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Digital Threads: Demystifying Digitization in the Manufacturing Industry

Digitization in the manufacturing industry

The development of 3D modeling technology has led to a revolution in mechanical computer-aided design (MCAD), allowing engineers to develop new products quickly, collaborate with colleagues worldwide, and respond quickly to changing requirements. We’ve all seen the benefits of 3D design for engineers. But the mechanical part of any design is only part of the overall process, and to create any device you must incorporate several disciplines, from technology to logistics, as well as electronic design with its computer-aided design solutions, often called electronic computer-aided design (ECAD).

Computer-aided Design

ECAD uses a visual interface to represent the wiring, links, and devices needed to create a real-world printed circuit board (PCB). When compared to mechanical design, electronic design requires the use of two different elements. The first is the circuit diagram or wiring diagram, where symbols represent the circuit’s function. However, this type of circuit diagram does not draw the physical printed circuit board, nor does it reveal the details of how the PCB is made.

To be able to manufacture circuits, manufacturers need to draw a second type of diagram. For printed circuit boards, this diagram must represent the actual configuration of the PCB in an image and must be worked on after the circuit diagram has been drawn. It will show the bill of materials, listing all the devices needed. In addition, the diagram will show the configuration design, how the displays will be placed on the board, and how the PCB’s printed circuits will be routed and connected. The manufacturer can use this diagram to create the final product. Just as pre-fabricated 3D models of mechanical devices save design time, circuit diagrams and layout symbols for PCB devices can assist at many levels of the design process.

In a conventional process, the electronic part of the design is completed before the mechanical part, so there is a lot of data sharing between ECAD and MCAD. Most ECAD software can output a simple mechanical model of a circuit board, sufficient to create a physical object to aid in mechanical design.

Computer aided design

Digital Threads in the Product Lifecycle

If this covers all the needs of the designer, then this article should end here. However, the actual design is only a stepping stone in the device lifecycle, and the element that ties the entire lifecycle together is data. The need for data today is considerable, from the early stages of an engineer’s research and selection of parts to the end of the lifecycle when maintenance personnel need to ensure the continuity of the supply chain. Complex data follows the device through each stage of the lifecycle and is integrated into the product lifecycle management (PLM) system.

This is known as the Digital Thread. This information is critical to driving digital transformation for organizations around the world, from basic product characteristics to advanced information on expected performance, recommended maintenance intervals, and end-of-life processing. As the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 become more prevalent in manufacturing environments, this data is becoming critically important, and devices are becoming part of larger systems.

We’ve seen how ready-to-use models, whether circuit diagrams or 3D models in ECAD or MCAD, can save engineers a lot of time. However, by selecting models from trusted vendors like Samtec and then choosing a native model format for their CAD platform of choice, engineers have already taken an important step towards digital threading and digital transformation for their organization. The difference between a native CAD model and a STEP or IGES format is that it has its own metadata, allowing engineers to integrate this component into PLM programs.

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