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Rolls-Royce’s PLM Journey and Growing Digital Transformation

By SME Media Staff
Rolls-Royce’s Model 250 Helicopter engine shared the stage with President Barack Obama when UI Labs accepted the award to launch the DMDII in Chicago.

Rolls-Royce is working diligently to move into the Digital Age, a journey that it began in the early 2000s. Already, the effort is bearing fruit: Today, in its internal Manufacturing Systems space alone, it has 43 strategic applications, such as CAD/CAM, CAPP, MES and Virtual Simulations, in production with more than 7000 users worldwide. Those applications and integrated processes are delivering over $12 million per year in benefits. As the company continuously expands its digital integration across the entire product lifecycle and into its supply chain, it expects those benefits to increase.

Rolls-Royce operates in markets with very long product lifecycles. Many of its product designs date back to paper and pencil drawings made on a drafting table. Some of its internal factories are 60–70 years old with equipment from multiple eras.

Products the company delivers are highly engineered, complex systems. For example, a typical jet engine can have more than 18,000 different components, and as much as 80% of these components are sourced from external manufacturing supply chain partners. So the company knew legacy product support, internal production infrastructure and interoperability across a global supply chain were going to be challenges.

By 2004, the digital transformation was underway. Initial building blocks of its foundational manufacturing elements were rolled out: PLM CAD/CAM along with Teamcenter.  New product designs were being modeled in 3D, and data was being managed within Teamcenter. At the same time, the company rolled out the first stage of a new factory IT infrastructure, enabling the digital integration of internal manufacturing equipment.

Throughout the remainder of the 2000s, Rolls-Royce continued to expand its PLM CAD/CAM tools. It also began to develop and deploy additional digital manufacturing applications. Enabled by the performance of the initial systems and infrastructure building blocks, the company was able to implement into production several other manufacturing automation technologies including adaptive machining systems, integrated process capability measurement systems, inspection automation and data-collection systems.

By the 2010s, the next generation of the factory IT infrastructure was designed and rolled out, adding more integrated cybersecurity and machine interface capabilities.  The next wave of digital manufacturing applications was also released into production: PLM CAPP (computer-aided process planning), MES (manufacturing execution system) and various shop-floor systems.

Formed Partnership with UI LABS

In 2013, Rolls-Royce began investigating opportunities to expand its digital transformation strategies to include integration across its global supply chain. The company partnered with UI LABS, an innovation accelerator based in Chicago, as a founding member of its proposal team for the DoD-sponsored Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII). In February 2014, UI LABS was awarded $70 million over five years to build DMDII in Chicago. Rolls-Royce was involved every step of the way, from the institute’s launch through the facility build out. Rolls-Royce executives attended the White House ceremony in which UI LABS received its award.

DMDII is part of the US government’s Manufacturing USA initiative. Manufacturing USA brings together industry, academia and federal partners within a growing network of advanced manufacturing institutes to increase US manufacturing competitiveness and promote a robust and sustainable national manufacturing R&D infrastructure. There are 14 institutes across the US, each focused on a different type of manufacturing technology. The mission of the DMDII is to provide US manufacturers across the supply chain with the tools, software and expertise they need to build things more efficiently, less expensively and more quickly.

Collaboration is a core tenet of UI LABS, which stands for University + Industry, and the opportunity to work with other DMDII partners from universities, industry, startups, community groups and civic partners was appealing.

Through the projects Rolls-Royce is engaged in through DMDII, it can leverage the expertise of these other organizations—in some cases, partnering with competitors—to accelerate research and development of digital manufacturing technology.

Tapped into DMC

Rolls-Royce is collaborating with GE Global Research and a number of universities to develop tools that enable small and medium-sized manufacturers to access powerful design-to-manufacturing tools through DMDII’s Digital Manufacturing Commons (DMC).

The goal of DMDII is not to develop technology in a vacuum—instead, it is introducing the new technology developed to real-world factory floors. Developed with that objective in mind, the DMC is an online collaboration platform that enables OEMs like Rolls-Royce to exchange detailed product design information and collaborate on design development with its suppliers in a secure environment. Users of the DMC can access the latest digital capabilities through the platform’s apps marketplace.

As manufacturers begin using new types of platforms like the DMC, and integrating digital technologies onto their factory floors, the types of manufacturing jobs that exist in the United States are changing. DMDII and Rolls-Royce have recognized the importance of having a workforce prepared for the shift underway. DMDII has funded projects to develop a curriculum for the first-ever massive open online course series (MOOC) on digital manufacturing, and to define and map the manufacturing jobs of the future.  Adoption of digital technologies is essential to the success of Rolls-Royce, but those tools are only valuable in the hands of a workforce trained to use them.

Tackled Supply Chain Issues

Rolls-Royce continues to be heavily involved with DMDII. The company is leading or a member of several project research teams developing digital technologies in the areas of advanced manufacturing enterprise and advanced analytics.

For example, one of the initial projects the company is leading is focused on supply chain MBD/MBE improvements.  The objective is to utilize current and emerging model-based definition (MBD) and model-based enterprise (MBE) technologies to achieve substantial change by expanding product definition methodologies beyond part geometry and into annotated semantic models, behavioral parameters, and contextual definition throughout the product lifecycle.

Process modeling: On the left, the model used in the weld repair. On the right, an example of a model used for predicting process performance, geometrical change and material microstructures and properties.

The goal is to develop interoperability of MBD/MBE throughout supply chain by using the latest 3D CAD model neutral formats and improve MBE training curriculum for industry. Benefits the company will see are up to 50% time/cost reduction via improved efficiency, reduction of NPI (new product introduction) cycle time, best practices and interoperability standards established across the supply chain.

Now Addressing MBD Innovation

Another project Rolls-Royce is just beginning is the next generation of MBD/MBE to move MBD beyond geometry and 3D annotations—by demonstrating the use of semantic PMI (product and manufacturing information) at a part feature level. PMI will expand product lifecycle integration by linking part/feature definitions to design intent, analysis, manufacturing process planning, inspection and sustainment product data.

Over the last few years, Rolls-Royce has been updating factories and building new factories all over the world.  All of the foundational elements developed over the years have been defined into standard levels for a manufacturing facility and operation. Tools, processes, standards and people all combined to enable the Factory of the Future.

With the launch of DMDII, the next industrial revolution is underway. The company is now building upon its ever-growing foundational elements and expanding PLM into MBD and MBE.  When integrated across a product lifecycle and throughout the supply chain, MBD/MBE will help enable a full digitally integrated enterprise.

Adopting the Digital Twin, Triplet

Model-based product design has also evolved into model-based design of the physical plant layout, creating a Digital Twin of the manufacturing facility. The Digital Twin of the production facility combined with the digital product and process design enables virtual simulation, verification and optimization of the production flow for make, assembly and service operations. Full validation of multiple production scenarios can be done before any capital spend on facilities through “high-fidelity emulation.”

Digital Twin can also be applied to in-process and as-made products, enabling advanced materials and process modeling solutions to predict, analyze and optimize a manufacturing process prior to physically producing a part.

Various simulation techniques are used to model the manufacturing processes and the effect the process has on the components material, such as residual stress distortion.  These are used to predict process performance, geometrical change and material microstructures and properties. This results in improved process parameters, avoided quality problems, enhanced component material behavior and increased production efficiency. Simulation technologies are used for multiple processes, such as casting, mold and die design, heat treatment and quenching, new alloys and composites.

A Digital Triplet can also be created of the as-used component after service.

Digital Twin and Triplet can then be linked back into design to further optimize performance of product designs. 

Digital Triplet can also be applied to material process modeling techniques, such as welding process modelling and the effect of tooling on distortion.

For example, weld repair of an in-service component may result in high residual stress, conventional problem solving would require many expensive weld repair trials. Application of process modeling enables engineers to rapidly investigate the effect of weld parameters on residual stresses and effects of fixturing during heat treatment on component distortion for a weld repair. This type of analysis saves significant time and cost from the process-development program.

The next evolution of the Digital Twin and Triplet capabilities and process modeling techniques will be virtual verification and validation. The ability to virtually validate a product will greatly reduce the time to market and cost of physical testing of products.

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