The Digital Enterprise Empowers the Future of Product Design and Manufacturing

The “SimRod” exemplifies how digitally transformed workflows can help engineers tackle the most urgent challenges.

Siemens has submitted this article. Written by Magnus Edholm, Head of Marketing for the Digital Enterprise, Siemens Digital Industries.

Companies of all sizes and in all industries are facing a future full of disruption, uncertainty and challenge. Product complexity is growing rapidly, due to increased demand for connectivity, customizability and integrated intelligence. Sustainability is a primary concern for companies around the world as new regulations come into effect and companies seek to reduce their environmental impact.

These trends have implications across the product and production lifecycle, and will drive changes in how companies design, test, manufacture and recycle the products of the future.

So, how do companies overcome these challenges and prepare for the future of more agile, intelligent and sustainable industries? The answer lies in digital transformation. Through digital transformation, companies can combine the real and digital worlds, managing the product and production lifecycles in both the real and virtual worlds.

By doing so, companies can become digital enterprises, able to gather and exchange data and information quickly between product and production development, testing, maintenance and operation.

This ability to collect, understand and use data throughout the organization is what defines a digital enterprise. It gives them the capability to react quickly to market demands, develop innovative products and production solutions, overcome complexity and become more sustainable in the process.

The Digital Enterprise in Practice

To demonstrate how this can work in practice, Siemens uses a technology carrier: a small, light, all-electric roadster called the SimRod. The SimRod, however, is more than just a small roadster; it validates and demonstrates the capabilities of the digital enterprise utilizing the cutting-edge engineering software and automation technology found in Siemens Xcelerator, our open digital business platform.

(Image courtesy of Siemens.)

(Image courtesy of Siemens Digital Industries.)

The SimRod, therefore, acts as a representative for any modern product and the production processes involved. By looking at the SimRod, we can understand how becoming a digital enterprise can empower companies to build the products of the future.

Leveraging the Digital Twin to Design an All-Electric Roadster

A modern EV should be able to drive several hundred miles in between charges, while remaining fun and engaging to drive. The EV roadster also needs to be energy efficient and built in a sustainable manner.

With these key characteristics in mind, we can begin to design, test and improve the SimRod. In a traditional development cycle, this would involve a lengthy process of designing the vehicle before producing several physical models and prototypes to test the design. The results of these real-world tests then drive re-design and optimization cycles, before another round of physical models and prototypes are created for testing.

(Image courtesy of Siemens Digital Industries.)

(Image courtesy of Siemens Digital Industries.)

A digital enterprise can merge the real and virtual worlds through the digital twin of the vehicle to accomplish the same task much faster and with fewer prototypes, cutting down on the resources used during testing. As the designers refine and mature the digital twin of the product (the SimRod in this case), other engineering teams can leverage this digital twin in various simulation environments to test and improve every aspect of the vehicle, such as:

  • mechanical systems
  • electrical and electronic systems
  • software
  • chassis and handling
  • powertrain
  •  autonomous driving

For a modern EV, this allows design and engineering teams to not only accelerate their design processes, but also verify, validate and optimize these designs all within the digital realm.

Merging the Real and Virtual Worlds Through Data

Eventually, some real-world testing is still necessary to achieve the final verification and validation of the SimRod’s functionality, performance and driving characteristics. Even though this testing occurs in the real world, the digital twin still has an important role to play. The SimRod is outfitted with dozens of sensors to collect data from every vehicle system during testing sessions. By folding this data back into the digital twin of the vehicle, engineers can identify opportunities for optimizations and rapidly develop solutions—collecting, understanding and using data for continuous optimization.

Indeed, a short drive on a cobblestone road outside Leuven, Belgium, revealed such an opportunity in the SimRod. The data gathered during that drive indicated that the steering knuckle, which transfers the motions of the steering wheel to the front wheel of the vehicle, could be made lighter while preserving its structural rigidity and strength. To develop a lighter steering knuckle, Siemens engineers scanned the original part and used generative design to optimize the steering knuckle’s topology, resulting in a part that weighed 30 percent less than the original while maintaining its strength. The new design was also tested by using the data previously collected on the cobblestone road in Leuven.

Digital Enterprise in Production

With an updated design for the SimRod’s steering knuckle, it is time to consider the production methods and technologies that will enable this part to become reality. Due to its complex “organic” geometry, additive manufacturing can be used to create the optimized steering knuckle.

(Image courtesy of Siemens Digital Industries.)

(Image courtesy of Siemens Digital Industries.)

Here, the digital twin of the product (the steering knuckle) can directly facilitate the printing process. The component geometry can be validated using advanced materials simulations and prepared for the printing process by defining printing orientation and support structures, as well as slicing, hatching and printing simulations. These solutions can even perform post-processing and inspection on the virtual component to verify the component design and manufacturing process.

Once completed, part manufacturing technology with CAD/CAM and CNC software can be used to define the manufacturing strategy and generate the code for cutting away excess material and preparing the part for assembly. The manufacturing planning environment also allows production designers to check material flow throughout the facility, perform offline programming of robotic manipulators and even design and verify processes that will be performed by humans, ensuring proper ergonomics and safety.

These capabilities can also help production facilities become more flexible and automated, allowing them to respond to dynamic market conditions quickly and increasing the scalability of the overall production system. With consideration of the rate of production, planners can identify material delivery locations, review delivery routes and corridors and simulate automated guided vehicles (AGVs) in the context of the factory layout to ensure proper functionality.

(Image courtesy of Siemens Digital Industries.)

(Image courtesy of Siemens Digital Industries.)

Engineers can even virtually commission control logic for automated systems based on the simulations. This enables the engineers to ensure that material is delivered where it is needed, and when it is needed, to prevent production delays.

Improving Communications Throughout the Enterprise

The SimRod demonstrates how companies that have become digital enterprises can design, test, improve and produce a modern product. In addition to this horizontal story, from design to production, there are also benefits in the vertical direction, from the top floor to the shop floor.

Through the digital twin of the product and production, a modern digital enterprise can collect and synthesize data from throughout the product and production lifecycle. This leads to greater transparency, tracking capabilities and the ability to create a closed loop of product development, production and optimization.

Ultimately, improving communications can help capture and measure more than just product or production data, leading to the potential for a more holistic understanding of the production environment. Energy consumption, emissions, material usage and the consumption of raw materials (such as water) can all be tracked, generating collective intelligence on the sustainability performance of a facility. Once inefficient processes are identified, they can be improved to lower the environmental impact of our production ecosystems.

(Image courtesy of Siemens Digital Industries.)

(Image courtesy of Siemens Digital Industries.)

As we move into the future, companies that can become more connected, agile and innovative will stand out from the competition. Given the challenges of tomorrow, the best way to do this is through digital transformation of the entire enterprise, from product development to production and from the top floor to the shop floor. To learn more, visit

About the Author

Magnus Edholm is the Head of Marketing for the Digital Enterprise at Siemens Digital Industries.

Prior to starting his career at Siemens in 2007 he was technical product manager at the company UGS with a focus on visualization and digital manufacturing. During more than 23 years in the PLM business, he has been working in various industries across the globe in pre-sales, post-sales and marketing roles. Magnus studied integrated product development engineering at the University of Skövde in Sweden.

The digital enterprise enables manufacturing companies to streamline and digitalize their entire business process, seamlessly integrating suppliers into the mix. A company’s digitalization journey can begin at any point in a value chain and can be extended gradually depending on needs and requirements.