Overcoming Complexity in Software-Defined Manufacturing

By Henrik Hulgaard, co-founder and chief technology officer, Configit


Software is now incorporated in everything from washing machines to manufacturing equipment. The world is now populated with internet-connected smart devices, and this inclination is rapidly expanding. Even mechanical objects are becoming “intelligent,” as part of the Internet of Things (IoT), a market that is predicted to rise in value – more than 300% – by 2028.

It seems that, true to prediction, software has eaten the world, and that’s apparent in the realm of manufacturing. For example, modern cars are essentially computers on wheels. A standard car today has at minimum 100 million lines of code, and this number is increasing. From the design and development process to product and sales, the software-defined world is expanding complexity at all levels. Manufacturing firms face new obstacles, but they aren’t intractable if one has the correct knowledge and equipment.


More software, more complexity


Manufacturing companies create physical products, but nowadays, many of those products include embedded software. As a result, these businesses must also deal with software, which is a separate beast. Fortunately, it’s easier to correct a software problem than it is to address a hardware problem. Software has the advantage of allowing manufacturers to adjust a product’s operation and behavior after it has been deployed. Consequently, the number of physical versions that must be created is reduced.

Companies that can provide a variety of product options gain a competitive advantage in this age of high customer expectations. But that leads customers to expect even more personalization and customization possibilities. More software means more complexity, not only in product development but in sales and service, too — necessitating a new strategy.


Managing complexity from all channels


There is demand for new forms of configuration from a product standpoint. Configuration options for creating software-defined products are now available. Prior to implementation, every one of these product configuration options must be designed and validated.

Consider what happens when you open your car door. The display brings up an icon of your open car door. Regardless of whether it’s a two-door or four-door vehicle, manufacturers use the same software; the configuration differs based on the number of doors. The hardware and software design and development processes must be in sync to ensure that the product performs as intended.

In terms of a sales and product standpoint, these teams must be aware of all possible product configurations, making it difficult to determine what is feasible. Customers assume they have the opportunity to modify their products, but they don’t always know whether their desired settings are possible. By using software-defined product configuration, both groups learn what’s doable. This solution works for consumers who want to customize their product choice with a salesperson’s help, as well as customers who want to do it on their own on the company website.


A new approach to configuration


In this era of software-embedded devices and their numerous configuration choices, businesses must consider what happens after the sale. Software-defined products are potentially difficult to service, too. Available configuration options must match the specific version to be serviced. Replacement choices must be viable and delivered quickly to alleviate service difficulties.

Manufacturers require the capacity to oversee what may be millions of product configuration options over the product’s lifetime in order to manage the complexity challenges that software-defined products present.

For example, manufacturers dealing with highly complicated and high-ticket machines need to know if their product is configured adequately to handle, say, a software upgrade. And the firm that sold that high-ticket machine needs to have the same knowledge about the product they sold to that particular customer.

Manufacturers need a solution that connects engineering/manufacturing, service and sales so they have a single-pane-of-glass view. Product configuration options are supervised by Configuration Lifecycle Management throughout the product’s lifecycle, including all versions. Such a solution gets real-time updates to see if different product configurations are possible – things like sales terms, components, pricing, materials, and other options.


Gain the advantage


Manufacturers now have more complexity to manage in an environment where everything is software-defined. Customers expect to be able to customize their products, and if you don’t provide this, they’ll likely go elsewhere. Configuration Lifecycle Management provides a way to automate and manage software-defined configuration, yet it does not interfere with the processes and systems already in place. It also facilitates collaboration, which can lead to product designs that are more valuable and profitable. This new approach also assists in addressing customers’ needs and wants, resulting in a competitive advantage that sets the company apart.