How a Product Intelligence Platform Accelerates a Cross-Functional Digitaliza- tion Initiative by Creating an Exact Representation of All Engineered Products | A project between The Strategy Department of Mercedes- Benz AG and SPREAD
Think about the shift from old school paper street maps to the navigation app on your smartphone today. There will be a similar shift for people working in car repair shops, on shop floors, in aftersales or in maintenance. Today they all rely on complex 2D diagrams and hard to understand manuals. At Mercedes-Benz AG this is no longer true, with SPREAD’s ideas we get the possibility to create digital twins out of CAD models.
The Strategy Department of Mercedes-Benz AG is pushing initiatives to create scalable digital solutions that provide cross-functional value. The biggest challenge in this pursuit is to find solutions that are easily adaptable to be used in different functions along the product lifecycle and furthermore create measurable value within them. If one could analyze CAD models as exact representations of each product and its variants, cross-functional digitization initiatives could be enabled and accelerated. This is what the partnership presented here is all about. “Golden Product Profile” is the name of a strategic initiative inside the automaker. The goal is to discover cross-functional use cases through product-related data usage.
For every company, it is a challenge to uncover specific engineering patterns for each individual product and enable computers to reason and apply logic the same way engineers would do it. Being able to do this would bring a fundamental change to the product creation process. In this world robots would automatically know how to assemble products. All they would need are the full CAD Models and the attached information. But even before the production, it would be a fundamental shift – while designing a product engineers could constantly run buildability and repairability checks. Engineers would be assisted in making decisions and they would be able to identify the performance in the production or aftersales of the developed parts or modules. Through spreading this information to other functions the products could improve faster, enable digital synergies and ultimately result in higher customer satisfaction.
The startup SPREAD and the automotive giant from Stuttgart partnered up to prove that this futuristic vision can already be a reality today.
On the corporate site this project involved multiple departments: Research & Development, Marketing & (After)Sales and Operations. In addition, employees at the plants in Sindelfingen and in Bremen were involved. The Strategy & Production departments were responsible for the overall pilot steering, the translation between data and needed information, and ensuring high data quality.
The whole pilot was organized as an agile software project. On a bi- weekly basis responsibilities were defined, and bi-daily meetings ensured highest velocity and progress.The teams worked on a new app for the SPREAD Product Intelligence Platform. The goal was to ensure highest electronic quality for the new S-Class. As a result, software was created that can analyze the communication of all Vehicle Identification Number specific S-Classes.
The biggest challenge was to find the best information with the highest data quality. This was the main trigger to include the Mercedes-Benz CAx Team, aftersales colleagues for the S-Class, and the RD Wiring experts. All colleagues involved quickly realized that once they teamed up to drive the project together the pace increased rapidly.
The teams met for the first time by the end of 2020 and only one month later the decision to work together was made. Another five months later the application on the SPREAD Platform is up and running on the shop floor. It is able to build a digital twin of the whole communication for every possible equipped S-Class, creating a 3D model (digital twin) out of this information. This results in a significant improvement on the shop floor. The colleagues there no longer rely on 2D wiring diagrams. Instead, a 3D animation and analytics of each car is the new standard. The increased usability frees up resources and ensures a higher quality of the S-Class cars produced.
A significant “soft” outcome of this project was the steep learning curve among multiple departments and colleagues. Even though the project was on top of the daily workload most engineers involved had an intrinsic motivation because it was clear that a positive outcome would significantly improve the cars rolling off the assembly lines in Sindelfingen. There is a good chance that this cross functional collaboration will be the role model and foundation for other projects in the future.
The approach and software could be used for all models and even other production plants around the globe. Further, the functionality of the app could be extended:
- 1. To help engineers in R&D to create the whole wiring and optimal dimensioning of the electrical systems in the vehicles. This would help to reduce complexity.
- 2. Expand the existing app in after sales applications as the synergy in development and data use is at the core of the Golden Product Profile Initiative. The aim would be to help the after sales departments and employees in the workshops to analyze electrics and electronics more quickly, and to shorten the search time for failures.