The latest batch of publications on the progress of Industry 4.0 has think bubbles floating over readers’ heads. One in four German enterprises, says a recent Bitkom study, see their US counterparts ahead of the transformational curve, with themselves right behind. The perceived gap is particularly evident in SMEs with a 100 to 499 headcount. Over half of the companies in this category place themselves at the tail end of the field, while the majority of large industrial organisations consider themselves to be in the vanguard. Just why is that? Is Industry 4.0 really a big players’ prerogative? What will it take for SMEs to get there faster, too?
Industry 4.0 is one of the big opportunities of the digital transformation, and a huge challenge for small and medium-sized enterprises. Unlike the digitalisation of back-office or sales processes, Industry 4.0 is about connecting value-added processes from product creation to product use and operation. The vast majority of enterprises believes that end-to-end digitalisation spells an inevitable need for digital twins of physical objects that share all the essential properties of the actual items.
Ideally, these digital twins will see the light of day before their real-life siblings. A virtual pre-production copy of a given object allows companies to optimise every one of its aspects, including form, function, resilience, durability and, of course, producability. This saves valuable time in decision-making and approval processes and eliminates the need for physical prototyping. Besides huge time gains in development and production, this also makes products more sustainable, with optimisations achievable everywhere from conception to recycling. Plus, a digital twin enables the simulation of service processes and not least the development of all new digital business models.
So, while digital twins are a crucial element in pulling off Industry 4.0, making them takes data, and the right data at that. More than half of the SMEs in Germany, however, say that’s precisely what they don’t have, hindering their ability to develop digital twins and use them at every link of the value creation chain.
Many large enterprises realised before or during the implementation of Industry 4.0 concepts that descriptive product data should comprise the product’s lifecycle in its entirety.
On the other hand, many of our SME customers have indeed been accumulating data that could be used for this purpose for a long time. CAD, CAM, PDM and simulation solutions generate data as users create product and manufacturing information. Why, then, is it that large enterprises are evidently so much more successful when it comes to introducing digital twins? Simply because many of them realised before or during the implementation of Industry 4.0 concepts that descriptive product data should comprise the product’s lifecycle in its entirety.
To achieve this, they use Product Lifecycle Management, or PLM for short. PLM solutions collect the properties of a product across all manufacturing and operating processes in the shape of digital objects, consuming information from connected applications to gradually trace the data and structures needed to build a digital twin that exists within the big picture of things.
Why do most SMEs today not have an end-to-end PLM solution? Large organisations are usually able to spread the cost of PLM software, consulting and related overheads for staff together with ongoing maintenance across a large number of units or solid per-unit revenues. For small and medium-sized companies on the other hand, clearing this first hurdle is simply not a realistic option, and running a PLM solution uneconomical. So how can digital twins become more accessible to SMEs so they can successfully jump start the Industry 4.0 era in their organisation?
In addition to common on-premise PLM solutions, we’re now also seeing fully-fledged PLM solutions available in the cloud that enable organisations to tap into data that already exist in their CAD/CAM systems. Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform offered by the Bechtle Group’s PLM specialists allows our customers to attach their SOLIDWORKS-based CAD/CAM and simulation solutions directly to a cloud-based PLM system.
This effectively eliminates previous entry-level requirements through modular, cloud-based PLM that not only meets the most stringent security requirements but also does away with the need for dedicated on-premise IT infrastructure.
This effectively eliminates previous entry-level requirements through modular, cloud-based PLM that not only meets the most stringent security requirements but also does away with the need for dedicated on-premise IT infrastructure. Any existing and newly generated data are stored and managed in a secure, centralised cloud repository with zero redundancy. A solution like this can be used virtually instantly when needed, making it ideal for SMEs and even start-ups who can take innovative ideas to market much faster while opening the path to new, digitally connected business models.
Even though the majority of Germany’s SMEs believe that they lack the time, budget and data it takes to leverage digital twins, much of this data is in fact readily available. Modern, cloud-based product lifecycle management can help them quickly overcome the challenges associated with effectively integrating their data and also slash the daunting initial investment of time and money. With expert consultation, SMEs are able to quickly expand their existing CAD/CAM/PDM and simulation applications into a seamless end-to-end PLM solution. This is how companies of all shapes and sizes can become pioneers in the digitally connected reality that is Industry 4.0.
The Bechtle Group’s PLM specialists take care of all the needs of customers who wish to digitalise their development and manufacturing processes, including CAD/CAM and PDM, simulation, 3D printing, digital quality assurance, visualisation and documentation, virtual reality, industrial IoT and more. The Bechtle Group delivers dedicated expertise through our specialists DPS Software, Solidline, Coffee and HCV Data in Germany, planetsoftware in Austria, Solid Solutions in Switzerland, and Cadmes in the Netherlands and Belgium.