Thought Leadership

The digital enterprise: go from digital thread to the shop floor

By JM_Mfg

Stop making software. Start building planes.

The value of leveraging a digital enterprise, a company that has fully implemented digital tools and technology, is more prominent than ever. For aerospace companies to stay in business, they need to have a digital enterprise and digital thread from the design process through the shop floor.

If you’re not doing that with the digital tools available, you’re not going to be in business for very long.

For many aerospace companies, the design process happens once. After that, they have to manufacture and live with that design for a long time, sometimes 40+ years, and ensure the products will remain consistently competitive, profitable and reliable. The costs are monumental as OEMs and suppliers build and test prototypes, validate their findings and put their product into the market.

Using a digital enterprise facilitates increased efficiency from concept thru delivery. This process is accomplished by reusing many disciplines, as opposed to silos of data and information. The power of digital means rapidly assessing the prototype in a virtual form before it needs to be a physical creation. It also allows the manufacturer to have the data to create alternatives, go through multiple iterations and, as a business unit, consistently update to figure out the best design process.

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Creating a digital thread to the shop floor

It’s not only enough to design a digital representation of what needs manufacturing, but there needs to be a shop floor that can actually manufacture it.

Physically creating the product is not often considered during the design phase. If someone on the shop floor can’t physically put things together, that’s a serious problem and most likely won’t get discovered until late in the process. The cost of delays and redesigning can significantly impact the manufacturer, time-to-market and customer expectations.

Even if workers can physically build the product, health issues of the shop floor manufacturers need consideration. Spending hours on your knees, constant twisting and turning, or bending the back can cause both long-term and short-term health problems. Also, can the person on the shop floor have access to reach the necessary areas? With a full digital enterprise, discovering how the product will be precisely manufactured and the potential impact on workers can be determined early.

Finally, as part of the manufacturing structure, anything that’s applied to the product – even grease and paint – needs to be accounted for as part of the costs associated with every aspect of an aircraft or aerospace component. Being able to digitally keep track of expenses can reduce costs.

Digital design changes

When making design changes, a digital thread allows the same data to be used by the entire organization, with the ability to manage changes and updates located in a single system.

The best practices for a successful digital enterprise should include:

  1. Digital thread. This will link the engineering process and the data used in the manufacturing process. Facilitating change is easier. Once changes are made, they are implemented across the board.

  2. Author once and reuse method. This doesn’t mean that something is written or designed and has to be reused. This means there is a single source of authority for engineering, manufacturing and planning data. Information is located at a single digital location.

  3. Process and product restructuring. Libraries and templates ensure design creation is efficient and easily facilitated.

  4. Consumption check. Validate the completeness of the planning structures. The last thing a manufacturer wants is to have is a component of a wing that should have been altered or removed, or have a critical part missing that they weren’t aware of until it was too late – both of which could result in missed delivery dates.

  5. Embedded visualization. With 3D data, this is designed to visually validate product structures and processes as you go.

Aerospace manufacturers often build the software to complement their needs. The lack of a fully cohesive system slows the progress and allows for avoidable, costly mistakes to occur. Meanwhile, consumption checks are completed with a spreadsheet and a highlighter, even though there is 3D data and validation software available that could ensure the right data, iterations and quality control systems are in place.

Companies are plagued with running so many different software systems that aren’t connected that data sharing is time-consuming. It often takes stakeholders days or weeks to comb through diverse systems deciphering where parts were being used and what needs to be altered to satisfy change requirements, thus, more time is spent finding what needs to change than it does to make those changes.

When aerospace companies use closed-loop manufacturing and digital tools, and when they adopt a digital enterprise to ensure the process from the design team to the shop floor flows smoothly, they will be better positioned to focus on building airplanes competitively.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at