The wall comes tumbling down

Says Frank O Smith in this month’s cover story: “One of the great gaps in manufacturing has always been between design and manufacturing, with design engineering developing the blueprints and figuratively throwing them over the wall to production.” But the gap between the shop floor and product lifecycle management (PLM) systems—which encompass multiple functions includi...

08/01/2007


Says Frank O Smith in this month’s cover story: “One of the great gaps in manufacturing has always been between design and manufacturing, with design engineering developing the blueprints and figuratively throwing them over the wall to production.” But the gap between the shop floor and product lifecycle management (PLM) systems—which encompass multiple functions including computer-aided design, manufacturing and engineering (CAD/CAM/CAE)—is being closed. Siemens’ purchase of UGS earlier this year promises to hasten the integration of PLM systems with automation systems, to deliver PLC code directly from models, and bring the shop floor and the design teams closer than ever before.

For years, design engineers in most industries have labored over models that may as well have been done in oil paint for all the usefulness they possess for controls engineers. Software tools may allow designers to create a stunning likeness, but even a 3D digital prototype is no more likely than a physical model to reveal its dimensions (without the use of additional, more recent, software). Work instructions are delivered in the form of 2D drawings with text descriptions—drawings that can be cryptic, not to scale, hiding a critical part from view, or simply unmanufacturable.

But that is changing. Already in the aerospace and automotive industries, 3D models are delivering shop floor work instructions—and healthy productivity improvements. As described online and in our Inside Machines section (see “Model-based Instructions Help Streamline Avionics Refit”), Boeing is using Delmia Digital Process for Manufacturing (DPM) software for process validation, resource modeling, work instruction authoring, and shop floor work order deployment. Given tablet PCs loaded with 3D model based instructions, shop floor engineers suddenly had access to all the tools and capabilities that design engineers had. Productivity soared, largely due to less time spent interpreting drawings and a shorter learning curve for new parts and processes.

This means the end of rework. Could 3D models finally be the type and method of communication that can make discrete manufacturing tasks easier on both sides of the wall?

Faster processors, better software, and even gaming technology is driving the change. Through the Internet today, millions of people interact in 3D digital worlds like Second Life ( www.secondlife.com ). So why shouldn’t engineering software be at least as functional as the software our teenagers are using?

renee.robbins@reedbusiness.com





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