Plug-n-produce and manufacturing networks

Plug-n-produce and manufacturing networks


I learned a new term today – plug-and-produce. The Design News article – Industry 4.0 Will Mean ‘Plug-and-Produce’ and ‘Digital Twins’ by Peter Thorne speaks about the transformation  happening with manufacturing companies these days. The vision of connected equipment is powerful. The ability to get access to production machine data is fascinating.

So what plug-and-produce means?  The terminology borrows from the popular “plug-and-play” computing concept. When applied to manufacturing it supposed to improve manufacturing quality or output of industrial production processes. It involved adjustment of may parameters in machinery and equipment.

In order to make this dream come true, many elements of manufacturing process should be intertwined and work together. Here is my favorite passage explaining the complexity of integration in manufacturing eco-system:

No single company handles the whole value chain from raw materials to finished product. There is an ecosystem of firms. In each organization, the engineering team finds suppliers and sources materials and components for its product. In parallel, the team has to decide whether to use existing production machines or make some changes or get suppliers to perform some of the steps. Then the team has to stitch it all together.

At every step of the way, the team uses a combination of physical items (materials or component samples) and information (performance, cost, availability, etc). From paper documents, to files attached to emails, to shared databases, the mechanics of moving information around the connected supply chain network is changing, with the goal of reducing the number of times information has to be eyeballed in order to extract the relevant information. And new connectivity means that not only are there new sources of information but also a new opportunity to design products to be used in conjunction with online computer systems.


Which made me think again about the future of manufacturing network.  Networks made a transformative influence on the way we live, work, and conduct business. Increasingly manufacturing companies are leveraging market, design, engineering, and facilities located around the globe. The networking paradigm will apply to manufacturing companies and will be transformative. The growing specialization in specific manufacturing verticals will create a new type of manufacturing company, one that is capable of leveraging networks, allowing them to optimize performance, improve collaboration, and reduce cost.

The role of PLM in this type of environment is transforming too. Current PLM systems are mostly focusing on creation of single point of truth in a company. It comes in the way PLM systems are controlling product information, versions, bill of materials and processes. The world is changing and new role of PLM will be to enable sharing of product information among companies to support future manufacturing architectures and plug-and-produce scenarios. The challenging part of this process will be to find a new paradigm for data management which will replace an existing data ownership architectures and business models leveraging product data locking.

What is my conclusion? The switch to connected systems and processes will have a transformative impact on the world of product lifecycle management. It will force companies and vendors to rethink data management and come with new technologies and processes that will allow integration between companies. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Picture credit autocarpro and Design News article


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