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Serious About Industry 4.0? Then Adopt Open Standards

Brett Brune
By Brett Brune Editor in Chief, Smart Manufacturing

Listen up, major manufacturers and CAD vendors: You’ve got the whole world in your hands—the world in this case being the vision of the digitally connected enterprise and cyber-physical ambitions for Industry 4.0.

For the manufacturing industry to get there, you need to adopt STEP and other open standards. STEP, the Standard for the Exchange of Product model data, is the informal name for ISO 10303.

Kristen Letelier, our guest columnist writing about open standards in the September issue of Smart Manufacturing magazine, is under no illusion that the STEP format is a panacea. But, she notes, the open standard “will have staying power if it continues to evolve and if industry embraces it.”

By this point in time, computer-aided design (CAD) data exchange should be open and seamless because it happens daily in a multi-tiered supplier ecosystem and so much interoperability depends on it. But the industry is not yet there.

“Proprietary solutions continue to dominate the market and evolve without support for open data exchange among manufacturers that must support many customers and programs with a diverse universe of CAD formats,” Letelier writes.

Data-exchange incompatibility leads to time delays, finger-pointing and even voice-raising disputes among suppliers and is estimated to cost industry billions.

Engineers focus on CAD design capabilities when they buy software, but more emphasis should be placed on data-exchange competencies. These expensive solutions should address business challenges like design-to-manufacture cost, increased product configurations, first-time quality and, most importantly, integration of the supply chain. Usually, major subcontractors, partners and sub-tier suppliers use different CAD platforms. Sometimes, CAD formats are not even compatible among major upgrades from the same CAD vendor and CAD software can even develop several major versions during the life of an aircraft program.

“Given this environment, it is incredible that manufacturers have not demanded more support for open CAD exchange formats from CAD vendors,” Letelier writes. “Instead, it appears as though CAD vendors are closing their solutions when industry requires more open solutions to realize a cohesive business system.”

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