Weaving the New Economy from Digital Thread

Siemens Digital Thread

The digital thread is a foundation for the new economy. Siemens has a comprehensive portfolio of software to support the vision of Industry 4.0. Here, Dr. Jan Mrosik, CEO of the Digital Factory Division, articulates the vision.

What if the new economy is already here? Some manufacturers have fully embraced the digital thread and are delivering fast, high-quality, cost-effective personalized products. As they set new expectations for customer time and value, they are also re-defining how the economy works.

For these companies, Industry 4.0 is not decades away. They are designing and making smart products, leveraging IoT, 3D printing and additive manufacturing, augmented reality, generative design, artificial intelligence, and the cloud.

They are creating a smart value network and learning as the go. They are weaving a new economy right now today – and it’s strong fabric.

This was my big take-away from the 2017 Siemens PLM Software Industry Analyst Conference. The vision of Industry 4.0 and a future economy is here already today. Siemens customers told their stories, from the largest in the world to tiny start-ups. They are working with the digital thread that runs from concept to production to use in the field. These manufacturers are weaving a new competitive landscape.

Breadth and Depth

Siemens talks in a very conservative and pragmatic way, but yet they are bold in pointing out that the breadth of their product portfolio is unmatched.  Their manufacturing domain expertise is also extraordinary, as this software group sits in a digital factory division that is a leader in products and services for production process automation.

In the production area, Siemens can not only simulate but commission and test plants and automation. They are starting to automatically generate pre-tested PLC code. They demonstrated augmented reality for work instructions, and are experimenting with blockchain for product genealogy and tracking.

The acquisition of Mentor Graphics greatly strengthens Siemens software in every industry that’s making smart products…. which is nearly every industry! Like Siemens, Mentor has design, simulation, and production software. This brings Siemens in as a serious software competitor in semiconductor  and strengthens it further in defense, automotive, and electronics.

Triple Digital Twin

One element the conference emphasized is that Siemens is the only company to offer three digital twins: the product twin, the production twin, and the performance twin. Together these deliver a comprehensive virtual view of the physical.

Enabling virtual design, simulation, testing, and verification of a product is well proven. Combining it with the digital twin of production enhances design for manufacturing and design for quality. The many factors that interoperate in a real production environment can be incorporated into this production digital twin. This holds in additive manufacturing, traditional, and mixed environments.

Feedback from field performance into both production and process digital twins really closes the loop. Further simulating performance for products out in the field is critical as the manufacturer’s value proposition increasingly moves from the products to value-added services.

Digital twins are like weaving a fabric from two threads rather than just one. It makes it sturdier, stronger, more substantial and reliable. The virtual and real aspects of each twin feed and support each other throughout the product lifecycle and the value chain.

Cloud-based IoT and Analytics

I see one more major aspect – and that is the MindSphere cloud-based open IoT platform. There are other IoT platforms, and it’s not yet clear how they will all play out for market position. Siemens seems to be serious about having MindSphere be an open platform, which will be the key to its success.

Siemens’ many divisions and partners are developing more apps that leverage the vast data from the three digital twins, and beyond. Note that what was Omneo has become tje Product Performance app resting on MindSphere. These distributed big data capabilities are critical to full leverage of the applications in Siemens’ vast portfolio.

Continuing with the weaving analogy – MindSphere is like a strong second foundational thread (called the warp in weaving). (Second thread because the Teamcenter PLM has long been the first.) The MindSphere and Teamcenter platforms together help ensure those digital twins talk to each other and are continuously updated between virtual and real. This makes the digital thread more than a historical record – but rather the real-time lifeblood.

Does this single-vendor approach have its downsides? Of course. Even with openness. Yet, it’s clear Siemens and its customers are weaving a strong fabric for the new economy.

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