Digital Continuity in Product Development


Today’s smart and connected products require the interaction of different components and systems. They are therefore often described as “Systems of Systems” (SoS). Engineers develop their elements in different engineering disciplines and departments. These disciplines speak different engineering languages and require unique views of the same product.

As a result, many versions – tailored to the specific process needs of each role on the relevant product data – are created during a product’s lifecycle. The problem with that is: they are blurring the traceability of the engineer’s tracks along the way. The storage of the many different versions in their respective department naturally leads to disconnected silos in terms of processes and data.

The good news is digital continuity as per definition is here to overcome this disconnection. It can integrate cross-disciplinary collaboration well; internally by connecting the different engineering departments and even externally extending the workbench with external partners.

What is digital continuity?

According to Capgemini’s manufacturing expert Guy Williamson, digital continuity is the “ability for everyone working on a given product or design to view the exact same version of data and models”. He even goes so far as to call it a “critical enabler” for smart and connected products.

A similar but slightly different approach in the definition comes from one of our customers Safran. They claim: “Digital continuity is the ability to have all of the data about a product, system or infrastructure, during the different processes in its life span. Development – Manufacturing – Maintenance.”

What we can take from these two definitions is that digital continuity means not only making product data available to everyone involved but also ensuring the completeness of the product data. And equally important, digital continuity doesn’t stop after product development. It rather continues to run through the following stages of the product lifecycle like a thread.

How to achieve digital continuity in product development

Let’s take a closer look at digital continuity in the context of product development. The first step towards cross-silo networking and the ultimate goal of digital continuity is integration. Organisations need a cross-disciplinary product model and the processes going hand-in-hand to create it. When we look at the product development process, there are two main types of integration: horizontal and vertical.

Vertical integration, for instance, connects a programmable electronic building block with related software and mechanical engineering areas. It also establishes the link to purchasing and stock management, taking into account business operations management (BOM) policies for preferred parts management in order to achieve optimum resource output. Horizontal integration links early requirements management with systems engineering and the downstream release of a qualified revision of the digitized product, right through to shop floor planning. Corporate process mining is a hot topic in that respect.

digital continuity in product development through integration

Process mining – tomorrow’s buzzword?

Process mining is a set of methods from the areas of data science and process management. They expose available data from IT systems like an x-ray with the aim of evaluating business processes and identifying optimization potential.

After such an analysis, one common approach is to harmonize the processes that touch several departments in the end-to-end development process. However, each department or engineering domain often has its own specific language and design environment adding to the colourfulness of the design ecosystem. The call for unification by any means, even under the cover of harmonization, needs to be considered carefully.

This is not at all to say that harmonization is wrong. What I am saying is that there is a limit to what we can harmonize in an economically sensible way while sustaining a company’s ability to create innovative products. There is no one-size-fits-all solution – usually, there are as many different solutions as there are different problems.

The engineers of different departments need cultural (in the sense of engineering discipline-specific) and creative freedom (in the sense of flexibility) for the specific design challenges they face. The key to achieving joint developments goals is directing the focus to the teams-touchpoints and implement well-working interfaces, that are industrially standardized, hence economically maintainable. This is the way to enable flexibility with out-of-the-box solutions and innovation using the latest technologies and features of current engineering software.

Engineering PDM and PLM Integration Strategy

Learn how we at Zuken can help you and your business solve the challenges of the digital transformation in our on-demand webinar: ‘Digital Continuity – Engineering PDM and PLM Integration Strategy’.  It includes more details on Zuken applications and process integrations from real-life use cases.

On-demand webinar

Oliver Hechtl
Oliver Hechtl
Head of Strategic Data Management and Integration
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