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PLM Systems Further Extend Reach to the Shop Floor


Newer systems feature improved design, data management and simulation capabilities to help speed product development for global manufacturing operations


By Patrick Waurzyniak
Senior Editor


The high cost of product lifecycle management (PLM) software was once a barrier to entry for all but the largest of manufacturing operations. But new versions of PLM software and cloud-based systems are bringing the cost down, allowing more companies to benefit from the technology.

Pushing new product designs to market as quickly as possible mandates the use of the latest PLM software tools so that manufacturers can produce their innovative designs as fast and efficiently as possible. In today’s globally competitive landscape, most major aerospace/defense and automotive manufacturers depend on PLM systems, which include CAD/CAM design and manufacturing tools, 3-D visualization software, CAE simulations and product data management (PDM), to direct the many highly complex and interwoven elements of modern manufacturing designs.

Traditionally, the high cost of PLM and difficulties implementing large-scale enterprise PLM systems were cited as major barriers to entry. But now, PLM technologies are becoming more common at smaller to mid-size manufacturers, as lower-cost PLM alternatives including some newer cloud-based systems have become available.Artist's concept of the recent landing on Mars of NASA's Curiosity rover.  NASA's Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL) uses NX CAM software from Siemens PLM Software.

PLM systems have continued to perform well, and market researcher CIMdata Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI) recently reported that the comprehensive PLM market experienced 15.2% growth in 2011 to $29.98 billion. “What we’re seeing is a shift to the democratization and the availability of simpler analysis tools that are being embedded within CAD systems as well as being separate tools, where more people are being able to use them,” said CIMdata President Peter A. Bilello. “You still have a need for experts in certain areas, but you’re able to bring in simulation earlier in the process, and do that more during the flow of the product development process itself, instead of as an adjunct. It’s allowing for more reductions to physical prototypes, and in some cases, driving design through simulation instead of driving simulation through design.”

Easier-to-use simulation tools also help manufacturers deploy PLM more effectively, according to Bilello. “The user interfaces are improved, and they’re more intuitive,” he noted. “The computers they’re running them on run much faster. The hardware and the software are improving, and people are taking advantage of improved processes as well.”

Reaching the Shop Floor

Siemens PLM Software (Plano, TX) has been making steady improvements in what the company calls the CAD/CAM/CNC process chain, with tighter ties between the Siemens Teamcenter product data management and its NX CAM design and manufacturing solutions to Siemens’ Sinumerik line of CNC controls. Acquired by Siemens in 2007, Siemens PLM recently announced a key collaboration with cutting tool developer Sandvik Coromant (Fair Lawn, NJ), and at IMTS Siemens met with other cutting tool companies, including Iscar (Dallas) and Kennametal (Latrobe, PA), to enlist support for the Siemens’ Manufacturing Resource Library that will contain ISO 13399-compliant tooling data including 3-D solid models of tools.

Using standardized tooling libraries can make manufacturers much more effective, said Vynce Paradise, director, product marketing, Siemens PLM Software, who noted that the company has been working with Sandvik for about two years on tooling libraries. “We’re hoping to get the industry to adopt this,” he added. “It's important for our joint customers that they will be able to spend less time manually adding tooling data to their libraries.”

In the future, this easy access to standardized catalog data will be a part of PLM systems, Paradise said. This effort can also leverage data from third parties like CIMSource, bringing in tool data from the Web. With the Siemens’ Tool Component function, Paradise added that “we can map attributes from standardized catalogs to existing customer standards. Having access to fully populated tool libraries will make them more efficient in planning, and help them make smarter decisions on which tools to select for optimum machining. The CAM programmers will go to the tool library, search and find cutting tool assemblies and use 3-D models of these within their NC programming sessions.”


“What we’re seeing is a shift to the democratization and the availability of more simpler analysis tools.”


Another key Siemens development is its new Shop Floor Connect for Teamcenter, which allows direct access to production-ready work packages that remain under full PLM control inside Teamcenter until they are needed on the shop floor, Paradise stated. “We can connect the SFC [Shop Floor Connect] system directly to machine tool controllers so that we can offer a ‘PLM connected DNC’ capability,” he said. “DNC is the old term still used for Direct Numerical Control. Using SFC for Teamcenter eliminates the need for separate, unmanaged shop-floor PC-based DNC systems.”

With Shop Floor Connect, users get a Web interface for accessing all the necessary work package elements to build parts. They can do this via any Web-browser-enabled device including tablets or PCs on the shop floor, he said. “What this does is give you a simple interface that gives you the tool list, setup sheets, some pictures or images, a finished part model, and a CNC file [NC code],” Paradise explained. “It’s basically like an electronic traveler, the paper documents that are so popular on shop floors, accessible by any plant-floor PC or hand-held devices like iPads or other tablets.”

Closing the Loop

Until recently, PLM systems lacked a critical link in connecting enterprise systems to the shop floor. “If you look at the PLM vision in total, one of the pieces that’s missing in general is a continuous loop into the shop floor for operations management, manufacturing execution systems [MES], quality, data collection, and further into analytics,” said John Todd, business development sales director, for the Delmia brand (Auburn Hills, MI) owned by Dassault Systèmes (Velizy-Villacoublay, France).Improved tools in Delmia Robotics Spot Welding (RSW) help programmers automatically generate robot tasks including spot welding operations.

Last year, Dassault acquired a key component of the puzzle with its purchase of MES developer Intercim (St. Paul, MN), which earlier acquired the Pertinence manufacturing operations intelligence suite of software. “We’ve filled out the equation for a continuous loop for PLM,” said Todd, who formerly was president and CEO of Intercim. “Now the hard work starts—making sure that the technologies work together well and we have a long-term vision, which is underway from an R&D perspective.

“In the shop-floor arena, manufacturing execution and manufacturing operations intelligence area, those were I’d say fragmented areas that were being addressed in some fashion, but not in an integrated fashion, with a PLM concept,” Todd said.

With the latest Delmia V6 Release 2013, the company has added a host of enhancements to its 3-D collaborative applications, including new tools in Delmia Robotics Spot Welding (RSW) that allow robot programmers to automatically generate a robot task that includes the spot operations for a group of welds. Spot welding programs can also be analyzed and optimized prior to downloading to robots, and V6R2013 now supports the display of Weld Study Analysis results during collaborative review sessions, including weld report listings of ‘clash’ and ‘reach’ status for each weld point, and weld accessibility graphs for each problematic weld point, shortening review and subsequent iterations.


“It’s basically like an electronic traveler, the paper documents that are so

popular on shop floors.”


Besides its core customers in aerospace and automotive, Dassault/Delmia has made headway with new applications in life sciences, such as Sanofi Pasteur (Lyon, France) using the tools to update and optimize its work on flu vaccines twice a year, Todd added. Another newer application area includes use of Dassault PLM tools for improving production of composite blades used in wind energy farms. 

“If you look at the history of the marketplace, the focus has been on the design side of the equation, and it will continue to be important,” Todd noted. “If you design properly, we all know the math, you save a lot of money. But now as that market matures, our belief is the focus is moving into manufacturing and utilizing all the optimization that’s occurred in design.” The goal, he added, is to “improve processes and reduce manufacturing cycle times, not necessarily time to market, but manufacturing cycle times, which is a subset of the other, in order to increase capacity in areas like aerospace and wind design, for the fan blades used in large wind farms that are made out of composite materials.”

PLM Systems Further Extend ReachImproving operations intelligence is key, Todd said, and Dassault is making investments in this area with acquisitions such as ExaLead, a search firm, to combine its technologies with those of its Simulia simulation brand. “There’s a real interesting convergence. Why do companies want better analytics in general? If you can move into operational intelligence, you reduce scrap, reduce rework, and improve operational intelligence,” he added, noting the company has four patents pending in the pattern-matching technology used in this area. He said the main interest of manufacturing process engineers, quality specialists and production managers is to reduce manufacturing cycle times, increase overall capacity and reduction of scrap and rework.

Going to the Cloud

Some newer cloud-based initiatives, like Autodesk Inc.’s (San Rafael, CA) PLM 360 system announced earlier this year, potentially could shake up the PLM market, offering substantially lower-cost alternatives to the more established PLM developers. Other lower-cost PLM systems primarily are PDM-based systems that do not offer engineering elements, such as the cloud-based system from Arena Solutions (Foster City, CA).

The cloud in manufacturing holds much potential, notes Patrick Fetterman, vice president, marketing and product management for Plex Systems (Auburn Hills, MI), developer of the cloud-based Plex Online ERP solution. “For the first time, manufacturing is adopting a technology faster than other sectors,” Fetterman noted recently in an IMTS presentation on how cloud-based solutions support PLM and manufacturing execution. 

Effective PLM processes seamlessly integrate product planning and manufacturing, Fetterman said, and the process requires real-time, cross-enterprise collaboration. “We’re not a PLM system, and we’re not a CAD/CAM system, but we love it when our systems are tightly integrated with PLM.”

Integration of the PLM-ERP-MES chain, tying manufacturing operations’ production with planning and order execution, is critical, he added. “When these two systems are integrated, the guy on the shop floor pushes a button and you can make quality parts. Nobody can afford to make bad parts,” Fetterman states. “Scrap is unacceptable.”


“A lot of times we’re at the table with customers

because we’re a

cloud-based application.”


In Plex Online, the system has connections to solutions like those from Siemens PLM and that can help manufacturers seamlessly integrate with those systems. “We’ve seen cost savings, and lowering the cost of quality, by 25–65%. The BOM [bill of materials] is more accurate. There’s a shorter time to market, with up to a 40% reduction in cycle time by reducing the number of data errors and giving people the right information in their hands.” 

In many cases, ERP and PLM systems handle some of the same functions through many manufacturing organizations, noted CIMdata’s Bilello. Aside from the big two PLM developers Siemens PLM and Dassault, Bilello said some of the major “mindshare” leaders in the PLM space include Autodesk, ERP suppliers SAP (Newtown Square, PA), Oracle (Redwood City, CA), and CAD/PLM developer PTC (Needham, MA).

After announcing in February its cloud-based PLM 360, Autodesk has had great interest from customers with its low up-front costs and very low pricing model, noted Rob Cohee, senior manager, PLM and Product Management, Autodesk Inc. (San Rafael, CA), developer of AutoCAD. The company, which has offered an on-premise PLM system called the Vault since 2003, in September announced a partnership with Jitterbit (Oakland, CA), a developer of flexible application and data integration software, to work on new integration tools to be used with Autodesk’s on-premise system and cloud-based PLM 360.

“Our combined approach to PDM and PLM really answers some of the concerns that our customers had,” noted Cohee. “What I’ve found is that a lot of times we’re at the table with customers because we’re a cloud-based application. Through this, we’re able to offer it at a significantly lower up-front costs and a more attractive pricing model.”

Many customers are intrigued by the PLM 360 pricing, both low initial costs and monthly fees, as well as the system’s fast deployment capabilities, Cohee said. “There is an overall dissatisfaction with the PLM experience as the market matures,” he stated, “with the high up-front costs of ownership and lengthy deployments.” With PLM 360, new customers are set up with a login for the system within 24-48 hours, he added.

The system also includes Autodesk’s Simulation 360, Cohee pointed out, which is the computational fluid dynamics (CFD) acquired when Autodesk bought Algor two years ago. “It doesn’t have to take months to deploy your enterprise applications,” Cohee said. “It’s capable of getting your team members involved much more quickly in the process. Directly out of the cloud they receive about 13 apps, and 36-40 actual workspaces where people capture data. There’s a Quality Management app that gets delivered to customers that gives them the data to do quality inspections immediately.”

Autodesk also recently added the Factory Floor Asset Management application that allows technicians to calibrate equipment and set maintenance tasks for machinery on the factory floor. The Autodesk cloud PLM is easily accessed by an iPad or any other tablet or handheld device, Cohee noted. “That’s one of the inherent aspects of PLM 360 that doesn’t receive its just due,” he states. “If you have a browser, you can access it.” ME

This article was first published in the November 2012 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.  Click here for PDF.  


Published Date : 11/1/2012

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