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Using PLE to Control Product Variations

Charles Krueger

Charles W. Krueger
Chief Executive Officer
BigLever Software Inc.
Austin, TX

Manufacturing Engineering: Describe your company’s product line engineering [PLE] software. Is it related to product lifecycle management [PLM] software?

Charles Krueger: It’s sort of an orthogonal activity to PLM. PLE began a few decades ago focused on software, and I did my PhD thesis in the area. With PLE, it’s all about managing a family of products, or a system of systems, in a way that is as efficient as possible. The challenge with that is finding an effective way to take advantage of things that are common across the product line, while managing the variation.Product Line Engineering (PLE) Lifecycle Framework from BigLever Software helps manufacturers manage variation by establishing a PLE Factory production line that automatically assembles and configures

PLE brings a new approach for managing product line diversity based on features. Manufacturers can create a PLE Factory that automatically assembles and configures systems and software assets—such as requirements, design models, source code, BOMs, and test cases—guided by product feature profiles, to produce all products in a product line. This PLE Factory production line approach also manages how the various product features and feature combinations interact with each other, which is most often in very complex ways.

ME: How long has this PLE software existed, and how has it evolved?

Krueger: It’s been around for 20–25 years, but it’s grown and matured. What happened over time is we’ve helped companies like Lockheed Martin support product variation across the engineering lifecycle in a way that’s consistent. Imagine you have an optional feature of a product family, say in automotive, it could be a Pedestrian Detection System, where some vehicles will have it, and some won’t. PLE’s role is to understand and efficiently manage what’s optional—I want my software and my calibrations to understand what’s optional, and that I need my PLM’s Bill of Materials to understand what’s optional. So we just make a feature choice that says Pedestrian Detection System in or out. This single choice could impact thousands of places across the engineering lifecycle. PLE manages that, and automates the configuration of assets needed to create that product instance.

ME: Does this software fit in well with the emerging products in the Internet of Things [IoT]?

Krueger: It does. While there’s some hype in the market [with IoT], it’s very relevant to what we’re doing with our customer, General Dynamics and the Army CPM [Consolidated Product Line Management] program. CPM is for building the training systems for the soldiers, so it can entail a single soldier training on a computer, like a video-game program, all the way up to a 2000-soldier, battalion-level force-on-force simulated combat in one of those courts somewhere, where they’re all laser-tagged and instrumented. If you think of the soldiers as things—they’ve all got their personal-area network that’s got all of their devices hooked up—you could connect them to the larger system that’s sending signals to show simulated explosions.

ME: Have you worked extensively with the military?

Krueger: Absolutely. Surprisingly, one of the earliest adopters of PLE was aerospace and defense, with companies like Lockheed Martin in its Aegis ship program, the Navy cruise missile destroyers. Lockheed’s Aegis system started using it about seven or eight years ago, and it’s very, very successful—they’re recording about $50 million a year in cost avoidance. That’s essentially 50% of the effort, if you look at the total cost of what the engineers are doing. Working with PLE tools and methods, they’ve eliminated half their costs. They get twice as much done as they were previously able to do.

ME: Are you partnering with any IoT software developers?

Krueger: Yes. We integrate with Aras, and IBM is a long-standing partner of ours. They’re using one of our customers, the Army training system, as a good example of an Internet of Things application. It lines up really well. It’s been around for a long time, but if you listen to the IoT message coming out from IBM, what’s happened there is strongly analogous to what they see the world of interconnected devices should look like.

ME: How important will the IoT and connected systems become in the future?

Krueger: I think it’s interesting to connect some things to the Internet, such as cars and equipment that’s sensitive to maintenance—all of that’s very important. I think sometimes you hear from companies ‘Everything’s going to be connected!’ Samsung gave some numbers that by 2018 or 2020, every Samsung device would be on the Internet.

ME: So your PLE software can greatly help manufacturers with variation control on their product developments?

Krueger: Certainly, it’s key for development. One of the challenges in manufacturing is that we have too many parts, and our factories have to deal with too many variations. Historically that’s all been managed from what’s called Complexity Management—reducing the number of parts, reducing the number of part variations. Our PLE approach elevates the discussion to focus on features. What are the interesting and economically useful features and options to put in your product? This is one of the big benefits of PLE—allowing manufacturers to build, manage, and evolve their product line based on features. So rather than using a Bill of Materials to determine features, they can use a Bill of Features to determine materials—where materials can include mechanical assets, electrical, wiring, software, calibrations, requirements, designs, test cases, documentation, etc. It’s a new way of looking at the engineering and manufacturing process.


PTC Making a Splash in IIoT

At its live-streamed “ThingEvent” conference Jan. 28 in Boston, CAD/CAM and PLM software supplier PTC (Needham, MA) signaled its intentions to go big in the race to develop enterprise-wide software for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). PTC acquired the IIoT developer ThingWorx in late 2013 and then later added Vuforia in November 2015. As a PTC subsidiary, Vuforia announced at the event new features for its augmented reality (AR) platform with support for Windows 10 and also the company’s new VuMark solution for adding AR experiences to any object.

The addition of AR to its IIoT offerings aims to add a disruptive technology to the enterprise, according to PTC. Vuforia’s AR platform is supported by more than 200,000 developers who have built some 20,000 apps for smartphones, tablets and a new generation of digital eyewear, according to the company. “PTC believes the technology has arrived to completely transform the way we interact with and experience things, and that technology is augmented reality,” said Jay Wright, Vuforia general manager and senior vice president, PTC. “Our goal with Vuforia is to deliver an augmented reality experience on top of all types of things—and fundamentally change the future of work.”

VuMark, which the companies dubbed the next-generation bar code, potentially could alter the way applications are delivered to the machinery and manufactured goods that will be found in future IIoT ecosystems. VuMark is said to offer a simple method for encoding data, such as a URL or a product serial number, and it is capable of overcoming the limitations of existing bar code technologies that do not support the AR experience or that may detract from a product’s appearance.

Service applications are the first “killer app” for the Internet of Things (IoT), and new augmented reality applications will be critical for service, noted PTC CEO Jim Hepplemann at the ThingEvent. PTC offered a glimpse into the future of IIoT enterprise applications, showing its new ThingX platform for building AR-enabled apps, which included the new ThingServer, for storing IIoT data; the ThingBrowser, a way to browse IIoT objects on the Web; and the ThingBuilder, for leveraging CAD models and other data for manufacturers to easily build IIoT applications. PTC said that support for Windows 10 and VuMark will be publicly available to all developers this spring.



Siemens AG (Berlin and Munich) and CAE simulation developer CD-adapco (Melville, NY) announced Jan. 25 that the companies signed a stock purchase agreement under which Siemens will buy CD-adapco for $970 million. CD-adapco is a global simulation company with solutions in a wide range of engineering disciplines including computational fluid dynamics (CFD), solid mechanics, heat transfer, particle dynamics, reactant flow, electrochemistry, acoustics and rheology.

Siemens plans to integrate CD-adapco into the PLM software business of Siemens’ Digital Factory division. “As part of its Vision 2020, Siemens is acquiring CD-adapco and sharpening its focus on growth in digital business and expanding its portfolio in the area of industry software,” said Klaus Helmrich, member of the Managing Board of Siemens, in a statement. “Simulation software is key to enabling customers to bring better products to the market faster and at less cost.”

In its last fiscal year, privately held CD-adapco had more than 900 employees and revenue of almost $200 million with double-digit profit margins, according to the companies. CD-adapco’s simulation tools include its flagship product STAR-CCM+, and its solutions allow engineers to discover better designs, faster. With more than 3200 customers worldwide, CD-adapco’s software is currently used by 14 of the 15 largest carmakers, by all of the top 10 suppliers to the aerospace industry, and by nine of the 10 largest manufacturers in the energy and marine sectors.

Sandvik Coromant (Fair Lawn, NJ) announced Feb. 1 that is has acquired Prometec GmbH (Aachen, Germany), a developer of advanced solutions for monitoring and control of machining processes in production machines. The company also supplies equipment for laser beam diagnostics and primarily operates in the European and North American market. A large part of the customer base comes from the global automotive industry.

The acquisition includes all shares in Prometec GmbH. The company, which has 35 employees and had sales of approximately 48 MSEK for fiscal year 2014-2015, will be integrated with Sandvik Coromant, according to Sandvik, and will be part of Sandvik Machining Solutions’ efforts in Industry 4.0 and digital manufacturing.


New Releases

SPC software developer Hertzler Systems Inc. (Goshen, IN) has released the latest version of its GainSeeker Suite SPC software. The latest version 8.5 makes disparate manufacturing data even more accessible and actionable. Users can triage, prioritize, address issues faster and more reliably, and uncover hidden opportunities to increase revenue, grow margins, and improve asset performance.

The update contains applications for Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE), SPC, Defect Management, and costly Overpack in a single software package. It also includes a new browser-based analysis tool, Mobile GainSeeker Analysis, to quickly and securely analyze data from any device.


Software Update is edited by Senior Editor Patrick Waurzyniak;

This article was first published in the March 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF. 

Published Date : 3/1/2016

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