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PLM’s Promise for a Connected Manufacturing Industry

Pat Waurzyniak
By Patrick Waurzyniak Contributing Editor, SME Media

New releases add cloud versions, simulation, augmented reality/virtual reality, and additive offerings, while looking to manufacturing’s IIoT future

Complexity is pervasive in today’s component design and manufacturing processes. In the latest product lifecycle management (PLM) software, manufacturers get more choices, with new functionality being added to help visualize manufacturing processes with technologies that include augmented reality (VR) and virtual reality (VR). These capabilities enable manufacturers to handle the increased complexity of designs with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0, helping them validate increasingly complex product developments in the earliest stages, saving time and manufacturing costs.

Manufacturers’ PLM portfolios include product data management (PDM) applications plus the full spectrum of CAD/CAM/CAE for digital design, manufacturing and visualization capabilities. Major developers, including Siemens PLM Software (Plano, TX), Dassault Systèmes (Paris) and PTC (Needham, MA), all include the full range of PLM tools, but some, including Aras Corp. (Andover, MA) and others offer PDM-specific tools that include extensive CAD integration and support but not traditional stand-alone CAD/CAM/CAE systems. Many but not all PLM offerings feature either cloud-only versions, or like Aras are available in both on-premises and cloud-based solutions. PLM also includes the critical digital manufacturing tools that allow manufacturers to lay out plant-floor equipment and test factory-floor processes prior to finalizing plant designs. Lately, developers have added modules or separate applications that expand their reach into the additive manufacturing (AM) arena.

Visualizing the Manufacturing Process

Speeding up product development processes and improving them with faster, better and more accurate information are important goals for PLM as the industry forges forward into IIoT. Augmented reality in design review is making a difference, according to Francois Lamy, PTC vice president, PLM solutions management.

Using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in PLM applications from software developer PTC has expanded the scope of simulations on the connected manufacturing floor. Image courtesy PTC

“As teams become more globally distributed, it can sometimes be difficult to get everyone involved to review a product design in a timely manner, collect all the information needed for the review, and capture feedback for future action,” Lamy observed. “Using augmented reality (AR), team members can visualize, interact with, and provide feedback on product designs from anywhere in the world. AR makes it possible for stakeholders to interact with a 3D model of the product, such as walking around it and viewing different states of the model—including going inside the model itself.”

With its acquisitions of Thingworx IoT applications (in 2013) and the Vuforia AR platform (in 2015), PTC has been steadily building an AR-enabled PLM portfolio geared for the Industry 4.0 era.

“To sufficiently meet the expectations of customers, manufacturers need to transform their product development process to understand and leverage data from products in the field,” Lamy said. “Noting product information on a CAD drawing is no longer going to cut it as products become more complex. Manufacturers will need to become more organized with their product development process.”

Having a comprehensive PLM system provides a strong foundation for taking advantage of IoT capabilities, he added. “By consolidating all product information into a single-view digital product definition, organizations can ensure that stakeholders are all accessing the most accurate, up-to-date product information,” he said. “With a PLM system, all information is streamlined into a single bill of materials [BOM] list format.”

Customers are looking for solutions to deal with the increasing complexity of their systems, the push for personalized solutions and the need for faster delivery to the customer, added Garth Coleman, vice president, marketing for Dassault Systèmes’ Enovia brand. “At the same time, they need to accelerate their innovation and lower costs. As a result companies are looking to implement product innovation platforms, ones that digitally transform their enterprises.

“We see great interest in companies looking to realize the value of deploying over the cloud,” Coleman added. “Using a cloud-ready solution, companies can open the enterprise to internal and external stakeholders who anytime, anywhere can participate in collaboration, while having flexibility and scalability to grow-as-they-go.”

Engineer viewing an unmanned aerial system (AES) in the immersive virtual reality CAVE environment of Dassault Systèmes’ 3DExperience Center at the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) at Wichita State University. New PLM systems are adding more VR capabilities for advanced visualizations of manufacturing processes. Image courtesy Dassault Systèmes

A lot of interest is being shown in adding value through technologies such as AM, Coleman said, and in augmented reality. “Our 3DExperience Center in Wichita, which is a collaboration between WSU [Wichita State University] and NIAR [National Institute for Aviation Research], opened last year and we have companies from all industries visiting to see how they can incorporate and leverage the newest technologies as part of their digital transformation,” he said. “An example of this collaboration is examining and learning how hybrid MRAM [Multiple Robotic Manufacturing Advanced Manufacturing] cells can flexibly integrate different technologies such as VR/AR, IoT, and machine learning to help companies build the factories of the future with maximum production agility.”

Breaking Down Complexity

Complex products and systems can challenge the smartest of engineers today, and the industry needs more creative solutions to help navigate this increasing complexity, which is often due to the high level of software inherent in products for the IIoT.

“There’s traditionally been a disproportionate emphasis on the CAD side,” noted Marc Lind, senior vice president, strategy, for Aras. “We start with a PLM perspective, enabling the cross-platform capabilities to develop sophisticated products. These days it’s really more about smart, connected products, where you’re seeing systems of systems.”

These connected products can be the software and the electronics in automotive components, or aerospace parts, that require a PLM system like Aras Innovator that is capable of handling cross-platform compatibility, he added. “The electronics side, the wire harnessing [in automotive] is equal to if not greater than other aspects.” Connectivity is key, Lind said. “What you see with the moves of Siemens, they’re right down into the authoring environment. We’re focused on the process level, about enabling the cross-functional cross-discipline capabilities, and we’re out into field service.

“We’re CAD-agnostic,” Lind added. “We start from the perspective that companies have many different CAD tools and they’re going to be able to bring those together and move into the factory and into operations with the Digital Twin.

Cloud-based Aras Innovator PLM software’s product data management offers users easy visualization of component markup early in the product development cycle. Image courtesy Aras Corp.

Complexity is increasing exponentially with smart, connected products, Lind said. “Products are ill-equipped to deal with that. What that really gets down to is, across the board companies large and small are being disrupted,” he added.

In January, Aras announced it had acquired the Impresa maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) software business from Infospectrum, which Aras said would provide a suite of complementary MRO capabilities to help manufacturers digitally transform development and maintenance of complex products. The deal gives Aras the ability to deliver PLM and MRO on a single platform and extend the Digital Thread to the field.

Aras recently announced that German automaker BMW Group is implementing the Aras PLM platform as its backbone for test data management. The system will support the automaker’s planning, scheduling, execution and documentation of vehicle tests and test results at various stages of development. The Aras system enables traceability results and will play an important role in the development of production vehicles, according to Aras.

Adding EDA, Generative Design, and Additive Manufacturing

In the past couple years, Siemens PLM has greatly expanded the breadth of its electronic design automation (EDA) simulation portfolio, acquiring electronic CAD/CAM developer Mentor Graphics for $4.5 billion in November 2016 and more recently purchasing Solido Design Automation Inc. (Saskatoon, SK) for an undisclosed sum. Siemens last fall released an update of its Simcenter CAE simulation software portfolio, at about the same time as the company’s new NX 12 CAD/CAM update that includes an additive manufacturing module.

“We are seeing a number of key messages coming back from our customers. First, the continued expansion of embedded electronics and software in products is growing faster than ever; companies that used to class themselves as mechanical engineering now find themselves having to compete in a world where integrated systems rule,” said Paul Brown, senior director of NX product marketing. “As providers of PLM tools, we have to meet those demands.”

With the latest NX 12 CAD/CAM software from Siemens PLM Software, users can nest parts for additive manufacturing processes in the new NX Additive module shown here. Image courtesy Siemens PLM SoftwareCaption

Manufacturers are expanding their use of AM, Brown added, with companies looking to evolve products to either improve performance, reduce part count, or reduce weight. “This is more than just a manufacturing problem. It’s a problem that we have to solve through the entire lifecycle from design through to the machine,” he said.

The latest NX tools leverage Siemens’ convergent modeling, Brown noted. The new NX 12 includes new tools that expand capabilities in the area of generative design, building on solutions like convergent modeling and the use of technologies like topology optimization.

“In the NX product line we continue to deliver new solutions like our Convergent Modeling technologies to allow companies to use new modeling techniques to create complex designs quicker than ever before. Convergent modeling also helps companies that use reverse-engineering approaches to design by removing the time-consuming elements of converting data into usable forms for downstream applications to work on,” Brown said.

“Generative modeling techniques are becoming both accepted and expected by our customers, having the system help suggest solutions to design problems that can be iterated on. Using the ever-increasing compute power on the desktop to explore more design alternatives allows engineers to adopt new solutions to their design problems,” he added.

The increased use of AM has also allowed engineers to look at new solutions in design, approaches that improve things like light-weighting using lattice-type structures, or new forms that reduce part count and deliver gains in terms of meeting product goals with less material and things like less assembly time, according to Brown. “These approaches link back to the use of generative techniques in design,” he said.

Siemens is continuing to invest in AM, “both from a manufacturing support aspect looking at new emerging technologies such as multiple materials and textures, and in the design aspects with functionality such as lattice and support structures,” Brown said.

The NX expands the new AM solution in NX by including the new module, NX AM for HP Multi Jet Fusion, certified by HP and powered by Materialise, to prepare print jobs for HP Jet Fusion 4200 3D printers, according to Siemens. The NX module is said to allow customers to develop and manage parts in a single software environment for Multi Jet Fusion printing solutions, avoid costly and time-consuming data conversions and third-party tools, and improve overall design-to-finished-part workflow efficiency.

Additionally, Siemens develops applications for AM process simulation in Simcenter 3D, which the company said is a crucial tool to help manufacturers industrialize AM by printing components the first-time-right. These simulation applications are an integral part within the Siemens’ end-to-end AM solution.
“Transformative technologies like additive manufacturing and advanced robotics offer tremendous potential for manufacturers of all sizes to gain a competitive advantage,” said Zvi Feuer, senior vice president of manufacturing engineering software for Siemens PLM Software, in a statement. “NX provides an integrated solution for part manufacturers to utilize these powerful technologies, creating the ability to improve overall business performance and helping to create a truly digital machine shop.”

Making It All Work

A major issue for PLM is how to extend it beyond the engineering organization where PLM was born, noted Bob Yancey, director, manufacturing and production industry strategy, Autodesk Inc. (San Rafael, CA). “Product development encompasses more than engineering, and connecting the data flow from design all the way to manufacturing production is essential to derive the full value of PLM,” Yancey said. “PLM helps manufacturers ensure that individuals and business systems receive accurate and timely product development information, helping people make better decisions faster.”

Improved data fidelity and process performance throughout the lifecycle can significantly reduce the overall time to market, with Autodesk customers reporting improvements of 50% and higher. For example, Autodesk Fusion Lifecycle customer Mesa Labs’ change process has been reduced from two weeks to two days since implementing Autodesk PLM in the cloud, Yancey said. “That’s an 80% improvement, achieved through connecting their product data with their ERP system. Pre-PLM, Autodesk customers have reported up to 90% of errors in manufacturing result from missing or incorrect information, creating quality issues and high scrap rates.”

Another customer, Novacentrix, a developer of photonic curing solutions, implemented Fusion Lifecycle and saw reductions in waste of 84%, Yancey said. Willerby, a manufacturer of holiday lodges and homes, saw a reduction of NCRs from 54 per month to six, with BOM accuracy rates exceeding 99%, a 20% improvement on 12 months prior, he said.

“Mistakes will continue to happen and changes will be needed, but closing the loop between manufacturing, product development and enterprise business systems with PLM increases a company’s ability to learn,” Yancey noted. “This learning is based on aggregated data [facts vs. myths] and creates an environment of continuous improvement and ensures best in class execution.”

Autodesk is focused on connecting design with downstream manufacturing processes, Yancey said, and both product simulation and manufacturing simulation are part of connecting design with manufacturing. “Autodesk has a broad portfolio of design, simulation, manufacturing, and data management solutions, and has been at the forefront of using cloud-based solutions to better connect design to manufacturing throughout a distributed product development supply chain. The cloud has become a game-changer, making PLM attainable for manufacturers of all sizes, removing technology and resource barriers and providing secure, connected real-time collaboration anywhere in the world through a web browser.”

With emerging technologies such as AM, Industry 4.0 and IoT, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, the nature of PLM and what it needs to deliver are changing, Yancey said. “PLM needs to move beyond just archiving data to analyzing data, learning from data, and [extracting] predictive trends from the data to leverage the vast amounts of information that now or will exist in the product development process.”

Product designers and engineers at Elite Aerospace Group collaborate using digital and physical mockups of new product designs. New systems like PTC’s Thingworx applications are adding AR and VR to help Elite Aerospace engineers speed up and add realism to product development efforts. Photo courtesy Elite Aerospace Group

PLM initially was focused mostly on product data management, but its role is expanding with AR usage, noted Stuart Weiler, director of PLM at Elite Aerospace Group (EAG; Irvine, CA), an aerospace components manufacturer and a user of PTC Windchill PLM software. Weiler recently addressed the topic in an article, “PLM, Augmented Reality Sharpen the Cutting Edge,” Manufacturing Engineering, March 2017.

“I’d say that originally it was just about PDM,” Weiler said. “Over time, [PLM has] become the single source of truth. But it still doesn’t integrate the way it needs to.”

PLM integration is becoming easier as more manufacturers use the latest open standards, like STEP 242, he said. “Going forward, there are going to be a lot of people using it—STEP 242 is coming to be the accepted standard. Most CAD systems will play nice with it.”

Newer tools like AR with PLM represent a boon to users in far-flung locations of global operations. “Everyone needs to access the information,” Weiler said. “PTC has [Thingworks] Navigate and you don’t have to know PLM. You can access it anywhere, and that is really the trend we need.”

The latest version 1.6 of Navigate gives users “kind of a dashboard for IoT. They call it a mashup,” Weiler added. The software is like a single pane of glass of all things in the system, he added, and EAG has just started using some of its AR capabilities.

“We’re using a little bit of augmented reality,” he said. “Our goal is to start using that on the factory floor.”

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