Manufacturers can hit product innovation targets with PLM/MES integration

A European weapons maker is among the first manufacturers to forge a working link between a product life-cycle management (PLM) system and a manufacturing execution systems (MES). MBDA Missile Systems says this connection allows it to constantly improve everything from product design processes to the manner in which it allocates engineering and production resources.


A European weapons maker is among the first manufacturers to forge a working link between a product life-cycle management (PLM) system and a manufacturing execution systems (MES). MBDA Missile Systems says this connection allows it to constantly improve everything from product design processes to the manner in which it allocates engineering and production resources.

Industry analysts have long been urging manufacturers to explore the PLM-MES link. Until recently, however, complex custom integration projects were the only possible means of connecting these disparate applications.

“The transition from product design to production is typically the most expensive, time-intensive aspect of delivering products,” Marc Halpern and Andrew Hughes, two analysts from Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner , stated in a January 2007 Research Bulletin . “The ability to manage these linkages through manufacturing process management initiatives allows manufacturers to continuously improve design and operations.”

Specific gains resulting from PLM/MES integration, according to most industry experts, would include:

  • Discovering potential manufacturing problems earlier, ensuring higher product quality;

  • Shortening product development cycles due to enhanced communication;

  • Ramping up production of new products faster; and

  • Easier compliance with government regulations through tracking and tracing mechanisms.

A handful of software vendors recently took steps to offer manufacturers off-the-shelf solutions that marry PLM and MES functionality. These include Siemens PLM Software and Apriso , which also happen to be the suppliers of MBDA's PLM and MES applications.

“For the last decade, most manufacturers have been focused on cost,” says Frederick L. Thomas, industry director at Apriso, which calls its MES product, FlexNet, an operations execution system. “As we look forward, most are going to be looking at ways to increase revenue, so we need to connect manufacturing into product management to accelerate things like new product introductions.”

MBDA, a global missile systems manufacturer owned jointly by three European companies—BAE Systems, EADS, and Finmeccanica—took advantage of capabilities in FlexNet 9.4, which went into general release July 24, to streamline processes that call for passing data from FlexNet to the Teamcenter PLM package from UGS.

Jeremie Ropero, IT project manager for MBDA, says this integrated application set allows for tracking “as-built” product characteristics against specifications, creating an accurate history of all products that is accessible throughout the supply chain. This history is fed into MBDA's SAP ERP system, where data about materials used in the product—and orders placed for the product—is added. Those complete product records then flow back to Siemens' UGS Teamcenter and FlexNet, where they are available to both the engineering and production staffs.

Precise processes: MBDA Missile Systems says a link between its PLM and MES applications has streamlined the processes for building all of its products, including the Precision Guided Munitions affixed to this aircraft.

“We leveraged the strong integration between FlexNet Production and Quality execution with our PLM and ERP data,” Ropero explains. “We can quickly locate prior work instructions from previous processes to reuse them, significantly reducing paperwork and quality cost. Our method engineers now easily incorporate FlexNet standard operations containing best practices into new production processes.”

Siemens is on a mission of sorts to blend PLM and MES functionality. In addition to its work with Apriso, Siemens purchased PLM vendor UGS, which had previously acquired Tecnomatix , a supplier of production management software. That merger led to Teamcenter being integrated with several Tecnomatix solutions, including a SCADA system. The acquisition of UGS by the Siemens Automation and Drives business unit will further extend its reach onto the plant floor via integration with Siemens Simatic IT plant operations software systems.

“This is all about manufacturing performance,” says Alain Iung, UGS VP of digital manufacturing marketing. “[PLM/MES integration] is not only about collecting data; it's also about adjusting or correcting [processes when necessary].”

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