Product data backbone

The Product Data Backbone is the basis on which data and documents from all departments and systems are brought together. The overarching PLM approach is therefore to integrate all IT systems relevant to the product lifecycle (ERP, CAD, and PDM/PLM) in the company and to create a central information base. This lays the foundation for uninterrupted digital processing of information. In the PLM system, product data and documents flow together in digital form and are linked to one another. All areas are considered coherently across the entire product lifecycle. Dependencies during changes can be controlled and direct and functional connections become visible. The Product Data Backbone becomes the backbone of all product-relevant digital information. It represents the necessary prerequisite for technical companies to carry out digitalization and to establish consistent digital processes in product development and product management .

Digital platform

Source of information for the entire product lifecycle

Similar to the backbone of a human being, the Product Data Backbone supplies the individual departments and locations of a company with information from the product lifecycle via a digital platform permanently and without media disruptions. It is important that all information relevant to product development and product management is digitally related and dependencies are displayed. This is the only way to initiate processes digitally. For example, the designer can be informed about a failed test of the assembly he created, or the technical editor can be informed about the need to change the documentation by changing a component.

The people involved in the work process do not have to collect their documents from multiple sources, but are automatically provided with complete and valid information via the relationship information of the Product Data Backbone.

With PDM/PLM software for product lifecycle management, a product data backbone can be built in the company. CAD (e.g. AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, Creo, Solid Edge or Solidworks) and product data management system ( PDM system ) together with a technical document management system (DMS tec ) form a consistently digital platform that is designed for cross-company collaboration and is called a PDM/ PLM system. System is used company-wide.

Product creation and product management

The step towards 'Digital Product Engineering'

Product creation is the start of the product’s life cycle – regardless of whether it is pumps, motors, components of a special machine or a complete large-scale technical system. The everyday life of many technical companies involves adapting and expanding existing and proven basic components of a product to the specific requirements of the customer. The important thing here is to use templates that have already been created elsewhere. In order to improve the processes in product development, the interaction between the disciplines of mechanics, electrical engineering, electronics and software development must, among other things, be optimized. What is needed is consistent relational knowledge of the existing information, represented in the large amount of information that arises around the product and in adjacent administrative areas, and their context. This is a first step towards ‘Digital Product Engineering’.

The service in the company is increasingly becoming part of the product itself. The more individual products become, the more important it is that the manufacturer has all information and documents about their products at their fingertips. Today we talk about digital product management and the digital information twin. PDM/PLM and DMS tec solutions bring this information together, structure it and represent it via technical structures such as a system structure and the assemblies and parts installed in it. If a motor is installed multiple times in one system or several systems, the performance description linked to the motor is also linked to the motors installed in the systems.

Digital information context

Only if mechanics, electronics and software development also talk to each other

Employees in the commercial sector are ahead in the manufacturing industry – at least when it comes to holistic work in the software solutions available to them. In your ERP system you access information about all components from a central location, be it mechanical, electronic or software components. You can create a relationship between the components at any time.

However, it is precisely this reference that is missing in design/development, at least where no PDM/ PLM system is yet in use. The reason: All information is in different systems, M-CAD, E-CAD designers and software developers largely manage their information themselves. However, if mechanics, electronics and software development do not speak to each other, no digital products are created. That’s why a digital information connection is necessary.

For example, if the developer in electronics design decides that a circuit board needs to be five centimeters wider, the mechanical designer should automatically be informed about this in order to adapt the housing. Engineering departments design complex products, but usually never find out how the product will later arrive at the customer and whether it will work as planned. There is hardly any feedback and it rarely reaches the designers or product managers. The service usually resolves faults individually and ad hoc.

The lack of reference prevents the information from flowing back

This dialogue is missing if everyone only works in “their” system and makes such changes there. There is no return flow and there is no plan how to assign complaints to the relevant parts and establish a reference (so that the complaint can be evaluated correctly). It is precisely this return flow that is extremely important so that possible design errors can be corrected as quickly as possible. For example, components that are installed too tightly together cause the capacitor to regularly get too hot. Or a part that repeatedly fails and therefore needs to be designed differently from the ground up.

Another consequence of a lack of agreement is unnecessary duplication of developments. They often happen when responsibilities are not clearly defined, typically for parts that can be assigned to several trades based on their function. This results in problems in work preparation, in which a decision must later be made as to which part should be used. Questions and subsequent coordination delay the production process. If the error goes unnoticed, in the worst case, production will be duplicated or incorrect.

In addition to versioning parts of a machine, it is becoming increasingly important to also connect them to the versions of the machine software. But that is often not the case today – which is because software has so far played a relatively small part in the design. Due to digitalization in technical companies, this is already increasing sharply; The proportions of a product’s value proposition are shifting more and more towards software. Compared to the model from ten years ago, a machine delivered today often runs with completely new software that has little in common with the one from back then. The system manufacturer must therefore know which machine, delivered when, contains which software – otherwise he can hardly carry out maintenance. He also cannot simply install the latest version on top of an old software version.

A manufacturing company should know which components of its products are more likely to fail than others. It should be able to evaluate how components can be easily repaired and replaced and how development and product management can prevent defects. Anyone who submits this information to the responsible authority in a timely manner can plan their service correctly and thereby gain a competitive advantage. The aim should be to set up strategic maintenance management in which the relevant part is replaced in advance in all machines used by the customer – before it is too late. In this way, the manufacturer adheres to its service level agreements and minimizes warranty cases.

Digital Thread

Digital Thread combines ongoing operations with development

Complaints can be avoided and product quality increased by establishing a relationship between construction parts and complaints. A digital thread connects information from ongoing operations with development and in this way enables the articles/parts to be evaluated. A product data backbone is urgently needed in order to be able to relate complaints to the relevant part. So it’s not just about the relationship with the customer (which takes place in the CRM system), because this only helps support. The designer also needs to know immediately if complaints are increasing for a particular part so that the error can be immediately taken into account in development and production documents. If he doesn’t find out, he installs the same part again against his better judgment. For service, this means carrying out the same repair over and over again.

In a PDM/PLM software, a relationship should be established between construction parts and purchased parts to the ERP system – in the event that purchased parts are prone to failure and need to be replaced frequently. Naturally, these do not appear in the construction; Nevertheless, designers should be aware of possible quality problems. Because then they can design a suitable replacement part or suggest purchasing another part. Therefore, the PDM/ PLM system needs a bidirectional interface to the ERP system. It enables the mutual flow of information and the creation of the desired connections.

So that services can be evaluated for each item, it is advisable to establish a controlled change or improvement process in the company. This measure – in conjunction with the establishment of relationships between construction parts, purchased parts and complaints – becomes a digital thread in the company. This digital thread connects information from ongoing operations with development. Adhering to the digital path quickly leads to a significant reduction in service calls. Ad-hoc services are replaced by planned preventive measures (maintenance). SLAs can be set higher and adhered to more easily, and product quality increases because there are fewer defective parts.

By using a product data backbone, mechanics, electronics and software development find a common language. By linking product-relevant data and documents, a digital information connection is created – a connection is created between all components, regardless of their mechanical, electronic or software origin. It is clear when which part was installed and reused in which version and in which project. If this clarity is established and the responsibilities between the trades are clearly regulated, the risk of designing and manufacturing parts twice is minimized.

By including commercial information from the ERP system in the product data backbone, preferred parts (in stock, cheaper, quick supplier) can be accessed as early as the design phase. PDM/PLM and ERP exchange their information with each other bidirectionally and establish the connection between the components and with projects.

Only on the basis of clear information in the development process can close collaboration between the individual trades develop. With clear markings, everyone knows what to do. He recognizes which parts are already present in the mechatronic structure, who created them and what effects it will have if he changes something. This shortens coordination, simplifies collaboration, and allows you to move quickly and error-free from design to production to delivery.

The advancing digitalization in medium-sized businesses, especially in technical companies, will increasingly require the described digital information context in the future. This makes it all the more important to use a PDM/ PLM system as a product data backbone . It enables mechanics, electronics and software development to talk to each other and thus creates the prerequisites for digital products.