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Software Speeds Innovation

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With product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions, manufacturers improve time-to-market and factory processes


By Patrick Waurzyniak
Senior Editor 

With intense competitive pressures demanding that manufacturers dramatically compress product lifecycles, the latest collaborative product lifecycle management (PLM) software solutions are becoming increasingly important for companies seeking to speed products to market.

PLM software encompasses a wide range of software tools, including CAD/CAM and NC machining software as well as digital manufacturing solutions with 3-D visualization and simulation, that altogether promise to help innovative manufacturers save a great deal of time and money spent on product development. Key virtual factory systems allow manufacturers to digitally design and validate factory-floor processes before ever committing to buying expensive machine-tool equipment (see "Visualizing the Virtual Factory" in the April 2004 issue of Manufacturing Engineering), cutting costs and speeding time-to-market.

Reducing costs and compressing product development are critical for today's manufacturers, and the PLM market is forecast to grow substantially in upcoming years. The overall PLM market grew 8% in 2004 to approximately $16.7 billion compared to 2003, according to market researcher CIMdata Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI), which estimates PLM will grow at an 8% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) to about a $25 billion market by 2009.

By deploying PLM solutions, manufacturers can gain great insights into improving tooling and manufacturing processes, cutting costs by validating designs early in the process. "When we look at the genesis of a new product, it starts with a conceptual phase, with a definition of requirements, which are typically derived from market studies and from assessment," notes Peter Schmitt, vice president, Dassault Systèmes (Paris), developer of CATIA CAD/CAM and PLM software solutions. "From the very first concept of a product, you outline the functionality of a product, come out with a first design, do a full analysis of all the aspects of this product, which includes, for example, stress test, vibration, noise, crash tests--all aspects of computer-aided engineering related to that product--to ensure the product can fulfill the purpose it is designed for, and you have the capability to validate that within our design environment."

Using PLM software from Dassault, which includes digital manufacturing solutions from its Delmia software, a manufacturer can easily define how products will be built and optimize processes early, before ever cutting metal. Says Schmitt: "The second aspect of PLM is the definition of how is this product going to be manufactured? What are the processes, how many people do I need, what kind of resources do I need? What kind of different scenarios can I look at, for example, fully automated versus completely manual? Will it be done in a high cost or a low-cost country, and if so, what is the impact? Will I have to split production and have two locations, or maybe have one or more assembly lines? All those aspects are validated within our Delmia suite."

With Dassault's PLM tools, users develop products with CATIA in the design space and Delmia in the manufacturing space, Schmitt notes, with the company's many other tools for the collaborative sharing of data during the product development cycle. "The key element with all those people creating the information and the data is that they have a good way to share and collaborate," he says. "That is handled with our Enovia and Smarteam product lines, to ensure that the data is consistent, that you can apply it with filters to the data you're looking at, that you can collaborate with the different teams and disciplines. The solutions give you access control on who can do what kind of changes, so that it's traceable, to enable instant collaboration on specific critical issues to be resolved."

Aerospace and automotive manufacturers have made wide use of Dassault's PLM tools, as evidenced by Dassault customer Pratt & Whitney Canada (see sidebar on page 56), a builder of aircraft engines that was able to greatly reduce costs and time-to-market by eliminating prototypes while improving speed of NC programming and increasing collaboration with its customers.

"PLM allows you to start production and validate all the components of creating product, manufacturing the product, and getting the right performance out of the system," Schmitt adds. "Everything is tested and validated before you have to commit to a single investment in physical resources, meaning the production lines, even the facilities--you're able to completely validate that."

Visualizing the shop floor provides a key benefit to manufacturers implementing PLM technologies, according to Bill Carrelli, vice president, UGS (Plano, TX), developer of NX CAD/CAM software and PLM solutions. "One of the most important things is that it links the shop floor back up into the product planning and product-development process. This means it's really tying the manufacturing processes and the process plans to come out of manufacturing, back up into design and closing the loop with the designers, so that instead of just throwing these designs over the wall and creating all sorts of problems, they're able to take advantage of the knowledge of the manufacturing shop floor, and bring that forward.

"PLM systems also provide the ability to simulate what manufacturing workcells are doing with the actual manufacturing processes, so that the up-front design and development work can be done within the context of looking at existing plant resources--what kind of tooling you have, how my factory's laid out--so that I can re-use those resources when I'm developing new products, by understanding and simulating those manufacturing processes."

With UGS' PLM tools, factory-floor operators can use a suite of digital manufacturing products including the Tecnomatix line of eMPower software tools that UGS added to its lineup when it acquired Israeli PLM software developer Tecnomatix Technologies Ltd. earlier this year. UGS has folded its former eFactory solutions into its PLM product line now marketed under the Tecnomatix brand. "A lot of these technologies provide control-room dashboards," Carrelli says. "If you're out on the shop floor and tracking an order, these dashboards can be used to tune the shop-floor machining, to maximize the productivity and the performance around the orders themselves."

Aerospace and automotive are two industries making widespread use of PLM technologies today. At Eclipse Aviation Corp. (Albuquerque, NM), UGS PLM tools are being used to speed up development time on its Eclipse 500 corporate jet that aims to reduce operating costs by half compared to typical small business aircraft.

With software for next-generation digital mock-up and validation capabilities, Eclipse has targeted compressing its development time and achieving a high level of design optimization. Using the NX machining software, Tecnomatix PLM solutions, and Teamcenter software from UGS, Eclipse created a twin-turbofan jet aircraft that will cost less than most used turboprops. Targeted for availability in early 2006, the Eclipse 500 aircraft will sell for about $1 million. The company is banking on the idea that its aircraft will open the market to aircraft charter and air taxi services, complete with professional pilots, that will be competitive with full-fare airline tickets.

Eclipse Aviation started from scratch with a new factory that will build more than 1000 aircraft a year. "In this market segment, it's considered a success if you produce 100 aircraft a year," explains Oliver Masefield, Eclipse Aviation senior vice president of engineering. "To reach our goal of producing 1000-plus aircraft annually, we must develop new technologies that let us manufacture at high volume and low cost."

The challenges associated with the undertaking were enormous, with the company's industry-changing price model requiring having some of the aircraft's components manufactured offshore to help control costs. Time was another key element, especially during certain phases of aircraft development, such as the design cycle, so Eclipse Aviation management realized early that meeting its goals would require PLM technology. Eclipse worked closely with UGS on the new aircraft. Eclipse designers modeled the entire aircraft down to the last rivet in NX, and all product information, from digital models to the last scrap of paper documentation, is managed within Teamcenter, which also permits visualization, digital mock-up, and validation capabilities. The factory is being designed and optimized in Tecnomatix, which can import digital models of the aircraft to permit simulations of different factory layouts.

"Our ability to meet our targets depends on digital mock-up and validation," notes Masefield. "This allows us to achieve a degree of optimization that was previously only possible with hard prototypes. We don't have time to learn from prototypes. The ability to create digital mock-ups and validate them in software means that our prototypes are production representative aircraft."

Digital design and manufacturing was required with Eclipse's tight design timeframe. "To optimize this aircraft for weight, cost, and maintainability requires many design iterations," Masefield states. "Typically optimization is done by building and testing metal mock-ups and revising the design based on the results. By doing this work digitally, we cut an enormous amount of time out of the design cycle."

Eclipse is one of the first companies to work with the FAA using digital models. In most cases, the FAA requires aircraft manufacturers to supply paper drawings as they go through the certification process. But the agency conducted design reviews with Eclipse using the company's digital models, and it also allowed Eclipse to maintain its own documentation rather than requiring the company to provide a complete set of documentation that resides with the FAA. This was contingent on Eclipse being able to demonstrate that it could access product information quickly and accurately. "With Tecnomatix, we can see our factory and our plane as very detailed virtual designs, down to the smallest rack of shelves on the assembly floor and the last rivet in the aircraft," Charles Kraft, Eclipse Aviation's manager, electronic data management.

Plant design tools also saved Eclipse time and money, enabling the company to lay out operations digitally and simulate different plant configurations. "Simulation is key with a new facility," adds Kraft. "We imported aircraft models into Tecnomatix so that we can design factory spaces such as workcells and machine centers around them, then we simulated different arrangements to find the ones that work best."

Validating a workcell in software was critical because Eclipse needed to be able to extend its production centers beyond its own operations in the future. "The biggest benefit of simulation for us," adds Masefield, "is that we can validate the virtual factory at a level of detail where we can be totally confident that what we designed will work, even if we ship a workcell somewhere else."

Using UGS' PLM software helped Eclipse Aviation stay on track to meet its cost targets, notes Masefield, with solutions permitting optimization of aircraft and factory operations in a very short time. "A prototype of the left wing was assembled in days," Masefield notes. "Under normal circumstances, that would take months."


Digital Engine Takes Off With PLM

Using Dassault's CATIA V5, Enovia, and Delmia solutions, Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC, Longueil, Canada) has deployed digital technology through the entire product lifecycle of building aircraft engines, resulting in the engine maker dramatically cutting time-to-market and saving millions of dollars per year.

P&WC, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp., employs approximately 9000 people worldwide, and to date, the manufacturer has built more than 55,000 engines for customers in 190 countries. In the aircraft industry, the development time of an engine is critical and it poses a major constraint for aircraft manufacturers. "To be more proactive to customer demand, we had to reduce the development lifecycle of a brand new engine to less than three years," recalls Mario Modafferi, P&WC director, Engine Design. "This gave us a competitive edge."

To manage the increasing sophistication of engines, P&WC had to integrate an ever-growing number of global strategic development partners. P&WC also needed a PLM solution that covered the end-to-end engine development processes to empower innovation. "We cover so many disciplines, we want to ensure that our products reflect state-of-the-art technology in aerodynamics, structure, mechanical design, performance, and control," notes Modafferi.

The company implemented a Dassault Systèmes and IBM PLM solution based on CATIA V5, Enovia VPM, Enovia Portal, and Delmia. With Enovia DMU V5, P&WC gained the flexibility to share different degrees of digital mock-up information among its internal teams, suppliers, and customers. With CATIA V5 assembly modeling, Enovia DMU design in context, digital mock-up, silhouettes, and other features are estimated to save P&WC over $1 million per year.

By designing right the first time with Dassault/IBM PLM, the company estimates it has eliminated the need for a physical mock-up for interference analysis and maintenance simulation purposes, the cost of which represents approximately $500,000 per engine program. Clash and fitting simulation allows detection of collisions and gaps early in the design process, saving hundreds of hours of design time on each program. "Clash detection occurs even before the first engine is built, and 70% of interferences are now resolved at the early design stage," states Modafferi. "It saves us money and time on each project."

Virtual prototyping enables P&WC to verify accessibility and maintainability of aircraft engines. P&WC can now virtually optimize and validate engine removal using a human manikin, demonstrate the engine extraction, estimate maintenance time more accurately, and obtain acceptance from the aircraft manufacturer.

This article was first published in the November 2005 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.