By Martyn Davies, director, Rocket Software
Manufacturing and the supply chain has shifted dramatically in recent years. China, which has dominated the industry for decades, has started to pivot towards high-tech, precision engineered consumer products, in addition to its established production of smartphones, aerospace components and over 20 million cars a year. This shift has opened up other sections of the market to “emerging” economies such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Poland, Brazil and Mexico. As industry has developed in these states, so has the middle class, resulting in a broader range of suppliers and buyers for manufacturers to work with.
This expansion has brought great opportunities for manufacturers and OEMs around the world, but it also presents a new set of challenges. Concerns about systems compatibility, IP protection and malicious attacks are all heightened when dealing with partners based in unfamiliar and less developed economies. And this is without taking into account the difficulties that arise anywhere in the world when it comes to speed and security of information transfer. For too many companies, the process of transferring mission-critical product design data is still time-consuming and insecure, creating a backlog of administrative work and putting valuable intellectual property at risk.
A data bottleneck
The root of the problem lies with the numerous product design file exchanges required throughout a product design data lifecycle. These transfers must occur internally, across complex partnerships, and externally with suppliers and customers. In order to take advantage of new opportunities in different regions, manufacturers need to keep this system efficient, adaptable and easy to monitor.
Systems such as Computer-Aided Design (CAD), Product Data Management (PDM), and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) can be expected to share information, but the methods of exchange used to connect them typically consist of manual processes which are woefully outdated and which can significantly reduce efficiency and security.
For instance, transferred files can easily be misplaced or misdirected in a series of emails, putting valuable intellectual property at risk. Without a central management system, it’s also difficult to verify what has been sent and received. A company cannot fully control when data has been processed and received - and in some instances returned - nor guarantee that only the recipient will be able to use the data for its intended purpose.
System compatibility is another problem that looms larger when dealing with new markets. The process of converting files to the correct formats before transferring each one manually is labour-intensive – and ripe for automation. While skilled employees such as product designers and engineers are tied to these transfers, a significant waste of valuable human resources is taking place. If manufacturers are to operate their supply chains efficiently, they need to find better ways to exchange their CAD, PDM and PLM data.
Automating the supply chain
Eliminating as many manual processes as possible and automating the product design data workflow is the obvious starting point. This allows experienced design teams to be more productively engaged in higher-value activities. By implementing a digital system that sits above other disparate programmes, orchestrating the entire process of managing, checking, translating, and exchanging product design files into a single job, manufacturers can benefit from huge time savings and increased productivity. This approach can speed up product design decisions throughout the extended enterprise, informed by the right data in the right format at the right time.
Protecting your intellectual property
When working with emerging markets, intellectual property (IP) theft is a risk that has to be given serious consideration. Problems in the administration and enforcement of IP protection are common in emerging economies; for example, Africa currently has one of the highest cyberattack rates in the world.
To combat these concerns, manufacturers are increasingly turning to solutions that enable a standardised and controlled process that works across all systems and communication protocol, delivering data through secure web portals using protected usernames and passwords and encrypting all data that passes through. One essential element in this type of system is that permission to access data can be revoked once data has been transferred and the transaction or partnership has concluded. In a rapidly changing business environment, it’s wise to assume that not every business relationship with be for the long term.
It is also advisable to implement systems that employ advanced person-to-person encryption techniques to prevent data from being read without the decryption key if it is compromised in transit. Protocols such as the Odette File Transfer Protocol (OFTP) feature in-built encryption throughout transmission and at rest. They also include mechanisms for channel protection and end-to-end response signature, ensuring data security regardless of which systems an international partner employs.
A new chain for a changing world
Operating a global supply chain requires a tailored approach for each international partner, as well as an overarching system for monitoring the complex web of data transfers that take place throughout a project. Modern systems can automate much of the legwork. Product design data can be taken from existing CAD, PDM and PLM systems then packaged into a single, secure transfer using end-to-end encryption. By automatically translating files into the correct regional formats and tracking documents through a central system, data can be distributed easily to suppliers and buyers regardless of location. In a global economy based on rapid communication and the sharing of information, this is a significant competitive advantage.