Additive manufacturing, cloud software and full digital product lifecycle

Additive manufacturing, cloud software and full digital product lifecycle

I spent last two days attending Digital Factory and FUZE conferences organized by Formlabs and Desktop Metal – both Boston based startup companies focusing on 3D printing and additive manufacturing.

One of the topics of my interest was digital workflow and impact cloud systems and additive manufacturing can make by changing traditional design, engineering and manufacturing processes. Manufacturing is becoming more distributed these days. It raises the importance of digital workflow and process management between engineering companies, OEMs, contractors and suppliers.

Traditional product development processes are very much relies on the concept of handing to contractor full set of documentation on CAD design, drawings, manufacturing process, work and test instructions and full BOM (bill of materials). All this information must describe product in full and drive production.

However, to move from design to manufacturing and to establish production process is not happening instantly. From what I can see there is a trend in manufacturing that requires tight integration between OEM and contract manufacturing. CM by itself has a lot of knowledge about how to improve product and its manufacturability, building new digital workflow, which involves 3D printing, prototyping and supply chain optimization tools into this process. All together requires to establish full digital product pipeline providing information about design, bill of materials and sourcing information.

Below few examples of software tools that can be used to organize full digital process that can span across companies and distributed manufacturing locations.

I captured the following slide from Nick Pinkston presentation at Digital Factory yesterday. The goal of digital tools like Plethora is to improve online coordination between design, engineering and manufacturing – in this case part manufacturing. The goal to make hardware as easy as software is resonating. Which means to have new tools inspired by software development tools.

Full cloud CAD tools such as Onshape can provide a centralized cloud-based storage for design and engineering information. As it was mentioned by Jon Hirschtick, Onshape can eliminate files storage and painful data management.

openBoM, cloud-based bill of materials management tool (disclaimer – I’m co-founder and CEO) can provide a way to store and trace BOMs and all related information and fully traceable form allowing to access and make changes in BOM from virtually any place in the world supporting asynchronous agile change process

The following slide shows full cloud based change processes between Onshape and openBoM. Read more in the Develop3D article.

Another aspect of digital workflow is manufacturing shopfloor. Natan Linden, co-founder of Tulip – cloud-based manufacturing app platform brought examples of how messy and complicated shopfloor can be for many companies. The integration is one of the biggest problem to optimize it and make it data driven.

Tulip cloud-based platform is aiming to solve the problem of shopfloor management by connecting sensors and creating data driven applications to control and operate digital workflow starting from capturing of bill of materials, part specifications and capturing shop floor performance and analytic.

Both examples made me think about establishment of fully digital product engineering and manufacturing workflow, which can be span across distributed network of engineering, OEM, contract manufacturing and supply chain. Cloud-based engineering and manufacturing tools can play an important role in supporting digital information workflows starting from design, moving downstream to value chain of product manufacturing planning, procurement and supply chain.

What is my conclusion? New manufacturing processes open new opportunities to optimize design, engineering, manufacturing and supply chain. To realize this opportunity, new set of digital cloud tools is needed. Existing technologies are too complex and hard to integrate. Open source and cloud based software development tools can give manufacturing industry an inspiration how to build new toolset for future digital manufacturing. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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