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Transforming Manufacturing with PLM Tools

Pat Waurzyniak
By Patrick Waurzyniak Contributing Editor, SME Media

PLM’s virtual capabilities, including digital twins, help leverage remote plant resources

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Manufacturing managers collaborate on the shop floor using tablet-based PTC Windchill PLM visualizations. PLM has become the foundation for digital transformation and digital thread initiatives at companies of all sizes.

With product lifecycle management (PLM) software, manufacturers wield powerful tools to manage the massive transformations buffeting their industries. PLM software includes all of the latest product data management (PDM) and CAD/CAM/CAE tools that manufacturing professionals need to cope with widely dispersed workforces and assets around the world.

Leveraging PLM’s digital twin in manufacturing, with assets more often stored in the cloud, can improve the ability of at-home workers to handle daily manufacturing management. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturing operations have had to get more creative in dealing with virtual plant operations. Many PLM professionals say that trend is here to stay.

Moving to Next-Gen PLM

Many factors are shaping PLM customers’ requirements, noted Keri Bender, senior PLM business strategy manager at Autodesk Inc., the San Rafael, Calif.-based developer of Autodesk Fusion Lifecycle PLM software. “Products are getting smarter, so PLM must be able to deal with mechanical, electronic, and service design data,” she added. “Processes are digitizing, and increasingly that digitization is crossing lines between departments and expanding to partner networks and supply chains. Automation is taking over factories, and manufacturers are rethinking their supply chains.”

Bender said PLM developers see challenges mainly on two levels. The next-generation PLM, or “PLM 4.0,” as she puts it, needs to be more agile than legacy PLM and adapt to evolving processes, data sources and disciplines. “Autodesk Fusion Lifecycle is designed to address this situation,” Bender said. “PLM 4.0 needs to enable seamless collaboration across departments and, more critically, across ecosystems of diverse partners, while protecting data integrity and IP. Being cloud based, Fusion Lifecycle is designed for deployments across divisions and supply chains.”

Modernization and digital transformation are imperative, noted Marc Taber, vice president of marketing at Boston-based PTC, developer of Windchill PLM software. “This has driven a change to the nature of PLM, from being viewed as an engineering tool for vaulting and versioning CAD data, to true enterprise/multi-enterprise collaborative product lifecycle management,” Taber said. “PLM has become the foundation for these digital transformation or digital thread initiatives. The existing application infrastructure comprised of integration via Microsoft Office and/or home-grown applications no longer works with the new levels of complexity.”

Taber highlighted three key pre-COVID-19 drivers—customers, value chains, and products—that have all changed. “Governments and customers have placed high operational requirements on the way that companies manage data,” he said. “Customers are also demanding more customized solutions while expanding the number of variants.”

Companies are looking to outsource large portions of their production and/or form joint ventures, driving an increased opportunity to build supplier partnerships, he added. The risk of supply chain disruption is driving the need for more standardized components to enable efficiency and scale, Taber noted, and products also have changed. “Products have evolved from simple electric/mechanical machines to software-driven, connected devices,” he said. “With disruptions caused by COVID-19, PLM SaaS-based collaboration is viewed as essential for secure global 24×7 remote work.”

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Autodesk Fusion Lifecycle users get integration with simulations in Moldflow and metal additive apps in Netfabb, as well as new machine tool simulations being added to Fusion 360

Overcoming Information Silos

Evolving business and market requirements are driving manufacturers to adopt new practices to digitally transform the way they work, said Bill Lewis, director of marketing, lifecycle collaboration software, at Siemens Digital Industries Software, Plano, Texas. “Customers are looking for solutions to help them address their digital transformation objectives, and PLM is a key enabler. PLM software today must support a comprehensive digital twin that supports all aspects of products—including mechanical, electrical, and software components. It must allow for personalization to fit the needs of all types of users, and it must be open and flexible.”

The reality for many manufacturers today is that they continue to work in silos with little true collaboration, Lewis noted. “This can create sequential, manual hand-offs and significant data redundancies as well as inconsistencies. This creates the potential for miscommunication, quality escapes, and manufacturability issues discovered too late. These issues can drive up design time, effort, and cost in rework.”

PLM software for manufacturing can play a key role, he added. “Companies can shift their manufacturing planning activities earlier in the product lifecycle,” said Lewis. “Early collaboration provides visibility to resolve issues and optimize process plans while the cost of change is still reasonable.”

With PLM solutions, users create a manufacturing bill of material (mBOM) for a specific view and extension of the engineering bill of material (eBOM) that is fully linked to design requirements, Lewis said. It allows users to:

  • define and verify the production bill of process (BOP) early in the product lifecycle, collaborating with all stakeholders;
  • author detailed electronic work instructions with direct linkages to the required parts and tooling through the BOP;
  • use approved timing standards to develop time analyses; and
  • capture, share, and reuse manufacturing knowledge to propagate best practices, improve data quality, and minimize data redundancies.

“Industry continues to transform and demand is accelerating for bringing complex products to market faster,” noted Garth Coleman, vice president, Enovia marketing at Dassault Systèmes, based in Vélizy-Villacoublay, France, and Waltham, Mass. The company developed the 3DExperience PLM platform. “Manufacturing has expanded beyond a company’s four walls into a global network,” Coleman added. “Digitalization and automation allow businesses to mirror their manufacturing virtually, experiencing and creating new concepts quickly. But new solutions go beyond digitalization to provide both a system of operations, to run a business, and a business model, to transform a business.”

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With Dassault Systèmes’ latest 3DExperience PLM platform, users get model-based capabilities to define, simulate, validate, optimize and visualize the virtual experience twin for their factory operations.

The virtual world is essential to deliver increasingly innovative products, Coleman added. “When we look at trends in PLM, it’s easy to see how building the future is reliant on several key factors.” These include:

  • leveraging virtual twins,
  • using product data analytics throughout the value chain to improve designs through virtual prototyping and understand how products perform in the physical world,
  • optimizing manufacturing operations with predictive analytics,
  • seamlessly connecting to value-added services from others,
  • using the virtual world to reinvent business and foster sustainability,
  • future-proofing business with technologies that enable additive and distributive manufacturing, and
  • empowering the manufacturing workforce with the best tools and solutions to innovate and collaborate.

Some of the biggest barriers to deploying PLM today remain siloed tools. These silos prevent teams from effectively unifying engineering information into a single source of truth, Coleman said. Other barriers include disparate data sources that block the establishment of a digital thread, organizational change management, technology installation/upgrade, migration of data, and migration of tools. Another key barrier is trying to innovate across disciplines, using different design systems.

PTC’s Taber said manufacturers have realized that digital transformation is required to increase development velocity and agility, improve quality, and reduce costs by millions of dollars. “However, change of this magnitude is not easy in normal times and these are not normal times,” Taber stated. “Manufacturers are grappling with how to bring their organizations together when their systems don’t talk to one another. They are living in a paper paradigm where the keys to their organization are locked inside PDFs. How do you maintain configuration control over millions of change objects that each have relationships to documents and models? How do you manage all these different parts across hundreds of programs and thousands of people? How many release processes do they have to encounter? Added to that complexity is a myriad of COVID-19 challenges and IT systems that are not set up or designed for remote workers. Digital transformation can seem overwhelming.”

New Tools for the Virtual Age

Siemens announced Teamcenter X, its first foray into the SaaS PLM market, last June at its virtual analyst meeting. The company is offering prospective customers a free 30-day trial of the software on its web site. “Siemens does all the work to manage Teamcenter X deployments on the cloud with SaaS delivery. Customers can pay as they go and focus on their product’s innovation,” according to Siemens’ Lewis. “Teamcenter X is Teamcenter,” meaning that SaaS Teamcenter X customers get all the benefits of the widely used Teamcenter.

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Siemens customer Wright Medical Inc. creates complex implants for surgeries to repair broken bones and other medical procedures. This photo shows the implant and bone screws used to mend a bad break in a person’s wrist.

Dassault Systèmes broadly expanded its PLM offerings, with Enovia alone adding more than 100 new features and enhancements in the recently announced R2021x 3DExperience platform release, noted Dassault’s Coleman. “The new Collaborative Designer for Solid Edge role extends the power of the 3DExperience platform to more users of traditional, file-based mechanical CAD,” Coleman said. “In addition, there are numerous enhancements available across the Collaborative Designer for CATIA V5, Solidworks, AutoCAD and Altium Designer roles in R2021x. These enhancements enable multi-CAD designers to advance collaboration and data management through access to platform capabilities from inside their existing design environments.”

Enovia R2021x also includes enhancements that advance a holistic 3DExperience Twin of a product by improving how users manage complex product definitions, Coleman added. “For example, the Product Release Engineer role supports alternate items to simplify providing options for primary engineering items,” he said. “Working across 3DExperience apps is also more efficient in R2021x. A new ‘Open With’ command allows users to open a product definition in supported apps directly from the Product Release Engineer table view. Additionally, 3D content and supporting information loads automatically when moving from Issue 3D Review to the 3D Markup, 3D Compose, 3D Annotation Insight and Interference Check apps.”

During the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, there has been a renewed focus on workforce mobility and resiliency, PTC’s Taber noted. PTC PLM developments include “delivering more innovative products faster through SaaS offerings, where customers are not gated by IT (timeless innovation),” Taber said. Other deliverables included “Plant Specific Manufacturing BOMs, Process Plans, Work Instructions, Single BOM/different views, and creating associative (not copied) traceable, visual (including GD&T) content and understanding of configurations; applying AI to every process—providing more guidance; simulation-driven design; and delivering the right digital technology for the digitally native generation, with augmented reality.”

Better Simulations Boost Virtual Experiences

All of the major PLM software developers offer new simulations that help improve customers’ virtual worlds, better matching what’s encountered on the factory floor or in visualizing product developments. “Simulation is better at accounting for manufacturing than ever—whether that is to predict manufacturability, to generate manufacturable designs, or to evaluate performance of as-manufactured products,” Autodesk’s Bender stated. “The list of processes that can be evaluated for manufacturability continues to grow—from injection molding with Moldflow to metal additive with Netfabb to composites with TruComposite. And, we’re adding machine tool simulation to Fusion 360.”

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Simulia multiphysics simulations help designers and engineers with visualizations and data on structures, fluids, plastic injection molding, acoustics, and structural attributes of product developments.

Generative design initially focused on creating designs for additive, Bender noted. “New constraints within the technology now make it possible to generate optimized designs for 2.5-, three- and five-axis machining, two-axis cutting, and die casting, with more to come,” she said. “The effect manufacturing has on performance, especially composites, needs be accounted for. Combining technologies like Moldflow, Helius PFA, and Autodesk Nastran means that performance analysis of as-manufactured products can be performed.”

As products become more complex, simulation is core to managing it, noted Siemens’ Lewis. “A holistic approach to simulation provides greater insights as this data is not isolated. It is tied to the digital twin, and each piece of information has dependencies. All the data needs to be retrievable and the context understood,” Lewis said. “When left unmanaged, this massive amount of simulation data is difficult to search. Traceability of work and change management is both critical and difficult. In most companies, time is wasted searching for data or working on an obsolete version of a design.”

He makes the case that Teamcenter Simulation helps speed up product development. “Inefficiencies are reduced by automating and reusing bulk simulation tasks and organizing the relevant data with traceability. This makes it easy and fast to find. CAE processes that chain multiple software applications can be orchestrated to run automatically while data is captured in the PLM system. Visualizing results helps non-experts understand simulation, thus expanding its use to a larger audience.”

Dassault’s Simulia simulation software provides roles for users by industry application. Designers and engineers can use simulation throughout their daily product design activities, noted Coleman. “Simulation technology covers structures, fluids, plastic injection molding, acoustics, electromagnetics, and structural applications,” he said. “The right capability is delivered in an application context. There is also guided access for occasional users.”

Users are able to simulate using the design geometry within a designer environment fully integrated with PLM and CAD. As simulation tasks and attributes are linked to the design, simulation is easy to execute when the underlying design changes, according to Coleman.

“Simulia also simulates complex assemblies directly linked with the product data,” he said. “Modeling, simulation and visualization technology are fully integrated on the 3DExperience platform, including process capture, publication and re-use. The value of a customer’s existing investment in simulation is maximized by allowing simulation data, results, and IP to connect to the platform.”

He believes computer-aided design software and realistic, multi-physics simulation technology accelerate a sustainable product design, validating its performance and helping to produce it. “With so many variables contributing to the final makeup of a product, the ability to leverage robust multi-physics simulation allows organizations to perform timely optimizations while maintaining a clear line of sight on critical aspects of the product, including safety, weight, strength, vibration or even electronic signal fidelity.”

Coleman added that with Simulia, Dassault has had a unified, model-based approach to simulation lifecycle management for some time. Now it is available on the public cloud. “The R2021x release of the 3DExperience has apps arranged in industry and workflow-specific roles that deliver new functionality not available in previous versions.

“In addition to the simulation of manufacturing processes, simulation also is playing an integral part in our return to work and school as part of our ‘new normal’ brought about by the COVID pandemic,” Coleman continued. “For example, to help contribute to the safe return of students and staff, Dassault Systèmes has demonstrated how simulation, which has long been used to optimize industrial design, can create safer and healthier classrooms.”

As the coronavirus spreads through the air, understanding the physics of airflow and where potentially contaminated airborne droplets will travel helps lessen their impact, Coleman said. “For this, Dassault Systèmes used Simulia applications powered by the 3DExperience platform to demonstrate effective ventilation fan placement inside a classroom and optimal classroom seating that minimizes exposure.”

In addition to making classrooms safer, Coleman said Simulia applications and services are also used to help building engineers and facilities managers reevaluate spaces in hospitals, airports, factories, offices and living spaces during the pandemic.

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