

As soon as all documents relevant to the business have been digitally processed and entered into the system (document management), they are available to all agents in the company at any time - loss-free and just when they are needed. Documents become information! The information processes in the company are accelerated and, at the same time an even more efficient organization (enterprise information management) is ensured. If a functioning digital administration is successfully established in the company, workflows can be used to organize digitized business processes. The benefits are obvious: Processes are automated, deviations can be detected earlier and corrected more quickly.

Digitization and administration with a system

Electronic document management via document management systems ensures that all incoming documents such as invoices, letters or similar are available in electronic form. Documents in paper form must be processed after receipt. By linking to an individual QR code, e.g. they can be found at any time.

The document files are merged to a central location where they are stored in a folder system, usually sorted by customer or order/transaction. Then, they are available for all departments in the company. For reasons of data security, a backup of the stored data should be available, preferably in the cloud. This also fulfils the legal requirements regarding the minimum storage period of documents.

Enterprise Information Management Systeme (EIM) for processing and availability of information

In order for the data contained in the documents to be used in a simple and automated manner, special software is used for FA, ERP or CRM, extracting this data and transferring them via interfaces to the appropriate software environments. Even this simple, frequently recurring process contributes to the fundamental intention of the EIM: Processes are automated and standardized.

The objective is to filter and network the data in such a way that a maximum of relevant information is available to the respective person in charge, reducing the research effort to a minimum. This results in a significant process improvement. The EIM acts as a virtual organizer in the company which prepares the data and makes it transparent.

Digital processes and workflows – the automation of (partial) processes

When digital processes run continuously throughout the enterprise, this saves time and increases the throughput and exchange of information. The basic prerequisite for this is the avoidance of media discontinuities, always occurring when information has been lost or cannot be found immediately, and digital processing is getting stuck.

This can be avoided on the one hand by means of a sound, professional document and information management and, on the other hand, by IT workflows. In collaboration with the IT department, digital processes are integrated into workflows – fixed, recurring processes are used for work. The workflows can also be designed in such a way that the respective person in charge is informed and reminded if certain milestones or process steps are not completed. In order for the digital workflows to be used optimally, all processes that are still analogously organized have to be reconsidered and developed.

Nor should be forgotten the use of web-based solutions/platforms to improve communication efficiency, knowledge exchange and collaboration. These include Intranet portals and task ticketing systems.

Process mining for conception and assurance of sustainability

In the design phase, flow diagrams are used to visualize and analyse such processes. The software for process mining in digitized environments is a good option: The system recognizes traces of all existing, executed processes, documents and transactions, categorizes and organizes them to visualize then the individual processes and to provide the basis for estimating optimization potentials.

Processes can be mastered by mapping, visualizing and evaluating them. Process Mining results in transparent processes where deviations from the target are immediately recognized. Purchasing and development processes, after-buy or accounting processes can thus be optimally controlled.

Positive effects of digital administration

Important advantages of digital administration are an enormous plus of transparency and availability. Processes can be standardized and automated. Thanks to the changeover to rule-based processes, many companies are now for the first time able to get a comprehensive picture of the individual process steps and the overall process.

Further advantages are the acceleration of processes, extended control and correction options and, in total, significant cost savings. In addition, the digitization of the administration frees up time resources among the employees who are thus able to take on to strategic and conceptual tasks.

Digital PLC Management

The classical product life cycle management faces new challenges in the context of digital transformation and these changes concern both products and production. Digitization opens up the possibility of re-establishing PLM with networked software solutions. But also the products themselves are to be considered increasingly networked: They are closely linked to the environment and the customer through the Internet of Things. It is therefore a good idea to integrate new tasks such as after-sales customer support or the product-related customer service into the digital PLM. The resulting volumes of data are essential for the entire PLM process.

In other words: In the course of the vision of Industry 4.0, the classical PLM has to reinvent itself within a short time. Optimized, feedback-controlled production processes, a collaborative, consistent knowledge database and a production which can be controlled by the customer and adapted to his requests are the result of a successful transformation.

Data management in the digital master

Digital PLM collects data generated by networked products and consolidates and maintains them at a central location. This data management system enables all actors involved in the process to view and share relevant information in one place. Whether development, production or sales – all access the same, consistent set of data. Particularly important in this context is the networking and linking of the data, which are accurately available in the individual areas. It requires a new arrangement, a new handling of the data sets.

PLM architectures

New architectures are required to ensure the optimum use of the collected data. These must not be designed as one large closed system, but must be open, e.g. to allow for joint ventures with partners and suppliers. Data security and protection of intellectual property remain enormously important and are not violated by the new PLM architectures.

Modular design is one of the key features of the new PLM architectures: They consist of different networked subsystems, containing data from all product phases (conception, design, production, after-sales) and making them comparable and usable. In addition, the new architectures are not static. They must be flexibly adaptable to changing process environments in order to keep pace with the speed of digital change.

Digital Engineering

The data collected by digital PLM and centrally stored can help to virtually represent the entire production and life cycle of the products. This ensures that production and development can be fully planned and controlled – even for special scenarios such as bottleneck situations. At the same time, digital PLM enables direct feedback of after-sales data to the production process. In digital engineering, production can interact in real time with the design and development department. Complex decision-making processes in and between the individual areas can be managed in this way. The positive effects of this would be, for example, the optimization of individual process steps or the development of successor products based on user feedback.

All these developments are steps towards the virtual, digital factory: Consistently implemented, digital PLM no longer focuses primarily on material goods and mechanical processes – but also integrates software and electronics development as well as service planning. Digital engineering uses this interdisciplinary approach to ensure smooth processes and work processes, such as rapid prototyping or rapid tooling for the rapid production of prototypes and samples.

Customer- and service-oriented business models

Digital PLM provides data that is used in project planning. However, the data are also relevant for production in order to be able to offer continuous adaptation and further development after the purchase. Mass customization is another possible application. With comparatively little effort, certain design decisions and individualizations can be put into the hands of the customer. For example, he can use a web interface with product configurator to directly intervene in the last steps of the production process and to design it according to his wishes. This also changes the development direction, the rigid top-down principle is broken down in favour of a continuous vertical integration. In the hard competition with other companies, this can be seen as a real added value. At the same time, the costs for adaptations to specific customer requirements are reduced.

Future PLM

Digital PLM has the potential to dramatically increase the added value of the production process. By generating large amounts of data, all production steps as well as the product itself become transparent and measurable. Using the feedback from field operation, the products can be improved or successor models can be developed. Networking allows all areas to work more closely together. In addition, it is possible to access ongoing production processes in real-time. Last but not least, the customer is given the opportunity to tailor products to their needs – Mass customization is financially viable for companies.

IT & Security

Digital production turns IT structures upside down

Digitized production facilities require networked IT solutions that ensure continuous information access across all departments and sites. Rapidly growing data volumes and the ever growing number of application possibilities ("Internet of Things") constantly present new challenges for cybersecurity. This is all the more true for the necessary integrity of complex and intelligent production systems, from the PC workplace in the administration via the control of the machines to the individual elements of the supply chain.

The role of IT as a corporate function is also changing with increasing digitization. Traditionally designed as an "internal service provider", IT structures increasingly form an integral part of strategic planning. In addition to the progress in information technology, IT must also keep an eye on the flexibilization of the working world - which in turn entails additional and new tasks.

IT as mobility enabler

Employees need simple, user-friendly and mobile solutions (apps on smartphones, tablets, and co.) that support their tasks. They transfer their experiences from their private environment into their professional life. IT has to provide mobile applications and hardware to the mobile employee in order to ensure location-independent, continuous business processes. Business applications must therefore be mobile. This applies to both the field service employee who needs mobile access to the CRM and the current order information and to the "digital" maintenance person (also see Digital Maintenance). Last but not least, the management – from management to the team leader – demands to retrieve the management parameters in real time.

There is no limit to IT security

The purely technical handling of large computing power and high storage capacities on the one hand entails an enormous responsibility in the handling of the resulting data on the other hand. The focus is on three "protection targets":

  • Integrity (information must not be changed without notice and without authorization)
  • Confidentiality (access to information only for authorized persons)
  • Availability (authorized persons must be able to access information at any time)

Secure data exchange and management of users and authorisations form the pillars of any security strategy. In addition to data encryption and signature, the authenticity of the communication partner and the source must be ensured in any digital communication relation – user or component. And this is, where Identity and Access Management (IAM) solutions come into play. They allow the identification of users and components as well as management of the growing number of mobile devices in the enterprise. The high number of devices, the use of cloud solutions as well as the shadow IT are the challenges that have to be overcome when designing and implementing IAM solutions.

However, the sensitive data is rarely found on company-owned computer systems; with growing data traffic, more and more enterprises of all types and sizes are transferring their information to decentralized IT infrastructures (cloud storage). Provided that the protection objectives are met, such a solution offers considerable cost advantages (reduction of ongoing investments in IT infrastructure) and, in addition, virtually any scalability of the individually required storage capacity – and of the computing performance, which in conjunction with big data analytics quickly exceeds the limits of the company's capacities.

The use of cloud storage and big data tools also solves one of the biggest IT problems which companies face on their way to digitization: Data of the most diverse types are processed and stored in an unstructured manner in a wide variety of formats; however, for their efficient unification using conventional methods, they require a unified standardization associated with great effort. Big data tools, on the other hand, do not require any preparatory work: The content of carefully structured databases is integrated into the analyses as easily as a "hodgepodge" of different information carriers.

Tailor-made cloud variety

However, one cloud storage differs from the other. Over the past few years, several variants have been developed quickly to efficiently store large amounts of data:

  • Private cloud: New term for the classical form of data storage on their own hardware, but combined with high operating costs and lack of flexibility (scalability).
  • Public cloud: Decentralized data storage, usually provided by large IT providers and used by a wide audience. From a purely physical point of view, sensitive production and company data are usually located at locations far from the company's headquarters – which requires the provider's precise assessment of the protection objectives and compliance with legal regulations on data protection.
  • Virtual private cloud: Multitenant architecture, embedded in the environment of a public cloud but connected with comprehensive precautions for access security by the respective user.
  • Hybrid cloud: Combined use of private and public clouds; sensitive data (e.g. process flows) remain on their own IT infrastructure, less critical information (e.g. product databases) are outsourced to "public" IT environments.

Quantum computer and perfect encryption

Performance and security will continue to be the most important topics of IT & Security. Growing cybercrime will encounter virtually insuperable data encryption procedures. Blockchain technology which is used today mainly for financial transactions and is also opening up to other fields of application is considered as a milestone. With processes at sub-atomic levels, quantum computers will reach computing speeds that exceed even the most powerful systems of the present. And, providing the "Industrial Data Space", research and business are already building a virtual data space where information of whatever kind can be exchanged smoothly on the basis of high security standards.

Big data and data base structure

Digitization of the industry will inevitably lead to an immense amount of data. We speak of big data if two conditions are met: Data volume and data structure. The data volume must push the conventional computer systems to their technical and economic limits. The problem is not only the quantity but also the structure. Different data formats and non-tabular structures can not be processed for common BI systems. Already today, text files in the company contain high volumes of unstructured data that cannot be used. The linking of data from different sources offers a high potential for the future. In-memory technology and new types of databases are the core elements.

Big data analysis is the acquisition, storage, analysis and visualization of giga quantities of unstructured data with the objective of recognizing patterns and generating "intelligence" for the company. Big data analysis represents one of the hottest trends in the business intelligence software industry.

Digital Maintenance & Service

Appropriate maintenance puts an end to standstills

Whether regular maintenance or sudden failure: If production facilities are not available for technical reasons, process sequences quickly come to an standstill – and thus the efficiency of the concerned stage of the value chain is reduced. Small causes can quickly lead to major disruptions, including the interruption of complex and often global supply chains.

Many plant manufacturers continue to link their warranty with the adherence to specified maintenance intervals so that necessary downtimes can be scheduled at an early stage. However, operators increasingly favour solutions "as required" rather than "as specified". Smart digital maintenance creates the necessary conditions. Thanks to new intelligent and digital approaches, the necessary shutdowns and the related consequences are reduced to a minimum, providing positive effects on the entire value-added system.

Smart digital maintenance with the predictive maintenance approach therefore allows optimization in three directions at the same time: First, machine availability can be increased and higher utilization can be achieved by reducing unplanned downtime and providing appropriate maintenance. Second,  the direct maintenance costs can also be reduced: The potential of wear parts is fully utilized; maintenance is only carried out when really necessary; the improved scheduling of maintenance personnel and assistance systems allows to reduce the personnel costs; the improved prediction which spare parts are required at which place allows to reduce the spare parts stocks throughout the production network when using a comprehensive approach. Third, the maintenance measures can be scheduled so that it is ideal from a production planning or control point of view, thus minimizing output losses.

Data analysis provides optimum maintenance time

Smart digital maintenance focuses on comprehensive condition monitoring of the entire production plant: Sensors and innovative test devices deliver continuously and in real time all relevant data (such as vibration or temperature values) which are automatically processed using up-to-date tools such as Big Data Analytics. Taking into account the respective machine condition (type, operating time and failure history), the data analysis provides concrete information on the optimum time for the required maintenance or repair work.

In this way, not only high levels of utilisation of the entire production group are achieved; in addition, networking of smart digital maintenance with the respective production plans ensures the proactive utilisation planning of maintenance. Last but not least, digital intelligent maintenance is also predictive: Through the continuous collection of system conditions, smart digital maintenance can detect emerging problems at an early stage so that unscheduled failures do not occur at all.

Data glasses replace manual collections

Smart digital maintenance uses a wide range of data sources and is based on intelligent knowledge and assistance systems. This also changes the working method of the maintenance personnel: Instead of paper, maintenance personnel receive their orders directly and without time loss via mobile devices like tablet, smartphone or laptop. Specific application programs provide comprehensive information on the specific maintenance or repair situation as well as technical support. In future, the maintenance personnel can do without comprehensive manuals on site; already today, the complete knowledge can be made available using compact Augmented Reality Glasses: Solution proposals and recommendations for action, 3 D-views of plants and components, circuit diagrams. Virtual reality allows you to teach the staff without stopping the system.

Self-learning machines support maintenance personnel

Man-machine interaction and communication will play a fundamental role for smart digital maintenance of the future. Machine learning stands for the generation of knowledge from experience. The plants "learn" from their defects and, in a production network with similar systems, they can provide the knowledge which measures are to be used to repair a certain failure. Through an MMI interface (man-machine interaction), the machine provides recommendations for action to the operator or the maintenance person.

Modern machines and systems are already equipped with sensors by the manufacturers to provide the necessary data base for smart digital maintenance. However, smart digital maintenance also involves the transformation of the maintenance and repair sector as a whole: Digital and networked in real-time with a production facility, manufacturers and external service providers can be more closely involved in condition monitoring, while their own maintenance personnel can use data analysis to drive the further development of production technology forward. Augmented Reality solutions will allow machine operators to perform more maintenance and repair work themselves, TPM in totally new dimensions! Rarely needed replacement parts will no longer require expensive storage areas – if necessary, additional processes (e.g. high-performance 3D printers) will always be available for replacement at any time. The additive processes provide more options for the implementation of the maintenance strategies.

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