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Siemens Gives Some Details of ‘Digital Twin’ Work with SpaceX, Maserati

Brett Brune
By Brett Brune Editor in Chief, Smart Manufacturing

Siemens is working to fulfill the Industry 4.0 vision with the digital twin, speakers from the software firm told people attending its namesake product lifecycle management (PLM) software conference this week in Orlando, FL.

Zvi Feuer, senior vice president of manufacturing engineering software for Siemens PLM Software, a business unit of the Siemens Digital Factory Division, recalled a visit to Hawthorne, CA-based SpaceX a few months back.

Elon Musk, who founded the aerospace upstart, always talks about how to impact 1 billion people, Feuer said.

Now, Siemens sees itself doing so with the digital twin.

“When you walk the shop floor at SpaceX, on one side, see young engineers running around in flip flops and holding laptops in their arms: These are the software guys” that make up the digital twin of SpaceX’s physical manufacturing facility.

“On the other side, you see hardworking Americans—all kinds of people … assembling rocket engines and putting composite materials together to build these rockets and test them,” he said. “And all of this is done with our technology.”

In a case study posted on a Siemens web page this year, the software giant notes that 14-year-old “SpaceX aims to revolutionize the commercial space industry with rockets that cut the cost of a launch by a factor of 10.”

The firm’s Falcon 1 rocket can lift a half ton into low-earth orbit for about $6 million, “one-third the cost of other currently available options,” Siemens said, noting that the firm is also building a Falcon 9 rocket and a Dragon capsule. Designers at SpaceX tried using a mid-range computer-aided design (CAD) program to develop the Falcon 1 but after a year switched to Siemens’ CAD, finite element analysis (FEA) and product data management (PDM) software. The PLM solution included NX software, Femap software, and Teamcenter software.

The NX software is used for the entire SpaceX rocket, Siemens said. Once loaded, “a virtual mockup of the rocket enables designers to readily find interferences.” And technicians on the shop floor look at NX models as they build the rocket to better understand a rocket’s inner workings—including the routes of tubes and wires inside. NX is also used to simulate motion, allowing SpaceX designers to further check their work.

Designing a rocket takes the coordinated effort of three different engineering teams: propulsion, structures and avionics. In part because the teams at SpaceX are located in different buildings, SpaceX uses Teamcenter as its repository for all documentation related to the design and manufacture of the Falcon, Siemens noted.

“Between the significantly better process control made possible by Teamcenter and the higher productivity resulting from the move to NX, SpaceX has experienced a 50% productivity improvement,” Siemens asserted.

“We can impact more than 1 billion people at Siemens—because if we do a good job in manufacturing, we create well-paying jobs for people and bring a good environment because can control the environment; we can reduce energy consumption while we produce,” Feuer told people attending the Siemens software conference this week in Florida.


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