Digital Transformation Programs

The European 4.0 Transformation Center (E4TC) is a unique platform combining hands-on digitalization experience and the E4TC living demonstrator projects at the RWTH Aachen Campus. This has resulted in the With these, we offer manufacturing companies a direct perspective and an efficient way to realizing their own agile digital transformation. According to the acatech Industrie 4.0 Maturity Index , latencies for gathering insights, root cause analysis, decision making and action implementation can be reduced significantly.

acatech Industrie 4.0 Maturity Index: Less latency helps improve faster

Facilitation of such closed loops is the common denominator for the business value of 4.0 Transformation across the manufacturer´s enterprise.  This includes agile product development, real-time production management and a connected customer and product usage lifecycle.  The Internet of Production framework underlines this perspective:

Internet of Production

The management cycles in the enterprise are summarized in Development Cycle, Production Cycle, and User Cycle (covering marketing, sales, usage, and service activities).  The vertical dimension is divided in three layers:

  • The bottom layer shows data available from IT application databases, such as Product Life Cycle Management (PLM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), and Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and data available from monitoring of prototypes, machinery, connected products and other instances.
  • The medium layer displays the capability to access these data sources, to collect, aggregate and analyze information according to the needs of use cases within and across departments. For real-time processing, this relies on  Internet of Things technologies, which include connectivity, middleware, data streaming and analysis.
  • The top layer relates to the presentation of results to users for their consideration, decision making and feedback. Examples for closed-loop use cases are:
    • Feedback of test result data to R&D with detailed linkage to PLM data
    • Real-time production management
    • Analysis of product usage patterns compared with initial assumptions driving product requirements
    • Indicators for the need of planned service events to avoid equipment downtime.

The Internet of Production approach ensures that data and use cases are available across departments, and can close loops traveling upstream with traceability, complementing traditionally sequential process and IT architectures.

As an electrical car start-up company, e.GO Mobile has been realizing the Internet of Production in an agile way and put it on display in e.GO’s Plant 1 series factory and in the Demonstration Factory (DFA) at RWTH Aachen Campus.

Established manufacturers are successful based on their own process and IT landscapes that have grown organically, or with company acquisitions, over time.  Often, this creates challenges of heterogeneity in systems landscapes, departmental data formats and data models, hard to achieve openness and connectivity, and associated costly efforts to provide for data-driven use cases within a given IT architecture.  File-supported processes without solid grounding in system applications are a frequent consequence, i.e., the number of data creating or reporting spread sheets being indicators of lack of digitalization, reduced productivity, and management loops slow to close.  On the other hand, current technology allows for open systems with technically simplified connectivity and flexible use case support via apps on top of the classic standard software applications.

In order to chart a course for 4.0 Transformation that tackles these challenges and opens up to the available opportunities, we suggest to define a company-specific variation of the Realize Digital Transformation Roadmap.

Realize Digital Transformation Roadmap

Bold visions like digital twins need a significant amount of grounding to become scalable and sustainable beyond proof-of-concept or proof-of value scenarios in large existing organizations.  That is why we prefer to read the Realize Digital Transformation Roadmap from the bottom-up.

4.0 Transformation Opportunity Scan (4TOS)

Every roadmap needs a starting point well-defined:  a quick, tangible review of how things actually get done in each specific manufacturing company. Step one surveys how the actual physical value added of the company, across R&D, manufacturing, and customer-facing activities, is currently accompanied by digital processes and use cases.  This requires deep-dives on-site to review the actual state of work practices and underlying data.  Step two is a joint appraisal of the strengths and weaknesses found, their business relevance, and business-driven target setting.  Step three is defines the transformation portfolio based on an initial, but tangible to-be Internet of Production picture, and the required 4.0 Transformation projects.

Key benefits of such an approach include:

  • Combination of physical and digital assessment
  • Fast and clear understanding by detailed on-site walk-through
  • Tangible representation of future state and its benefits to all stakeholders in the enterprise
  • Clear focus for the way forward.

Seamless Application Landscape

From an enterprise-wide perspective, given application landscapes are often the product of departmental history, with gaps relative to current requirements and inconsistencies between domains.  Therefore, a tangible indication of the current state is the use of file-based information, like spreadsheets. Depending on industry and business type, potential target scenarios for seamlessness do vary. At e.GO, the three main areas are:

  • Agile Design, Protoyping and Testing
  • Digital Shopfloor and Intralogistics
  • Digital Customer Journey.

Agile Design, Prototyping, Testing

Key Benefits:

  • Projects up to 2x faster
  • Projects up to 90% cheaper
  • Gains in agile experience for the organization
  • Gains in data quality, process management and documentation
  • Gains in collaboration with internal and external contributors from all disciplines

Digital Shopfloor and Intralogistics

Key Benefits:

  • Seamless order and production planning
  • Full visibility of production orders from the same source for all user roles
  • Information without overflow
  • Steering of resources like AGV, assembly tools
  • Automated and manual feedback of actual production values for further processing
  • Alert management
  • Seamless warehouse execution
  • Dedicated quality management domain with test plans, tools, cases, results, collaboration with suppliers
  • Decisive reduction of paper- or file based communication

Digital Customer Journey

Key Benefits:

  • Direct and highly scalable access to end customer and associated interactions
  • Single selling platform for various go-to-market approaches, and products
  • High resolution demand sensing
  • Source of customer information supporting other enterprise processes
  • Simple comprehensive reporting
  • Scalable for start-ups and mature organizations
For all elements of the Realize Digital Transformation Roadmap, the complete solution is a combination of the physical prerequisites, digital capabilities, and soft factors like people and leadership skills.  Please refer to the section on 4.0 Transformation Success Factors.

Aligned BOM Structures and Data Models

The full value of data-driven analysis depends on knowing what exactly the data refer to.  In the case of product variants, or customized equipment, this is embodied in representations of the product structure, which vary across the enterprise:

  • In the Development Cycle, the Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system holds a configurable engineering Bill of Material (eBOM), that stores versioned design data from various CAD systems and associated information such as parts attributes, requirements, test data, versioning and release status, and others. The main purpose in this domain is to manage content and the content-driving processes for design and changes.  In less mature cases, we might face the lack of such a clear single source, which is the starting point for consistency and quality of product-related data and monitoring information in the overall enterprise. This includes a company’s capability to define and drive common CAD methods and user adoption through leadership and training.
  • In the Manufacturing Cycle, the focus shifts to transactions like customer, production, or material orders. In order to allow for master data like manufacturing Bill of Materials (mBOM), and defined work processes (Bill of Processes), eBOM data need to be released and transformed in structure, content, data model, and configuration rules to satisfy the needs of ERP systems, that differ from the preceding PLM systems.
  • Product structures in the User Cycle range from spare parts lists to sales configurators that help to create customer-specific variants, with their own product structure expression and configuration rules.
Companies create and maintain typically five to eight expressions of product structures between different departments, most of the time with little alignment amongst each other.  On the most detailed level, parts may or may not have a comparable description like numbering and attributes. The sum of this makes it difficult to share product structure related information across the enterprise, and limits case-specific traceability in combination with the data gathered. Therefore, we recommend an enterprise wide approach to aligning and executing product structures and data models.  This is a central corporate task and should be organized accordingly.

Realtime Data Platform and Analytics

Today’s Internet of Things technologies play a key role in providing data aggregation across various systems and things.  This opens new avenues for:

  • Use cases driven collection and combination of data sets from different sources
  • Associated data analytics
  • Real-time reporting and management
    • Sharing of data and results via individual apps that can be role-based
    • App-driven process and systems interactions
  • Reducing customization budgets on the level of IT systems and apps for just internal purposes

Real-time data connectivity can be done in an agile way, and in parallel to improvements related to the prior two levels “Seamlessness” and “Structures” in the Realize Digital Transformation Roadmap. This enables efficient generation of new use cases such as app-driven product and service features, data quality management, enterprise cockpits, smart factory apps for real-time production management, real-time product records, energy monitoring, preventative maintenance, just to name a few.

Key Benefits:

  • Access to all kinds of data sources
  • Realtime capability
  • Reuse of connectors and platform
  • Free combination of sourced data and analyses
  • Quick an flexible app configuration
  • Can start with visibility (read upwards) and evolve into steering cockpits (write downwards)
  • Minimizing latencies in relevant business use cases
  • Agile path for transforming to 4.0 level

Differentiated and AR-supported Interactions

Differentiated and AR-supported Interactions mark the next higher level in the Realize Digital Transformation Roadmap. Augmented Reality (AR) can make a difference between physical and digital processes, and it benefits from the homework done on the preceding levels of Seamless Application Landscape, Aligned BOM Structures and Data Models, and Realtime Platform and Analytics. This can help work in R&D, manufacturing and service.

At the intersection or Development Cycle and Manufacturing Cycle, production engineering, especially the process planning work, typically does not receive the digital support it deserves.  Other than in product design, there is a widespread lack of authoring tools and data management applications.  This challenge combines with a huge opportunity in the role combining the R&D and manufacturing domains.  Joining product and process engineering in the PLM system constitutes a differentiating interaction, that allows to track and manage changes between the Engineering and Manufacturing BOMs and the Manufacturing Bill of Processes in the same system, before they get released to the ERP’s master data for a given validity or configuration.

Joint Product and Process Engineering

Key Benefits:

  • Product and production engineering work on the same data set
  • Production process engineering can manage their content based on product and process structures incl. versions and variants
  • Transparent and traceable transformation from Engineering to Manufacturing BOM structure and maturity
  • Bill of Processes for manufacturing and assembly triggering work instructions
  • Manufacturing BOM and Bill of Processes as best handover point from PLM to ERP domain
  • Closes agility gap between R&D and Production/ Logistics
In the Production Cycle, creating visibility across a complex set of work processes, systems and infrastructure is challenging.  Real-time Production Management can be enabled by Internet of Things driven connection points to production sites and lines to monitor flows, equipment, materials and other potential productivity bottlenecks.  The needed real-time reports and interactions, like OEE and its constituting variables can be displayed in two-dimensional cockpit user interfaces or three-dimensional smart factory apps, which apply mirror images of sites, lines and equipment to help navigate through the observation points conveniently from an app level.
The User Cycle allows for differentiating interactions with customers and service stations, amongst others.  Customers can benefit from additional features, partly enabled by product connectivity.  Service cases and spare parts business can be handled through global service apps, allowing for a better understanding of the actual situation of vehicles or equipment in the field.

Customer and Service Partner Platforms


Disruptive Capabilities

The attribute “disruptive” relates to fundamental changes in or to a given business arena.  So what ends up being disruptive or not depends on the strategic business situation.  Examples on the technical side might be the creation of digital twins for products, equipment, or factories and associated business and process practices.  On the commercial side, charging for usage rather than selling product can constitute disruption by entering
the subscription economy which alters the usual manufacturer-dealer-consumer equations massively.

4.0 Transformation Success Factors

Making the Realize Digital Transformation Roadmap a successful journey depends not only on a company’s strategic orientation and top management focus.  It certainly requires a good understanding of the starting point, that can be defined in step one of the 4.0 Transformation Opportunity Scan.

In our work, we have encountered two particular factors worth mentioning, as they differ significantly from the established system implementation or system migration pattern and the associated management of organizational change.

Agile deployment of digital capabilities is a prerequisite for process innovation. The reason is:  If something can be truthfully specified upfront it must be known already since a long time. So the newer topics, like Internet of Things, cannot be handled efficiently with the established waterfall project sequences.  Agile deployment becomes a necessity then and requires adapted management criteria, such as:

  • Target setting instead of detailed specification
  • Early decision on technologies to use for agile iterations
  • Agile iterations in sprints with narrow, risk-minimizing scopes
  • User involvement from the very first steps
  • Continuous leadership participation decision making.

As an example, you can refer to e.GO Mobile’s website and compare the offering of e.GO Life and e.GO Kart sales configurators.

Agility example – from e.GO Kart Configurator and Webshop to e.GO Life

In order to transfer this approach to existing organizations, we must look at the second factor, which is the decision on how the playing field for the Realize Digital Transformation Roadmap, and its relevant elements, should be structured.

Define your business playing field for agile realization

This depends on the value drivers to address and the settings available, and best suitable.  Often opportunities to apply a greenfield approach are overlooked, when new product development products or new production sites are not contemplated in the context of a Realize Digital Transformation Roadmap.