There is still a lot of talk about breaking down the “silos” within a manufacturing enterprise. Design engineers design products that manufacturing engineers manufacture, but difficulty in getting these professionals to communicate remains. Beyond cultural and business issues, it might also be a question of their digital tools, software that is vital to their jobs today. If design data cannot easily be transformed into manufacturing data, silos will persist. Siemens, like other software providers, is trying to address the problem by offering toolsets that are easier to integrate and work together.
These tools and how best to use them formed the major theme at the Siemens Digital Industries Software Media and Analyst Conference held in New York Sept. 3-6, 2019.
The Xcelerator portfolio, announced on Sept. 4 at the conference, is a suite of many existing offerings, with a few new capabilities and better integration, according to Tony Hemmelgarn, president and CEO of Siemens Digital Industries Software (formerly Siemens PLM Software). Speaking at the conference, Hemmelgarn was careful not to call Xcelerator a platform. Rather, it is a portfolio comprised of multiple applications and solutions for Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Electronic Design Automation (EDA), Application Lifecycle Management (ALM), Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM), and Embedded Software and Internet of Things (IoT).
The new wrinkle that Hemmelgarn emphasized was the inclusion of Mendix, a no-code and low-code system for application development. Mendix was acquired by Siemens in 2018. The no-code and low-code movement is an attempt to ease the burden on IT departments by allowing domain experts direct access to developing applications without deep, or any, knowledge of programming languages such as C or Python. They use pre-existing blocks of code represented by graphical symbols to create applications that tap into other existing software systems, such as SAP and now NX and the other tools Siemens Digital Industries offers. “Abstracting complexity is a key point” in its benefits, said Derek Roos, CEO of Mendix.
Creating simple-to-build and easy-to-use applications is one of the important promises in using his company’s technology, which he said is sometimes met with skepticism by potential users. “We do notice that adoption in the engineering community goes faster than with other Mendix customers,” he said, such as users in finance or banking, where Mendix got its start.
“The Mendix platform offers Xcelerator customers the ability to build multi-experience apps and share data on any device, from any location, on any cloud and any platform and more quickly realize the benefits of digital transformation,” according to a Siemens’ press release dated Sept 4.
A Siemens’ spokesman, Noah Cole, described the new work incorporating Mendix into the Xcelerator portfolio as “digital data plumbing” between the Mendix application development platform and existing software such as NX, Teamcenter, Opcenter, and Simcenter. This includes within Mendix now the addition of app services for IoT powered by Siemens’ MindSphere.
The underlying goal of new capabilities is to use them in creating digital twins, which may be viewed as somewhat primitive in its current conception. For a few years now, the Siemens software group (whatever its name) has stressed the importance of the digital twin as another technique for breaking down silos. The takeaway from various speakers at the conference was that there are at least two ways it could be improved. First, the engineering foundation of a digital twin can go deeper to include functionality, and second, broader to include the process and plant that produces it.
“A digital twin needs to be more than a 3D model,” Hemmelgarn said. “Digital twin is nothing new, we have been talking about this for years. The difference is in what a digital twin has become.” He used the auto industry as an example, where a digital twin at a major domestic OEM is used for packaging and part fit. “Today, all of the parts [in a new vehicle] goes together without issues,” he said. While that is good, it is no longer good enough. The next step is verifying the vehicle does what it is intended, such as provide a smooth ride or needed fuel-efficiency. “You want to know more than how will it snap-up together,” Hemmelgarn said, but whether it will provide the experience end-users want, whether it is an automobile or airplane or something else. “The digital twin has to be more than just a 3D model.”
As for breadth in the production process, Siemens reiterated that its various process simulation tools, including its Tecnomatix factory simulation, is ideal in creating a production and plant digital twin. These operate from a library of a Bill of Processes that companies can create for themselves.
Putting these themes together, Brenda Discher, senior vice president for business strategy and marketing for Siemens Industrial Digital Software, emphasized the need for a closed-loop digital twin. A closed-loop digital twin extends beyond integrated systems that incorporates the product, the process to make it, and the plant where it is made, treating each as a sub-system. Closed-loop means data is fed between each sub-system to adapt the system for peak performance. This does require constant care and feeding of these models with data to keep them current, and so the pay-off versus the on-going expense will need careful attention.
The most interesting of the case studies presented at the conference was that of VinFast, the new Vietnamese car company founded in 2017 that built a green-field manufacturing plant and claimed to have started production in June 2019. Dave Lyon, chief designer for VinFast, spoke at the conference, emphasizing the utility of Siemens’ digital tool suite in helping meet a tight schedule. The first vehicles have been E-Scooters, compact cars, sedans, and SUVs. These will be followed by battery electric passenger cars as well as electric buses, according to a press release from Siemens. The cars appear to be aimed primarily at the domestic Vietnamese market.
The entire value chain, according to Siemens, is integrated in VinFast using digital tools including in Siemens’ Digital Enterprise portfolio, which includes the Xcelerator portfolio of software and Totally Integrated Automation (TIA).
While the digital tools were important, a number of factors contributed to such a fast development cycle, usually twice as long or more, according to Lyon. For instance, there are reports that the two models they unveiled at the 2018 Paris Motor Show are based on BMW-licensed models and engines. But they did create unique exterior and interior designs, using Siemens software. Lyon said that VinFast did much of their design work strictly in the digital world. This meant they did not have to resort to physical properties, like clay models, until such physical properties were created and shown, for example, at the Paris show. It is a case study of using digital twins to speed up and enhance work and reduce time-consuming reliance on physical properties for engineering and design coordination.
For more information on Siemens Digital Industries Software products and services, visit www.sw.siemens.com