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Visualizing the Virtual Factory

Collaborative 3-D visualization tools help drive manufacturers closer to the true e-factory

By Patrick Waurzyniak
Senior Editor


Digital manufacturing systems with advanced 3-D simulation, virtual reality, and collaborative product lifecycle management (PLM) software tools are helping manufacturers accelerate the design and build cycles of new products, while lowering production costs and boosting plant efficiencies.

With digital manufacturing solutions, several manufacturers in aerospace and automotive have implemented cutting-edge virtual factory systems that allow greater re-use of engineering data, better control of late engineering changes in the design cycle, and more sophisticated simulations of NC machining processes and factory-floor layouts.

Defined as a subset and a key component of PLM systems, digital manufacturing or manufacturing procession management (MPM) typically are deployed predominantly by major manufacturers to help manage the vast amounts of critical engineering data in the manufacturing pipeline (see the article "Digital Manufacturing Taking Hold" in the January 2003 issue of Manufacturing Engineering). According to PLM industry researcher CIMdata Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI), major digital manufacturing suppliers include the partnership of Dassault Systèmes (Paris) and its subsidiary Delmia Corp. (Auburn Hills, MI), EDS' subsidiary UGS PLM Solutions (Plano, TX), and Tecnomatix Technologies Ltd. (Herzlia, Israel). CIMdata estimates that the market for digital manufacturing/MPM services reached about $300 million in 2002, but the market is expected to swell to $1 billion or more in the next few years as manufacturers realize the value of compressing product development and manufacturing lead times.

Among the latest developments, CATIA developer Dassault, its subsidiary Delmia, and IBM Corp. (Armonk, NY) this February signed a deal with Boeing Co. (Seattle) calling for the aircraft manufacturer to use the Dassault's PLM solutions, including Delmia's simulation tools, to digitally design, test, and build the new 7E7 Dreamliner passenger jet. Under the agreement, Dassault and Boeing will create a virtual development workspace known as the 7E7 Global Collaboration Environment (GCE), in which Boeing will design, build, and test every aspect of the 7E7 and its manufacturing processes digitally before production begins, using the full suite of Dassault's PLM software solutions.

"Several years ago the Boeing 777 was the first project that was done as a fully digital mockup," says Peter Schmitt, Delmia VP of business development. "With the 7E7, Boeing is trying to go to a complete PLM environment, so they will use CATIA for the design, Enovia for the data management and lifecycle management, and Delmia for the manufacturing applications."

Aerospace/defense contractor Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. (Fort Worth, TX) also has made significant investments in digital manufacturing in its Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. As the company ramps up for the second phase of the JSF contract, it is deploying Delmia's simulation software to assist in analyzing its abilities to produce and support the aircraft.

Lockheed Martin uses Delmia simulation tools to identify potential collisions in machinery, tooling, and fixtures at the tightly packed, mile-long assembly plant in Fort Worth where the planes will be built. Engineers are using the tools to determine accessibility of spaces inside the airframe--and workflow of parts and people--with Delmia's Ergo human simulation software that analyzes ergonomic issues.

The cost of implementing digital manufacturing systems can be a barrier to smaller manufacturing operations, as startup costs for typical implementations run anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000, with most companies electing to start with a pilot project, according to a recent CIMdata study on digital manufacturing's return on investment. Based on interviews of Delmia customers, the CIMdata study found that organizations using digital manufacturing reduced time-to-market by 30%, design changes by 65%, and time spent in manufacturing process planning by 40%. The analysis also concluded that production throughput can be increased by 15%, with overall production costs reduced by 13%.

"Smaller manufacturers might not need all the modules an OEM might need," notes Schmitt. "If you're working in a specific area, for example, like assembly, then you don't need all the tools in regard to the machining operations, or the inspection operations. Our offering is completely modular, but no matter where you start, the data that you create is made available for all of the modules you add later on.

"If you look at our company and the history of our competitors, this topic has been in the market since the mid '80s," Schmitt says. "Then it was purely individual point solutions, such as our solution for off-line-programming of robots, solutions for ergonomic simulation, or for material-flow simulation. Over the last four or five years, all those individual point solutions were brought together to provide a complete seamless offering for all the different disciplines a manufacturing company addresses."

With collaborative 3-D modeling and simulation, Delmia provides a data model beneath all the applications, which ensures all the data entered in any one of those disciplines is made available for the other applications to enhance and leverage the data, notes Schmitt. "With our PPR [Product, Process and Resource] Hub, we have all the applications to facilitate the different disciplines, to enable those teams to be the most efficient in creating and optimizing their set of data. But one of the key challenges we have seen in the industry is that the customers often have to re-enter data. They have to search for the most accurate, up-to-date data, and with this package, we offer a collaborative environment where the data are always accurate, always current, and they are accessible."

Manufacturers can leverage data collaborations in CAD, machining data with CAM systems, and 3-D simulations on the factory floor and in factory process planning. "If somebody plans the layout and somebody's doing the process planning, and the data don't match up, you did a significant amount of work using two different data sets that do not come together. At the end of the day, you only have one layout and you have only one process, and if it doesn't match up, you end up in trouble when you start your production."

In March, Dassault and Delmia announced the latest release of Version 5, Release 13, with updates specifically addressing digital manufacturing issues. Among the enhancements, V5R13 provides users of the Delmia-Enovia Manufacturing Hub with new key functionality enabling manufacturing process planning collaboration between an OEM and its Tier I suppliers. The system's new capabilities enable OEMs to export a portion of the manufacturing process plan from the Manufacturing Hub, along with the PPR data, to a supplier for detailing and validation.

In its PPR Hub for integrating product development, manufacturing processes, and resources, the V5R13 update further supports production use of Delmia solutions for manufacturing process planning, detailing, optimization, and validation in the automotive and aerospace domains. In V5R13, the amount of time it takes to update large product structures between the Engineering Hub and the Manufacturing Hub is reduced by as much as 90%.

The updated V5R13 system enhances many capabilities in process-specific areas, including Delmia's Automatic Line Balancing, Body-in-White Station Analysis, and new 3-D geometry-based process planning capabilities for the aerospace domain. Through the introduction of Manufacturing Context and Process Driven Manufacturing Bill of Materials (MBOM) technologies, the system also includes extended capabilities of the machining process planner in the automotive powertrain domain to deliver optimal machining processes, allowing the ability to balance machining processes in the 3-D environment, and taking into consideration the individual machining operation cycle times.

Melding digital manufacturing offerings, the partnership of EDS' UGS PLM Solutions and Tecnomatix Technologies in January announced an extension of the 2003 strategic alliance between the companies, as well as new offerings in MPM solutions promising greater interoperability between systems installed at automotive OEMs including GM (Detroit), Audi, Mazda, and Shanghai VW.

With the alliance, Tecnomatix and UGS improved the interoperability between logistics analysis and 3-D factory layout capabilities, reducing factory-planning time and redesign costs. Among the enhanced systems, Tecnomatix's eM-Plant production and logistics visualization tool has been improved with greater interoperability with UGS' Factory CAD 3-D factory layout software solution, which allows companies to visualize 3-D layout of factories while doing material-flow optimizations through "what-if" simulation analysis.

Tecnomatix also discovered a missing link, according to Zvi Feuer, vice president, Tecnomatix Industry Business Unit, after acquiring manufacturing execution system (MES) software capabilities through Tecnomatix' September 2003 purchase of MES developer USDATA Corp. (Richardson, TX). With new applications FactoryLink and Xfactory from USDATA, Tecnomatix is enhancing its MPM product suite to help process planners and factory-floor personnel communicate more effectively with each other.

"The reason we did this is that to complete our vision going down to the shop floor, we needed a way to communicate better with the machines and people on the shop floor," Feuer says of adding the MES capabilities. "What we are planning, at the stage when we're designing a line, could be broadcast electronically into the shop-floor environment, and all the data collected on the shop floor could be analyzed and then put into the plant environment for future improvements in the planning process." With the additions, Tecnomatix customers will be able to more effectively validate assembly processes and then execute those processes on the shop floor, Feuer adds.

Breaking down the walls between design and engineering still remains a problem for many manufacturing organizations. "Remember that 15 - 20 years ago, everyone talked a lot about the need for concurrent engineering," Feuer recalls. "They said concurrent engineering would bridge the gap between those who design the product and the people who design a way to assemble the product.

"But we found out that there is a big gap between people that design the assembly process and people that execute it on the shop floor--and these people do not talk to each other," he continues. "Normally, they're not even in the same place, because the process planners are in the central planning department, and shop-floor people are in the plants, which are spread all over the world. A lot of the planning may be done in Germany, and the execution of the process is done in China or Korea. And vital information is stuck on the shop floor, in the heads of people, or on paper, or in an Excel file, and it's not being reused by the people that do the planning. And the lessons learned in production are not being used anywhere."

Adding MES to the equation will help Tecnomatix eliminate what Feuer called the missing link. "Our vision for a long time was to go from the end of the product design cycle to the end of the execution side. But we had a missing link."

With the changes, the company's vision for true collaboration in MPM has come closer to reality. At this time, Tecnomatix has about 1500 users, with 150 seats of its MPM systems at automotive customers in North America that rely on the systems daily for auto-industry processes, Feuer notes. And while the technology is primarily installed at larger automotive OEMs and Tier I suppliers, Feuer adds that Tecnomatix has a customer in Mexico with annual sales of $250 - $300 million producing engines, engine blocks, cylinder heads, and gearboxes. "We also have projects in China, working with automotive companies like Shanghai VW," Feuer adds. "The ability of the OEM mother companies to communicate with production sites in offshore locations like Shanghai is becoming a very important enabler for deploying this technology."


This article was first published in the April 2004 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 4/1/2004

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