SME Logo

Enter the Virtual World

Share this

A new generation of digital manufacturing software tools offer manufacturers a better virtual factory


By Patrick Waurzyniak
Senior Editor 


Squeezing time out of the product development cycle means everything to manufacturers, who often operate on razor-thin profit margins. With the latest generation of digital manufacturing and product lifecycle management (PLM) software tools, manufacturers in the automotive and aerospace industries can greatly compress time-to-market on new product development and cut costs using the newest 3-D simulations for process planning, which now feature much tighter links to industrial automation on the factory floor.

Over the past few years, digital manufacturing tools have grown up, with automotive and aerospace/defense manufacturers deploying more-capable solutions that offer more realistic simulations of factory-floor layouts and processes, including final assembly lines, robotic workcells, and industrial automation controls.

Digital manufacturing solutions are part of collaborative PLM systems and make up the manufacturing element of PLM, including integrated solutions supporting manufacturing process design, tool design, and powerful 3-D visualization simulation tools. The integration of digital manufacturing into PLM solutions is providing a critical link between design and manufacturing engineering, according to market researcher ARC Advisory Group (Dedham, MA), enabling the collaborative environment that is essential to successfully implementing concurrent engineering practices.

"This generation of digital manufacturing technology is taking full advantage of the digital definition and the 3-D simulation capabilities that are available today," states Dick Slansky, senior analyst, PLM and Discrete Manufacturing, ARC Advisory Group. "It's enabling a manufacturing engineer or the controls engineer to go out and actually simulate the production process and the production lines—the equipment, the robotic workcells, the manufacturing process—and build very accurate 3-D simulations of a robotic Body-in-White welding workcell, paint, or final assembly, then integrate the actual digital model of the product itself, such as the Body-in-White panels, or the entire vehicle, that is going through the production line. It enables a complete synchronization and accurate simulation of the actual manufacturing process."

Cutthroat competition, especially among automotive OEMs and suppliers, has made many automakers early adopters of digital manufacturing technologies, although many large aerospace/defense, shipbuilding, and heavy equipment manufacturing operations have also deployed these digital manufacturing tools and PLM to help cut manufacturing costs and compress product development cycles.

Two major software developers—Dassault Systèmes (Paris) with its Delmia Corp.'s (Auburn Hills, MI) digital manufacturing, and UGS PLM Software (Plano, TX) with its UGS Tecnomatix software—offer digital manufacturing software solutions along with PLM systems. In January, Siemens Automation and Drives (Siemens A&D, Nuremburg, Germany), a unit of Siemens AG (Munich), purchased UGS for $3.5 billion, and as of October, the UGS PLM unit is formally known as Siemens PLM Software. The worldwide PLM market reached $7 billion in 2005; it will nearly double to $13 billion by 2010, rising at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of roughly 14% over five years, according to ARC Advisory Group.

The Digital Factory concept has come a long way since its inception in the 1980s, when the former Deneb Robotics, now Delmia, first brought out its Igrip robotic manufacturing tools, notes Robert Axtman, director of business intelligence for Dassault Systèmes' Delmia brand. "Digital manufacturing/digital factory are sometimes interchanged terminologies for what we offer through Delmia, and that has come along quite a bit in our environment and industries globally. We're coming from CAD through digital manufacturing/digital factory, to digital environment, to finally, as I coin it, digital business. Everything is being done digitally today.

"Everything's being transitioned not on a linear line, but on an exponential curve as technology increases and new methodologies occur," Axtman adds. "This digital technology's more affordable, with laptops available on the shop floor for operators to interface with engineering offices in real-time evaluation and real-time collaboration.

"We're offering our Workshop Instructions, where the processes and methodologies to manufacture the CAD-generated product—how to make the product and with what to make it—are being fed down digitally to the shop floor to the operator," he adds. "With this, the operator can see how to manufacture, assemble, disassemble, or machine that particular subassembly or part, on a screen in front of him in a simulated fashion, so that he can best optimize how to meet time and scheduling requirements for production. This is also a teaching aid, to minimize turnover if turnover does occur, so each will not take up valuable production time or machine tool time in training the next operator or the second or third shift operators. It can all be done digitally, with simulation validation."

In the upcoming update of Dassault's Version 5 Release 18 (V5R18) integrated suite of CAD/CAM and digital manufacturing/simulation tools, comprised of CATIA, Enovia, and Delmia solutions, the company will enhance its V5R18 solution set with new versions of Delmia's DPM (Digital Process Manufacturing) for Assembly, DPM Body in White, DPM Powertrain, Delmia V5 Robotics, and Delmia Virtual NC simulation offerings. In keeping with its focus on 3-D simulation, Dassault also recently added to its visualization toolbox with 3DLive, a collaborative, lightweight online 3-D solution for sharing data in real-time across the enterprise.

"With our 3DLive viewer, regardless of position within an enterprise, the CXO level down to the shop-floor operator—all have access to data of whatever product they're manufacturing, and they can take a look at each individual entity of that product," Axtman notes. "If it's a large assembly, or even a small electronic assembly, you take a look at each vital part of the complete product, identify how it's made, with what it's made, where it's being supplied from, if it's manufactured in-house or out-sourced, if there's any production or any cost overrun problems on it, and view it in a multilayer 'Lazy Susan,' if you will. They're like disks that are stacked up on each other, with the different subassemblies pulled apart."

Forging links with automation, digital manufacturing developers are enabling major time-to-market gains with automation simulation such as Dassault's V5 Delmia Automation platform introduced in late 2005, as well as the combined automation/digital manufacturing simulation capabilities now offered by the Siemensowned UGS. "The big game-changer, I think, has been Siemens acquisition of UGS," notes ARC's Slansky. With automation tied to digital manufacturing, manufacturing engineering and controls engineering professionals working on the shop floor can more easily prove-out new systems with advanced simulation and manufacturing process planning tools. "With Delmia Automation and Siemens' Tecnomatix automation platforms, engineers are able to not only simulate the robotic synchronization to the production line, or some other workcell, but also generate control code for PLCs that will be controlling conveyors or any other automation," he adds. "With this, they can generate an engineering code and then post it against an actual PLC."

Prior to Siemens buying UGS, Siemens had worked with Tecnomatix, an Israeli factory simulation software developer that itself was acquired by UGS in 2005. "On the Tecnomatix side, they've had an agreement for years with Siemens for their production simulation and robotics in which they were able to generate S7 code for a Siemens PLC," Slansky says. "With the use of digital manufacturing, I'd say the Europeans are probably a little bit ahead of North America and the other manufacturing areas in terms of applying this, because Tecnomatix has been used by BMW, VW, Mercedes, DaimlerBenz—those guys have been using these tools, and they're probably ahead of North America in terms of actual adoption and application."

In June, Siemens outlined its end-to-end PLM strategy and vision for merging PLM and automation. With UGS PLM solutions, Siemens A&D told analysts that it plans to provide everything needed for product development, automation, and support from the enterprise level to the factory floor, utilizing Siemens' expertise in manufacturing execution systems (MES), automation, and factory operations along with UGS' PLM capabilities, according a recent ARC Advisory Group report. Siemens also is working on its Siemens/UGS PLM Archimedes Project, according to the ARC report, which consists of five focus areas including: adaptive manufacturing; virtual commissioning, using digital manufacturing tools to validate physical production systems, automation, and MES; harmonized lifecycles, integrating PLM backbone with shop-floor controls and production management; hi-fi machining, with a tighter link between CAM and the CNC control; and mechatronics, the merging of mechanical and electrical design for high-tech and embedded systems.

"Adaptive manufacturing is one of the more interesting ones," notes Slansky of Siemens' plans. "Their vision is to provide an end-to-end PLM solution from product design all the way to automation. In the typical PLM world, where you have the design build and the product design build, it sort of ended at the manufacturing floor, in terms of manufacturing and process design, process planning, and then into simulation. They want to take that simulation and push it all the way to automation, and the idea of adaptive manufacturing goes to the notion of designing for automation. We've had this idea of concurrent manufacturing around for a while, where we design to enable the product to have better manufacturability. But this is taking it quite a step further, designing the product itself so it is amenable to the automation technology that's available—in other words, more flexible manufacturing systems."

Tying simulation to inspection is also a key goal of the Archimedes Project, with a digital planning and validation system that links UGS Tecnomatix simulation tools with physical inspection systems, Slansky adds. "It's going to be another game-changer, and this is the first real instance of the merging of the Siemens A&D technologies in automation with some of the digital manufacturing technologies," he says. "It's really all-encompassing, hooking up the product test/CAE capabilities with digital manufacturing simulation technologies. It hooks that up with the actual inspection systems, like laser-gap measurement in Body-in-White, with CMM machines on the shop floor. And the whole thrust is to completely revisit the notion of quality assurance from end-to-end."

Since acquiring UGS, Siemens PLM Software also has more tightly integrated its UGS Tecnomatix digital manufacturing solutions with the company's UGS Teamcenter PLM portfolio. In June, it released the latest update of its digital manufacturing suite of software with Tecnomatix Version 8.0, which included the next-generation robotic simulation and automation process planning tool, Process Simulate Robotics. Tecnomatix 8 is the first release to support general assembly workflow within native Teamcenter, according to Siemens PLM Software, and Process Simulate Robotics enables companies to bring robotics and automation environments together with a platform for digitally validating shopfloor deployment, or plant commissioning, on a virtual model.

While Siemens is a major automation player, the V5 Delmia Automation offering has had successes since being launched nearly two years ago. "The Delmia Automation platform is a fairly sophisticated automation platform for taking simulation and generating actual automation," Slansky states. "In fact, General Motors has adopted the Delmia automation platform and at CCRW [GM's Conveyors, Controls, Robotics, and Welding unit], the controls guys are fairly cutting-edge on this stuff. They've adopted the Delmia Automation platform to integrate into their common automation architecture.

"With the competition being what it is today, these guys need to reach out to niche markets with their niche models, so they're going to be looking at much shorter production runs," he adds. "They're going to run 20,000 vehicles, compared to big production, and this mandates that they have a very adaptable, agile production lines—flexible manufacturing. They need to be able to switch over a production line to a new model very, very quickly. Imagine the controls guys down there, putting in a new production line means they have to go out there and physically commission all this stuff. They have to go out there and make sure that all these Body in White robotic workstations, conveyor systems, and final assembly lines work.

"What digital manufacturing brings to the table is they can virtually build production lines and robotic workcells, and completely validate that all this stuff actually works together, right down to the controls, and eliminate a huge chunk of this actual physical validation—or commissioning—by validating this all virtually."

By eliminating the physical prototype and instead using digital mockup and validation tools, manufacturers can literally cut weeks or months off their production schedules, says Slansky. "To put it in quantifiable terms, you could probably cut about a third to a half out of the time to actual launch, because the commissioning takes up such a huge amount of time. It's all about reducing the time to product launch. This is huge for the automotive folks. It's the way they can remain competitive."

Speeding product launches remains a critical goal for most automakers, along with cutting costs and improving product quality. At General Motors (Detroit), the automaker standardized on UGS Teamcenter as its global data management system, but like many PLM users, the company has a heterogeneous environment that also includes Delmia simulation tools.

"The introduction of these new digital technologies has really taken place in the last five years," says Bob Klem, global director of manufacturing engineering, GM Information Systems & Services (IS&S). "We view them as the enablers to the rapid changes in the manufacturing environment, to meet our business goals of cost, quality and timing, and products that help contribute to building great cars and trucks.

"We find that the technology is very challenging, but even more challenging to us right now has not been the development of the technology, but the deployment of the global processes, which are really based on this technology. In the last five years, we've gone from transforming from a manual paper-based organization to the digital base, and now we're moving to that global digital capability."

The digital pipeline's first frontier was product engineering, notes Klem, and in GM's manufacturing engineering organization, the company uses the UGS CAD and Teamcenter, as GM has about 30,000 Teamcenter seats as its product development backbone. "We use the same, primarily Unigraphics, toolkit although we also have other entries into it, and we subscribe to a commercial-off-the-shelf [COTS] toolkit—we do not have customized tools," Klem says. "Teamcenter is really what holds it all the way through the manufacturing engineering group and into the plants. That's the consistent lifecycle story that we have. And with manufacturing engineering, there's a number of unique applications to manufacturing: 3-D plant layout; the Body-in-White Process Planner, and the simulation analysis capabilities, so there's a certain degree of niche tools that we use to complement what is already existing and continuing in the pipeline from product development."

To date, GM has fully deployed those systems into most plant environments. "We're continually looking at the capabilities, and we're looking for the best tools that GM needs," Klem notes. "You balance that with the integration capabilities versus functionality, cost to a lesser extent, but at the present time, maybe there's a bit of legacy. We have used the Delmia toolkit in the past for the simulation capability, workcell simulation, and some of the CCRW work."

Using best-of-breed applications, GM also has implemented Tecnomatix tools from Siemens PLM Software. "A lot of what Delmia and UG have wasn't there six or seven years ago," Klem notes. "They've gone through acquisitions to get there. What fits well with what we're doing is the Tecnomatix suite, and I see that playing very much into the Teamcenter integration base."

Product definitions for automotive body parts are mastered in Teamcenter, where manufacturing engineers access the data to first arrange it into an architectural bill of process, explains Shashi Rajagopalan, manager, Body-in-White manufacturing, GM IS&S. "Next, we start validating the weld-definition points. This is all done with the Unigraphics toolkit, today the NX toolkit weld assistant.

"We use a Delmia toolkit for workcell simulation, making sure there's no collisions, generating the off-line program," Rajagopalan adds, "and Autodesk's AutoCAD products. We also master a 3-D layout in conjunction with FactoryCAD, which is a Unigraphics offering. We have this mix of toolkits, and Delmia's is another key thing where we catch a bunch of collisions—it's basically cost-avoidance measures way-upfront, to be able to evaluate a new process going to an existing plant to see where the plant monuments have to be preserved, so we don't have to rip the entire plant out." Delmia Automation is used for the controls emulation portion. "As we redefine or validate, the Delmia workcell simulation can simulate the mechanical components of the workcell," he adds. "On the controls side of it, we use some of the automation tools to validate the control logic against the actual simulation in the virtual equipment set."

Much of the data used in GM's manufacturing processes is re-used, and changes made to a vehicle or plant facility are updated in Teamcenter. "With change management, we usually have the problem of a time delay between the design and validation of the part and introduction of the part on the shop floor," notes Markus Bernhardt, manager, general assembly manufacturing, GM IS&S. "You need to ensure that process requirements are met on the shop floor, so there's an intentional delay between design and shop-floor integration, especially in general assembly because you have a lot of options to deal with. It's a tremendous challenge."

Over the past five years, the digital manufacturing and PLM systems have helped cut GM's vehicle development time in half, Klem estimates. "We have the ability to leverage and share workflow change and revisions globally in real-time," he adds. "It's something we've been working on for some time, and that reality is with us now."

Join SME members in continuing this dialog in the SME Forums.


This article was first published in the October 2007 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.