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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

Trusting Digital Driving Manufacturing Transformation

November 26th, 2019 by Jeff Rowe

I recently attended the 3D Collaboration & Interoperability Congress (3D CIC), produced and hosted by Action Engineering. This unique event focuses on CAD-agnostic methods for advancing the Model-Based Enterprise (MBE). 3D CIC attracts a diverse group of attendees, those ranging from several industry sectors, such as automotive, aerospace, and medical involved with all phases of product development to representatives from standards bodies, such as NIST, ASME, and DMSC. Needless to say, this widely divergent group makes for interesting conversations and debates that you’re not likely to hear and participate in at other technical events.

For its part, and for several years now, Action Engineering has been one of the chief proponents of Model-Based Definition (MBD) that leads to the Model-Based Enterprise (MBE).

The theme of this year’s Congress was “Trust Digital,” but what does it mean?

Action Engineering MBD Interoperability Discussion at 3D CIC (Featured on “Trending Today,” Fox Business News)

According to Jennifer Herron, CEO of Action Engineering, “In many ways, digital trust is analogous to a financial banking institution. The more “trust coins” you deposit, the more you can withdraw. In a technology context, custody chain of trust is through 3D models. Organizationally (people side), if you have people who trust each other, you have a lot more coins to draw from as you go down the digital transformation path. If you have an organization where people don’t trust each other, it makes trying to change any processes nearly impossible. On the technology side) if people don’t trust that the technology is not doing what it’s supposed to be doing, or documented to do, that poses a real problem. So, it’s important for software vendors to be very specific about what their products can and cannot deliver, because it’s significantly confusing customers, and impacting trust.”

“If we trust something, we’re more likely to adopt and use it. On the other hand, if we don’t trust something, there is no way to use it and its data reliably.”

Herron added, “Trust starts with communication that requires a common lexicon – the vocabulary of a branch of knowledge – in this case product development and engineering that promotes the digital transformation of manufacturing.”

Trust and the Digital Transformation of Manufacturing

So, what exactly is “digital transformation?” According to Wikipedia, “Digital transformation is the use of new, fast, and frequently changing digital technology to solve problems. Another more comprehensive definition is offered by “Digital transformation is application of digital capabilities to processes, products, and assets to improve efficiency, enhance customer value, manage risk, and uncover new monetization opportunities.”

To work, digital transformation requires internal training for engineering, manufacturing, quality, and global supplier management groups; as well as external joint development training for suppliers, partners, and contractors all based on mutual trust.

The so-called digital thread is what connects engineering to manufacturing and keeping humans in the loop is still vital for digital trust.

The digital transformation of manufacturing is a huge part of what will make Smart Manufacturing or Industry 4.0 a reality — moving from paper-based (business and engineering) knowledge to a digital representation. The transformation also requires automated data processing that includes analysis, consistency checking and validation, exchange using modern techniques such as data mining, Machine Learning (ML), and High-Performance Computing (HPC).

There is, however, a dark side and detriment to digital trust, and that is the so-called digital threat. The digital threat includes digital tampering that can have physical consequences, such as structurally weaker parts (failure) or functionally different parts (physical hijacking). Tampering has different origins ranging from intentional (cyber attacks) from outside and insiders. Then there is unintentional tampering that introduce mistakes through manual data entry, files not saved properly, simple typos, etc. There are different ways to provide digital trust that include reducing Mean Time to Identification (MTTI) and Mean Time to Containment (MTTC) from cyberattacks which, unfortunately, is increasing.

Reducing the digital threat is absolutely essential for digital trust for ensuing using data without worrying about its integrity, since digital trust is a key enabler to Smart Manufacturing. Digital trust enables identifying a threat as soon as possible, because the data itself is not enough – it must be reliable. If data is altered after embedding it, trust is broken. Support of standard formats for digital product data provides a flexible mechanism to embed trust. In turn, standards are interoperability enablers that support Smart Manufacturing.

Since digital signatures are not supported by all data formats a means to minimize or eliminate data tamper was blockchain. Blockchain provides a secure replicated source of information that cannot be tampered that is:

  • Secure – replication guarantees availability of the information
  • Trustworthy – data cannot be modified

Data insertion is controlled by business rules randomly performed by peers that lack a single source of authority and is customizable to different scenarios by storing a product data fingerprint. The fingerprint is the key to storing and retrieving information. The blockchain method can be applied to any type of information but requires domain-specific metadata. Simply, a blockchain can provide digital trust without storing the data itself

The Role of Trust for MBE Success

According to Raytheon’s Jose Resendis, models are the source of everything and structured data is at the core of MBD and MBE where data must be created, managed, validated, archived, and connected by asking a series of questions:

  1. Are the processes, data and people being managed?
  2. Are the processes and data being validated?
  3. How is the data being archiving (controlled)?
  4. How are the people, processes and data being connected?

The likelihood of success with MBE is greatly improved if these questions can be answered and trusted/in a trusting environment (there’s that word again).

Setting realistic expectations is a key for MBE success when working with a supply chain. To succeed you must utilize model-based manufacturing and inspection, as well as provide that data to your supply chain and customers  — all requiring trusting relationships.

The progression of digital model trust is largely dependent on MBE maturity and continued acceptance.

The Digital Transformation and Model-Based Enterprise (Image courtesy of NIST)

Rather than being viewed as a threat, the positive transformation of engineering and business are themselves being made possible through a digital transformation and trusting digital.

It became clear during the course of the conference that virtually all design, engineering, and manufacturing domains are moving to a model-based approach — mechanical, electrical, software, simulation, and systems.

Some of the biggest challenges that MBD/MBE have faced (an in many cases still face) include:

  • Interoperability
  • Functionality gaps
  • The ability to digitalize processes
  • Dealing with a wide array of data types
  • Organizational process and culture change

During the course of the Congress, the one word that came up more than any other in presentations and conversations was people and their vital importance in making it all work – collaboration, interoperability, MBD, MBE, and so on. People, people, people – the essential nature of people in the collaboration loop for organizational success. In the end, it’s people, not just technology that will make this all work. That, along with trust, were the essence and main takeaways from the Congress.

QIF Summit

Switching gears a bit, but running concurrently with 3D CIC was the QIF Summit, that demonstrated the interoperable nature of the Quality Information Framework (QIF) within the MBD/MBE work environment with presentations on QIF and MBD threaded throughout the 3D CIC agenda.

During the 3D CIC event, attendees heard many mentions of QIF applications, and the QIF Summit provided a deeper dive into how QIF is implemented throughout the supply chain and in conjunction with any CAD software used through user presentations, as well as an actual work-flow demonstration supported by multiple Digital Metrology Standards Consortium (DMSC) member software vendors and QIF experts.

Interoperability, collaboration, inspection, quality, standards, proprietary data, neutrality, competition, and innovation – these are words and realities that all manufacturers deal with daily. Over the years there have been myriad attempts to bring this stuff together, all while protecting IP. However, as we know, while the attempts to make this happen have often been valiant, too often they have fallen well short, or worse, failed altogether.

That failure may be on its way to being a thing of the past with the advent of the QIF, an ANSI standard (and hopefully, soon an ISO standard) that supports digital thread concepts in engineering applications ranging from product design through manufacturing. Based on XML, it contains a Library of XML Schema ensuring both data integrity and data interoperability in Model Based Enterprise (MBE) implementations.

According to Action Engineering’s Jennifer Herron, “QIF began with a good infrastructure and setup through its working groups to evolve to needs of industry into a standard that can be integrated quickly and readily into the QIF file format. The rapid development process has helped with the acceptance rate that in some ways has been faster than other standards.”

Originally created for metrology, QIF also supports design and manufacturing, and is critical to the Industry 4.0. Because it is XML based, QIF can be relatively easily integrated with Internet applications, and unlike other existing standards, there is no real barrier standing in the way for industry adopting QIF. It also effectively supports newer technologies, including additive manufacturing and the Internet of Things (IoT).

With QIF, all discrete manufacturers now have a standard (and standard is key) platform that ensures quality while minimizing costs and making processes more transparent.

All information models for transporting quality data are derived from common model libraries so that common information modeling components can be reused throughout the entire quality measurement process. As a consequence, the entire process is inherently interoperable.

QIF is intended to handle both lossless feed-forward information translation, and cater to the ability to provide feedback integration to the product lifecycle in a unified and universal XML format. Currently, the translation from a CAD model based definition into the QIF format has been approached, and commercial products are available and standard processes being developed. One goal of QIF is to satisfy the input specification requirements of GD&T. Another goal of QIF is to satisfy the requirements derived from output results of quality assessment standards.

From the beginning, QIF has been fostered by the DMSC based on the need for a “common communication language,” because every CAD system produces its own output measurement language, and every coordinate measuring machine (CMM) had its own internal language that it accepts for processing. Like older machining languages, translators and “post-processors” have become rampant (as in, a problem not quite yet solved). Every CAD system has to have a different output for every coordinate machine in a factory. A common language has been badly needed for some time. Thus, the need and advent for QIF that hopes to resolve these age-old problems of interoperability.

QIF is quickly becoming one of the true universal manufacturing standards that is very likely to stick and proliferate. Many companies have made a lot of money in a lot of ways through non-standard, proprietary data, but that may change in a big way through the acceptance and adoption of QIF. With QIF there is still plenty of potential for a lot of money to be made, this time; however, the card deck will be dealt to everyone equally instead of being stacked for the benefit of a relative few.

QIF is such a big deal for manufacturing moving forward that we will devote significant coverage as developments unfold in the coming months and beyond. Because there is so much to cover, I’ll dive into several of the above parts of QIF and how adoption will improve the lives, businesses, and profits of those who take it on. If you have an opposing view of QIF, I’d like to hear that, as well.

So, in the end, is the interoperability issue close to being completely solved? Herron insisted, “No, there will always be something new on the horizon that has to be taken into account. There will always be new CAD, STEP, and QIF formats to contend with that are doing something new with new benefits.”

If your organization is involved with interoperability and collaboration (and who isn’t these days with ubiquitous multi-CAD environments?), I’d highly recommend attending this event to talk issues, problems, results, and solutions with mutual trust.

3D CIC 2020 will be held October 12-16, 2020 in Golden, Colorado where the theme is likely to be “Trust Digital – Part 2”.

For More Information: 3D CIC 2020

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