Thought Leadership

Taking notes on digital maturity from the aerospace industry

By Bianca Ward

The industrial manufacturing industry is hundreds of years old. It can trace its origins to as far back as the late 1700s, with the Industrial Revolution in full swing by the 1830s. Over the last one hundred years, the industry could flourish even if manufacturers slowly implemented changes to their systems and processes. Recently however, industry challenges such as labor shortages, surging operational costs, and mindfulness of energy consumption have become trickier to solve. Many OEMs now recognize that making small, incremental changes will not sufficiently address these prevalent issues.

To tackle common obstacles, manufacturers have begun digitizing their businesses. But digital transformation looks very different across both companies and entire industries. Aerospace and Defense (A&D) for example boasts significant gains from their modernization processes compared to the industrial machinery industry because A&D began its digitalization journey decades ago. Due to A&D’s experience in digital transformation, it has developed a framework to accurately assess digital maturity.

The digital maturity framework

This five-step framework helps companies evaluate their progress toward digital maturity and determine the next step in their digital transformation journeys. Manufacturers in particular can use this framework to help develop more holistic approaches to begin digitization within their organizations. Briefly, the five steps are:

  • Configuration: An organization in this stage has started digitizing their workflows while simultaneously archiving data so that it is both easily accessible and understood. 
  • Connection: In the second stage, manufacturers connect their mechanical, electric, and software domains together to enhance traceability across the entire product life cycle as well as improve the flow of product data.
  • Automation: After an organization successfully digitizing its processes and improves the flow of data, it can begin automating tasks.
  • Generative design: At this stage, organizations leverage AI and ML to develop potential designs for products and systems.
  • Closed-loop optimization: And in the final stage, an AI-powered system will evaluate each generative design and test it virtually, enabling the creation of new systems and products to be fully automated.

Each of these five stages build upon each other; in order to advance to the next step, an organization must complete the previous step. It should be noted that a business could have various compartments that are all on separate stages of digital maturity. Businesses could use this framework to decide which parts should move forward depending on its unique challenges.

Beyond the first steps

While the A&D industry is largely on the connection step, the industrial manufacturing industry is still just starting its digital transformation journey as a whole. Some OEMs are ahead of the pack, but many manufacturers are striving to make the switch from paper to models. And this is understandable. Both configuration and connection are labor intensive steps which will require a great deal of both time and money to complete. However, once these stages are completed, many manufacturers will see considerable gains. Taking the first steps are crucial.

But digital maturity doesn’t stop at connection; in fact, it isn’t until the automation stage where manufacturers will begin to see the real rewards of maturing.  Companies in the third stage are able to automate not only mundane tasks but some complex tasks, freeing up skilled workers to dedicate their talents to more creative processes. Ultimately, automation would improve working environments while attracting new talent.

And, again, digital maturity doesn’t stop there either. Once a company is able to automate complex tasks, it can begin to automate its design processes and finally its optimization processes. The last stage will bring tremendous value to manufacturers, enabling them to test and optimize both products and systems using simulations, essentially accelerating the facilitating both the design and building processes.

Digital transformation is a journey, not a destination. Industrial SMEs shouldn’t compare their maturity to those of large, well-established manufacturers with wider access to IT knowledge and experience. The journey is about determining where you are today and deciding where you want to be in the future. Find out how your business could take its first step to improve its digital transformation journey here.

Siemens Digital Industries Software helps organizations of all sizes digitally transform using software, hardware and services from the Siemens Xcelerator business platform. Siemens’ software and the comprehensive digital twin enable companies to optimize their design, engineering and manufacturing processes to turn today’s ideas into the sustainable products of the future. From chips to entire systems, from product to process, across all industries. Siemens Digital Industries Software – Accelerating transformation.

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