By Kristina Urquhart
By Kristina Urquhart
September 10, 2019 – In an increasingly complex manufacturing environment, companies must pursue continuous improvement in operations in order to stay competitive.
That was the main message at a media and research analyst conference hosted by Siemens last week in Brooklyn, New York, where the company discussed manufacturing trends and made several announcements (of note: its PLM Software business has become Siemens Digital Industries Software, and it has a new product portfolio named Xcelerator. More on these two announcements below).
“What I sense today is a little bit of anxiety,” Don Kurelich, VP strategic products for Siemens Digital Industries Software, told the crowd. “People are looking at the way forward and what they have been doing for years may not cut it anymore. They’ve been known as quality manufacturers, but now they have to become innovators.”
According to the Siemens experts, continuous improvement – while not a new concept in manufacturing – may actually be more important than ever. And it can’t happen without digital transformation.
But there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to embracing and maintaining Industry 4.0 practices. “Customers want to learn how to implement Industry 4.0 now,” said Alastair Orchard, vice-president digital enterprise for Siemens Digital Industries Software. “But the line drawn has to be continuous – it needs to be a journey that doesn’t have them falling off the edge or making bad investments.”
Redefining ‘digital twin’
Product lifecycle management (PLM) providers have been using the concept of the digital twin – a virtual representation of a physical asset – for a while now. But the term doesn’t only apply to product design and asset management.
In order to streamline operations and maximize efficiencies, digital twins should be applied throughout the entire manufacturing process, from early validation of a product’s design to the production system itself. Modelling the production system can help engineers and operators identify bottlenecks, reduce delays and minimize inventory and investment costs.
“Most of our customers are struggling with complexity,” Tony Hemmelgarn, CEO of Siemens Digital Industries Software, said. “The digital twin is not an option in a complex world. It’s a necessity.”
In one case study highlighting a digital twin on the design engineering side, Siemens worked with printing giant HP to reduce the amount of heat produced in an additive manufacturing application and to optimize material throughput. Using a generative design model of the printer’s cooling system, the team was able to improve the print head flow rate by 22 per cent and achieve a 15 per cent increase in its speed.
In another case – this time on the production system side – Electrolux, a home appliance manufacturer, worked with Siemens to model its plants as “digital factories” that could simulate production processes. Using the digital models, Electrolux can now virtually solve all manufacturing issues before they happen. The move increased productivity by 40 per cent, resulted in 30 per cent faster-to-market time for products, and saved $2 million in production costs.
“The digital twin of production is a living organ,” said Zvi Feuer, SVP of manufacturing engineering of Siemens Digital Industries Software. “If you don’t update it continuously, you are losing a lot of your capability to use it down the line – whether to increase productivity or capacity.”
Focusing on flexibility and personalization
Siemens is seeing continued growth in its cloud solutions business but takes a pragmatic approach to the varying needs of its consumers, 40 per cent of which are SMEs. “We’ll take you to the cloud when you are ready to go to the cloud,” Hemmelgarn said. “We’re not going to force you.”
This echoes the company’s move to more adaptable, personalized options for manufacturers, who require more flexibility in an era of custom manufacturing and lot size one.
Don Kurelich, VP operations, predicted the demand for on-premise equipment would shift in coming years. “The industry, I believe, is adapting to change. They are looking to combat complexity,” he said. While manufacturing clients have traditionally wanted all of their machinery permanently on site, “we’re trying to show people that they don’t need that.”
Kurelich noted a marked increase in the demand for managed services, such as software-as-a-service or robots-as-a-service, which can reduce maintenance costs and allow manufacturers to ensure their equipment is up to date. Moving customers away from over-customizing equipment allows them to scale easier, and be adaptable to market fluctuations.
A new name
In light of these new flexible solutions that span the manufacturing process, Brenda Discher, senior vice-president strategy and marketing for Siemens Digital Industries Software, opened the conference with the announcement that the Siemens PLM Software business is now officially called Siemens Digital Industries Software.
While PLM remains a core offering, the name now reflects the fact that the company’s digitalization solutions portfolio expands across the entire manufacturing chain, from product design to final production.
Digital Industries, the parent to the software business, is a $4-billion unit inside Siemens that covers process, hybrid and discrete industries.
A revamped product portfolio
In addition to the new name for the software business, Hemmelgarn announced Xcelerator as the new industrial enterprise software portfolio. Xcelerator brings together the existing engineering and operational portions of the Siemens business, enabling validation of products during design, manufacturing and use through the creation of digital twins.
Xcelerator refers to the suite of software products that includes NX, Teamcenter, Mentor Graphics, Siemens Opcenter, etc. The portfolio also rolls in Mendix, an open development platform that allows manufacturers to build mobile applications, and Mindsphere, the company’s Internet of Things (IoT) solution.
Mendix, which Siemens acquired last year, is “low-code” or “no-code,” meaning that a user needs little to no developer experience to create a customized app to monitor the performance of their assets. As an open platform, Mendix can be positioned on top of existing technological infrastructure, no matter the vendor. The platform collects data from any edge device, and then distils the data into widgets on mobile apps.
These widgets might include operational metrics chosen by the user, such as temperature, belt speed or airflow. The user can also access the bill of materials, CAD drawing and service history of the machine, all within the app interface.
If the user has employed other solutions in the Xcelerator portfolio such as ERP, CRM or Teamcenter, the insights collected in the Mendix-built app can then be fed back to the design and manufacturing departments using the managed or private clouds. It’s all in service of the continuous improvement loop.
“The bottleneck is not just in technology, it’s in the quality of the data,” said Derek Roos, CEO of Mendix. “Manufacturers don’t know what they want until they see it. We give them the tools.”