Technical data management paves the way for successful smart factories

As companies continue to decentralize their production sites in the wake of globalization, high speed and a high degree of adaptability will drive performance going forward. As an example, a study conducted by auditing firm PwC, “Digital Product Development 2025 – Agile, Collaborative, AI Driven and Customer Centric,” points to the fact that industrial companies need to launch innovative customer-focused products and services at ever shorter intervals. That’s the only way to prevail in the face of global competition.

This assumes among other things that conventional factories will evolve into smart factories – a trend that is already in full swing. In an industry survey conducted last year, 68 percent of respondents reported that they had already begun initial smart factory initiatives. In a study entitled “Digitale Transformation im Maschinen- und Anlagenbau” (Digital transformation in mechanical and plant engineering), IG Metall also discovered that a number of companies are already making great strides in terms of developments in “Industry 4.0”, the new era of high-tech industry, and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). When it comes to digitalizing internal processes, however, many companies are still dragging their feet.

When a lack of digitalization harms business

As automation progresses and the volume of orders grows, the ensuing documentation requirements to be fulfilled become more and more complex. What’s more, these requirements have to be adapted to the specific contractual and legal conditions of the countries in which the products are used. In many cases, companies are still resorting to conventional communication channels such as e-mail, fax and postal mail – documents have to be sorted and forwarded by hand, which means that the exchange of data between producers, their suppliers, and the end customer suffers as a result. On top of that, this type of communication also leads to a significantly elevated margin of error. In addition, non-standardized folder structures consume valuable time and effort when it comes to filing and retrieving information. The risk of potential contractual penalties and delays in meeting deadlines rises accordingly, potentially causing long-term damage to a company’s reputation.

Optimizing processes with a cloud-based information supply chain

A smart factory not only needs to network its machines, it also has to digitalize its administrative processes from end to end in order to achieve the best possible results. A fully digitalized supply chain provides the foundation for this. This requirement is exactly what a process-driven, cloud-based off-the-shelf product for managing technical data and documents such as Fabasoft Approve is designed to fulfill.

One advantage of the cloud-based approach is that all documents, such as technical drawings, 3D models, operating and maintenance manuals, as well as contracts, certificates, and approval documents can be stored centrally and accessed seamlessly by the project participants. With this approach, boundaries at the divisional, corporate, or country level cease to be an issue. A cloud-based system not only provides automatic compliance and monitoring of the associated processes, it also ensures data security and its effectiveness. Central storage of the required information in a clearly arranged filing structure allows all parties involved to maintain an overview of the documentation status at all times, together with any pending orders and deadlines. With the aid of state-of-the-art technical data management, the typical e-mail attachment hodgepodge is a thing of the past. On top of that, a web browser-based user interface that doesn’t require installation and maintenance of additional software makes it very easy to use. When the working environment is available to users in their native language, user acceptance is even further enhanced.

A cloud solution also makes it easier to implement a rights- and role-based access control model across the entire supply chain. In other words, employees can only access the documents that are assigned to their role in the digital value chain. Reputable cloud providers hold a wide range of certifications. The C5 requirements catalogue (Cloud Computing Compliance Controls Catalogue) issued by the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) and the “EuroCloud StarAudit” are two important standard test procedures that verify that the service commitment of the cloud provider as an overall system is actually being met. Integration with enterprise authentication infrastructure and two-factor authentication for external logins further augment the data security and compliance measures.

The bottom line

Cloud-based and process-driven technical data management is a natural choice for smart factories and a decisive move towards the production of the future.

P.S. Gain valuable insight into using Fabasoft Approve as a central component of the digital factory project of one of the world’s leading manufacturers for pumps and valves in our KSB case study “Digital supplier documentation saves 4,500 hours of work every year”.