Digital Transformation Solutions for the Electronics Industry
Learn how digitizing processes makes companies more competitive
Digital Transformation solutions are what executives in the Electronics Industry are actively seeking to improve their product development processes. Product, process, and organizational complexity are all rising precipitously, so innovative ways are needed to change the way that manufacturers design, fabricate, and deliver new services.
What drives the search for Digital Transformation solutions
According to a study carried out by Lifecycle Insights, changes are inspired mainly by the following key drivers:
- Demand for smart, connected products: The transition from traditional, mechanical products to smart, connected ones is forcing companies to either gain new competencies in electronics, electrical systems, and software development, or tightly collaborate with partners or suppliers that have these capabilities. This drives many Digital Transformation initiatives.
- Eco-friendly requirements, regulations, and incentives: Companies must meet a variety of new and evolving environmental requirements that often vary across different countries and regions. Digital Transformation initiatives can help them to manage these new requirements and take full advantage of any related financial incentives offered by eco-friendly programs.
- Disruption of product development norms: Manufacturers that were already grappling with increased organizational complexity found their work norms further disrupted with the onset of the pandemic. Digital Transformation investments can help different players across geographical and cultural boundaries successfully collaborate on new product development
Digital Transformation solutions give tangible results
The study demonstrated that adopting Digital Transformation solutions give tangible results. The most progressive executives stated that 72% of their product development projects hit or exceeded their revenue targets, and 73% hit or exceeded margin targets. These numbers are fully 10% higher than those of the least progressive respondents. In terms of prototyping, the most progressive manufacturers averaged 7.6 prototypes per project, compared to 9.7 prototypes in the least progressive group. The average days in inventory reveals a similar trend. The most progressive group had a mean of 14.1 days, while the least progressive averaged 16.9.
The difference in these numbers shows the greater efficiency of sales in the most progressive companies, which can rely on their Digital Transformation initiatives, particularly Digital Threads, to help them convert products into sales.
The role of the Digital Twin and Digital Thread
How do Digital Transformation initiatives produce such dramatic results? The data illuminate the role a comprehensive Digital Twin, a core aspect of almost every Digital Transformation initiative can play across the development timeline. When stakeholders have a single, unambiguous definition of the product or a plant, they can easily collaborate and make informed decisions throughout the product development process. They can also use the Digital Twin to predict and then validate performance across a variety of different design domains and functional departments. This unambiguous source of truth places manufacturers in a better position to manage complex requirements.
Having a Digital Thread, or processes and practices that are digitally enabled across the product or plant lifecycle also enhances and expands the comprehensive Digital Twin over time. This unique communication framework is a core piece of almost every Digital Transformation initiative. It permits a connected and integrated view of the product or plant throughout its lifecycle, allowing contributors—both inside and outside of the company—to easily collaborate with the assurance they are working toward a common goal.
The Digital Thread also automates many steps in the product development process, decreasing the likelihood of unintentional human error, and accelerates overall development. Finally, the Digital Thread connects all the steps in a product’s lifecycle—many of which were traditionally siloed off from one another—so engineers and other functional departments can ensure traceability and continuity from start to finish.
Digital Transformation solutions in Design
To create smart, connected products, manufacturers rely on a variety of different design domains. Companies need to develop mechanical hardware, electronics hardware, electrical systems, onboard software, and streaming data to connect the product to an IoT platform. The survey highlighted the following themes in product design:
- Leveraging Digital Twins: most progressive companies are using virtual definitions of product designs, or Digital Twins, to develop, explore, and manage different design iterations. By using automation technology to support generative design and generative engineering, engineers gain advantages in mechanical design, electrical design, and electronics design. These initiatives and tools can accelerate the development process while also allowing engineers to more fully explore the design space.
- Early simulation and analysis: This additional application of the Digital Twin allows the engineering team to better integrate different design domains across a single product. Managing structural stress is critical to mechanical hardware. Signal integrity is key to electronics and electronic systems. Early simulation and analysis allow engineers to verify performance as they explore different design iterations. The result is fewer rounds of testing and respins.
- Creating, managing, and disseminating documentation: As product complexity rises, access to good documentation is more important than ever. Many companies are transitioning to the use of a digital model as the unambiguous source of truth for the entire product development process. The right practices and tools are key to authoring documentation, of course, but there are also significant advantages to managing and sharing documentation. Such efforts allow others, regardless of design domain or functional department, to consume design documentation with fewer errors, resulting in savings on scrap and rework.
- Managing digital definitions: The most progressive managers invested most heavily in managing digital definitions. This effort requires applications and systems that offer capabilities spanning data management, configuration management, and lifecycle management, and that applies equally to hardware and software development. Such capabilities permit everyone in the product development process to track and manage even the most complex configurations.
Digital Transformation solutions in Manufacturing
Once design is complete, the natural next step in the product development process is manufacturing and production. There are many Digital Transformation initiatives that can help on this front. The survey responses highlighted the following themes in manufacturing and production:
- Managing an unambiguous source of truth: Having a single digital definition, whether used for tool designs, machining tool paths, cell plans, line layouts, or plans for entire production facilities, is a key differentiator. The application of the Digital Twin concept to manufacturing helps companies keep everyone on the same page at any point during the development process. The end result? Companies can better manage the process, avoiding errors and delays while hitting margin targets.
- A means to define and explore: The need to define and explore alternative designs and plans during manufacturing and production activities has been also identified. Iteration allows everyone, from machinists to production engineers to facility managers, to understand the requirements and find the best options to meet them. Having simulation and analysis capabilities allows stakeholders to understand the impact of any proposed change to requirements and specifications. When combined, these two Digital Transformation initiatives contribute to the ability to carry fewer days of inventory and, consequently, improve cash flow.
- The ability to capture and stream sensor data: As production facilities rely more and more on sensors to support the fabrication of products, the ability to capture and stream sensor data at multiple levels, including production cells and lines, has never been more important. This is commonly referred to as a Smart Manufacturing initiative, and it, too, falls under the Digital Transformation umbrella. Capturing and analyzing such data allows production engineers to better understand the state of manufacturing in a cell, line, or facility. When they are armed with this information, they are in a better position to make decisions that can improve production.
Digital Transformation initiatives can do much more than simply enhance product design. The use of a comprehensive Digital Twin for plants can help companies create better, faster, and more efficient production environments by giving production engineers a place to explore and iterate. By capturing and integrating sensor data, comprehensive Digital Twins also provide key stakeholders a bird’s eye view of a plant’s overall performance. This is yet another area where investments in Digital Transformation are translating into savings.
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