Product development needs to go digital

With UK companies spending £27bn on research and development annually, the ability to maximize the impact of R&D spend has never been so important. This has put the spotlight on the processes used to design and manufacture products, for...


With UK companies spending £27bn on research and development annually, the ability to maximize the impact of R&D spend has never been so important. This has put the spotlight on the processes used to design and manufacture products, for example cars and industrial equipment.

Having typically followed a linear sequential path, there is a realization of the shortcomings of this approach - starting with product research and concept development, through design and development, prototype and validation, to production, launch, operation, and finally, product retirement.

There is an inefficient flow of information throughout this process. For example, teams launching a new vehicle into the market have not found out quickly enough about changes made by engineers to the car’s design. This can cause significant issues with the process, slow product delivery and lower customer satisfaction. This impact is particularly challenging because manufacturing industries are under pressure to further increase early interaction between product development and production design to accelerate time to market for new products.

We are seeing a new approach by product development groups using digital business models, processes and tools. While the use of digital technology is not new in sectors like the car industry, the way in which product developers are increasingly strategizing and executing their product development is - using an all-digital perspective by using smarter technologies, actionable data, and creating better insights.

What is new is the highly integrated digital model with more frequent and varied information flow between processes. At the center of this network is digital product lifecycle management (dPLM). Product lifecycle management (PLM) encompasses all the processes involved in product development ranging from engineering, product development, supply chain management, manufacturing, services, and marketing.

Digital PLM elevates these PLM processes to higher levels of efficiency, productivity, and intelligence than the linear model. Imagine a square with Digital PLM in the center. Surrounding this central hub on all four sides are all the processes previously used for traditional linear product development en¬compas¬sing the product concept stage through product retirement.

This results in a highly interactive network with many more inter-connections. The key difference, and inherent advantage, is information can flow back and forth between the central hub and all surrounding processes much more directly and efficiently. This allows for faster and more varied back and forth transmission of data, sharper insights, and, ultimately, better decisions.

Capable of full-blown interactivity, these networks are rapid because they enable exceptional speed to market due to highly-improved planning and execution. They are scalable because they allow for seamless operations with unparalleled organization, flexibility and customization. They are intelligent because they leverage analytics and smart applications. And they are connected because they offer real-time visibility throughout the supply chain.

Several technology trends are driving Digital PLM: highly intelligent cyber physical systems are connected to create the Internet of Things or Digital Industry 4.0, analytics and big data, cloud computing and social media. Digital Industry 4.0 enables end-to-end offerings using converging digital technologies that enable smart, connected products that span physical and digital realms. Analytics and big data fuel data-driven insights and decisions.

Mobile technology drives faster and better customer experiences. Cloud computing enhances the infrastructure for connected products and nimble product development to be delivered faster and more economically. Social media drives more collaboration with customers and suppliers by drawing on insights.

Manufacturing industries are riding a new digital technology and business wave, underpinned by Digital Industry 4.0. Every business is a digital business, and all product development is going digital from end-to-end. Broader use of PLM will be critical to achieve high performance. Product developers need to think about their value chain for product development and launch, as well as their entire businesses, from a digital perspective. Their key strategic decisions and investments should be made with the intention of becoming digital in every way.

Posted by Nick Leeder and Sarat Maitin, Accenture