Speeding Product Development Through PLM
Advanced PLM systems offer better 3-D visualization, tighter links with shop floor
By Patrick Waurzyniak
Global economic pressures lead manufacturers to slash budgets and cut costs wherever possible. To compress new product development time-to-market, most major automotive, aerospace, and other industrial manufacturers today deploy increasingly sophisticated PLM software solutions to streamline and speed up product development as well as improve overall product designs and quality.
PLM and its digital manufacturing tools help manufacturing operations deal with the pressures of getting new products to market faster and cheaper, particularly in increasingly price-conscious industries such as automotive. With new digital factory layout tools and improved 3-D visualizations, manufacturers can digitally design and validate full factories in up to half the time previously required to do the job, partly because PLM systems allow OEMs to simulate the behavior of PLCs and other automation equipment on the factory floor prior to doing any physical layout.
With recessionary pressures dictating cost efficiencies, manufacturing OEMs have continued to invest in PLM, although the overall market experienced a 9.6% decline in 2009, according to market researcher CIMdata Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI). "Even with a global economic downturn, financial uncertainty, and a harsh business climate, companies continue to support PLM, although they have reduced their overall investments," notes Ken Amann, CIMdata's director of research. "While the first half of 2009 was definitely down, during the latter part of 2009 the PLM market began to return to positive growth. PLM may be one of the major factors in determining which companies are best able to maintain their competitive position as global markets rebound." CIMdata says that market sectors most closely associated with PLM include mechanical CAD, digital manufacturing, simulation and analysis, nonbundled NC software, collaborative Product Definition management (cPDm), and cPDm system integrators and resellers.
Among recent PLM trends are efforts to make PLM's advanced simulations, work instructions, and richer solid models more available to workers on the manufacturing side rather than just engineering design departments. "You're going to find that these are extensions of the strategies that we talked about two years ago, and there has been a lot of progress," says Bill Carrelli, vice president, Siemens PLM Software (Plano, TX). "Many of these are highly complex technical initiatives that are taking the PLM market into new areas where it hadn't been in the past, and a lot of them are related to the manufacturing space.
"One trend is what some people call direct-modeling technology," Carrelli says. "It's the whole idea of greater interaction with the solid 3-D models so that more users, whether they're in up-front engineering or on the shop floor in manufacturing, can have access to the model itself. Our Synchronous Modeling technology not only lets users directly interact with the 3-D model, but it also allows users understand the model, the requirements, or the constraints on the model, as well as make changes and have input into the model. It's really extending modeling beyond being reserved for those few engineers that have that ability. More interactive modeling technologies allow people to work with the geometry in much more free-form manner."
CAD model interoperability remains an issue in the manufacturing supply chain, but progress has been made in adding more Product Manufacturing Information (PMI) into various data formats, such as the 3-D JT format from Siemens, that include not just geometry but additional part data. "That's allowed us to take additional advantage of the JT format, which is becoming more and more a widely used standard employed not only by us but by our competition, and we're able to actually deal with multiple types of data from multiple types of CAD systems," Carrelli adds.
At Nissan Motor Co. (Franklin, TN, and Kanagawa, Japan), the automaker uses Siemens' Teamcenter product data management, I-deas, and NX CAM software within its V-3P (Value-Up Innovation of Product, Process and Program) PLM initiative started in 2001 to shorten product-development cycles. Part of Nissan's PLM system includes using the new NXdoctor product data quality software from Elysium Inc. (Southfield, MI, and Hamamatsu, Japan). The NXdoctor, an NX plug-in that works within NX's Check-Mate data-checking capability, validates and repairs 3-D CAD data, and it can be customized by OEMs to create a standard across manufacturing supply chains.
PLM initiatives like Nissan's allow manufacturers to compress the product development cycle and improve quality levels by using Elysium's CAD data-healing technology. "They try to shrink the time it takes from concept to first production roll-out, and the impact that data quality had was that they reduced the number of vehicle prototypes they made," says Ken Tashiro, Elysium vice president and chief operating officer. By eliminating CAD model errors, manufacturers can avoid translation problems much farther downstream in the product-development process.
Data translation problems that appear late in the process cause development schedules to slip further out, Tashiro notes. "If we all had one CAD system, there would be no problems. If you're a supplier today, you no longer have one customer—you're providing the same gas tank to three or four different manufacturers, and every manufacturer has their own CAD system and their own CAD requirements.
"When you move data from one system to another, you don't necessarily know to whom you're sending the model," Tashiro adds. "That's the problem in itself. Let's say that you design in a very loose tolerance system, and when you conduct all of your modeling operations, you're using loose tolerance. When you export that data, you should tighten it up, but normally people don't do that because it's going to create all sorts of problems. For another user that receives that file, if you're tighter than that loose-model tolerance system, nothing's going to work, and you have to heal everything."
Elysium's model-healing technology is deployed at many automakers including Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, MI), where it translates model data from CAD systems including CATIA V5 and Pro/Engineer. "What Nissan did was they went through all of the issues that could create bad models, and then they asked us to come up with software that would seek a problem, detect it, and then heal it," Tashiro recalls. Nissan chose more than 20 standard check items that are implemented within the NXdoctor's product data quality checker, Tashiro says. "We're the standard operability tool at Ford, so when you check in a CATIA V5 file at Ford, you check it into Teamcenter. Teamcenter translates it using our technology over to I-deas, it takes something from I-deas and we translate it back over to V5, so we support multi-CAD at Ford.
"There used to be this gap between design engineering and manufacturing, and that gap's just getting smaller and smaller every day," Tashiro observes. "The designers have to design so it can be built, and then the people that are doing the actual building somehow have to capture the design intent, so that if they were to make a change to something that came from design, they can actually do so without impacting the design intent. Now more and more simulation tools are allowing the designers to actually see their designs being manufactured and assembled."
Melding manufacturing execution systems (MES) with PLM is another recent trend in which PLM developers have attempted to strengthen links to factory-floor operations. In early 2009, PLM developer Dassault Systèmes (Paris) acquired a minority share in MES developer Intercim (Paris and Eagan, MN), notes Patrick Michel, vice president, Delmia Solutions, Dassault Systèmes (Auburn Hills, MI).
"This is a trend bringing the MES space much closer to the PLM world," says Michel, adding that Dassault has multiple partners in the MES area. "Typically that's seen in the aerospace sector. We focused our initial attention on the delivery of work instructions that would've been created in the context of planning an airplane.
"Now it's really defining a strategy to take that virtual world into the physical world, but also being able to tie it back, so that information that would come from the shop floor could make it back to engineering. In the case of aerospace, sometimes you have to redesign a part based on feedback from the actual installation process that the part simply isn't working. In PLM today, there's a lot of work being done on tying the virtual to the real—both ways."
With Intercim, Dassault is defining the joint data model so that the exchange is easier and more robust, rather than rewriting the applications, Michel says. "In the case of Intercim tracking the status of the build of an aircraft, having done the work with them now, we're able to see the live status of every airplane being built in the PLM world," he says. "And that requires a little joint work on the data model level, so that you have that ability to see each unit exactly in real-time as it's being built. I can have a status of the assembly of the aircraft, an instant view of an aircraft being built."
More realism in simulation is soon coming from Dassault, which early this summer plans to release updated versions of its simulations of workers on the factory floor. "There's one theme that we like to use and that's the life-like experience," Michel says. "We want our simulations to be so realistic that they give you much more accurate analysis and a lot better feedback in terms of what's really happening."
Employing technology acquired when Dassault bought French videogame planning developer Virtools, the company plans to add into its future releases some videogametype technology for the rendering of the human mannequin, Michel says. "We had a scientifically precise mannequin in the past, but he wasn't necessarily the nicest mannequin in terms of realism," he notes, "and so here, we've looked into the kind of realism you get with videogames and combined it with the scientific approach to analyzing postures and positions. Those are some of the elements that will make a big difference visually between V5 and V6.
"On the Delmia side, you'll find the scientific part of it when you're simulating the task of putting a tailpipe in a car. What you have behind the simulation is the bell curve of the population that's going to be doing it," Michel explains. "If you're building a plant in South America, you're going to have a different population bell curve, plus you're repeating that task 50 times a day, five days a week—that motion could lead to back injuries. So it's not just the nice movement once, it's all that analysis that goes behind it in terms of worker injury, health, and safety.
"What we're trying to do in V6 is present that life-like experience, that improved mesh, and that involves the human representation. Independent of the brand, it would use that same representation," Michel adds. "We'll also reuse some of the work that our brand 3D Via is doing. So even if we have a little avatar walking around a scene in 3-D, we'll use that same representation—there's an effort to kind of standardize the human representation. In the past, we probably had five or six ways of representing humans. Some of the recent videogames have been really stunning, and probably what we're going to announce is coming with our next release of V6. We're not 100% sure we'll keep this simulation name—it's called our new Live Human approach—but it encompasses a life-like representation of a human in any of our applications."
Virtual commissioning of factory-floor layouts also has been a priority for PLM developers such as Siemens and Dassault, with both companies offering all-digital design, validation, and commissioning of factory automation devices down to the PLC level. This capability can offer manufacturers the ability to digitally design and lay out either new factories or assembly lines much more quickly without putting any physical equipment into place, a method that some observers say can cut the time needed for such tasks by up to 50% when compared to previous methods.
With the slowdown in automotive, Dassault/Delmia has found alternative users in working with nuclear energy plants that are being upgraded or temporarily idled for maintenance, Michel notes. "What we've done is an initiative called Maintenance and Refurbishment for the nuclear space. When they stop a plant for maintenance, every day costs roughly a million dollars," he adds, "so whatever they could shave off that is huge money."
Many of the links between Siemens PLM simulations and the shop-floor user will be transparent, notes Siemens' Carrelli. "What we've been able to do is basically deliver the ability to link the hardware—the controllers, the HMI devices—with the simulation model itself, so we can actually drive the simulation model using the PLC code that gets generated from the simulation model," Carrelli says. "We're building up a model of the automation system. From that model, we're able to validate what we wanted to do and generate the PLC code directly. We can test that code by using the physical controllers and the HMI devices; we can drive those directly into the virtual model, to test out how the manufacturing cell or the process is going to operate virtually. This is a real step forward, in terms of shortening the time and increasing the accuracy of delivery of the code and the hardware on the shop floor."
In Siemens' implementation, virtual commissioning also can take advantage of common algorithms used with Siemens' machine tool controllers, Carrelli adds, including the Siemens Sinumerik 840D control and its Virtual Numeric Control Kernel (VNCK). "We've tried to take advantage of common simulation algorithms that are used on the machine tool, and use those common algorithms in our virtual models as well, so that we have greater accuracy to make sure that when we generate toolpaths and code, that we are actually generating it much more specifically for that machine or controller," he says. "By taking advantage of common kinds of simulation or common algorithms to generate this toolpath, both in the virtual and the physical world, we're really minimizing the amount of error that occurs in translating from one to the other."
This article was first published in the June 2010 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.