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Unipart Manufacturing, which has created a joint venture called Hyperbat to design and manufacture electric vehicle battery components, has been collaborating with a consortium including software experts Masters of Pie and Direc-Tec, to create a digital thread infrastructure which allow suppliers and stakeholders to design, collaborate, manufacture, and deliver products faster and more efficiently.

Nicole Ballantyne, Knowledge Transfer Manager for Digital Manufacturing at KTN, said: “As manufacturing looks to capitalise on the opportunity of Industry 4.0 technologies to make things smarter, a key driver is a collaboration.

“Unipart’s partnership with Masters of Pie and Direc-Tec is a fantastic example of how collaboration and technology will accelerate the pace of innovation within UK manufacturing and precisely what the Made Smarter Innovation Network is aiming to replicate over the next four years in its role of joining communities together to drive positive change.”

  • The Inspiration

    Unipart Group’s manufacturing division produces components for internal combustion vehicles. But with the new focus on electric vehicle production, Unipart must accelerate the transition of its manufacturing capabilities and better integrate its supply chain.

     

    Hosein Torabmostaedi, Digital and Innovation Manager at Unipart, said: “The market is changing. Products are getting more complex. What has been simple to manufacture for the last 30 years with a clear supply chain is becoming increasingly complex in terms of volume, supply, safety and storage. For instance, a typical fuel tank would involve the design, manufacture and supply of 30+ parts. A battery pack for an electric vehicle would be a few thousand parts. That is a huge change.

     

    “We realised we had to become more collaborative and needed to create an end-to-end solution that links our design house to our production, as well as our supply chain and customers.”

  • The Innovation

    Unipart started to build a data infrastructure topology that connects every software data used of the product lifecycle process from design to manufacturing paving the way to facilitate the introduction and adoption of emerging technologies such as immersive (AR/VR). The outcome was a digital collaboration platform.

     

    Frances Hamilton, Founder of Direc-Tec said: “Data is the foundation to enable all the new smart technologies and innovations such as Virtual/Augmented Reality (VR/AR), Machine Learning, Internet of Things (IoT) while making sure the company making or designing the item is in control of their data ecosystem.

     

    “Our job was to erase data silos - this meant capturing all the data involved in design through to manufacture, across multiple parties both internal and external - and create an end to end data supply chain with a single source of the truth. We were then able to use that data as the baseline for the project and integrate it with all the software systems of record such as ERP, PLM, MES etc and create a database for all non-standard items such as NDA’s, design briefs and so on.

     

    With the digital thread enabled, changes made by the design team because of performance or customer requirements are immediately flagged upstream to all other interested parties such as procurement, quality, manufacturing, logistics etc. This update can be shared with suppliers through Direc-Tec’s Online Supplier Management portal and collaborate on the impact of that change in terms of cost and lead time. The design team can see and get involved in those discussions through the portal, thus speeding up the communication and change freeze processes; shifting the whole process to the left.

     

    In addition, Masters of Pie was able to take advantage of this single source of truth to implement a real-time immersive design solution that accelerates the design review process improving the communication of design changes between Unipart and its suppliers. The VR solution integrates with computer-aided design (CAD) software allowing geographically dispersed design engineering teams to seamless review and sign off without needing to export the data into standalone applications.

     

    Karl Maddix, CEO of Masters of Pie, said: “Our role was to bring all that complex 3D data together and deliver an immersive solution that complements the existing workflows.”

     

    “The outcome is a collaborative VR solution that will allow design and engineering teams to walk around, review, and interact with a 3D life-size model in real-time in a way that is not possible using a flatscreen”.

     

    “Collaborative VR is a step change from the conferencing platforms that have held everyone together through the pandemic. You can bring a 3D model into a room and walk around it, touch it, move it.”

  • The Impact

    The solution has accelerated and enriched communications all along the supply chain, enabling designs to be reviewed in real-time, and workflows managed much more effectively.

    This will reduce the product cycle time between design, engineering, and manufacturing teams

    based in different locations.

    As Unipart begins the process of changing its manufacturing process, its teams will be empowered to improve build efficiency, while removing current complexities between product management systems, supply chain, and factory operations.

    Torabmostaedi added: “The requirements of the market are not going to get easier as we move to autonomous vehicles and customisation becomes more important. We will all need to be flexible with how we collaborate with design, supply chain, manufacturing and customers.

    “It has been an honour to work with such an incredible consortium of partners to pioneer a solution that lays the foundations for smart factory architecture and efficient, flexible and collaborative manufacturing.

    “Putting these links and integration in place will make sure we can move together as a team to enable that product to come to the market.”

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