3D Does It

Could 2008 be the year that control engineers finally get what they need from product lifecycle management (PLM) software? Three-dimensional modeling and work cell simulation are providing real benefits today. Automotive OEMs and aerospace firms are pushing for more functionality, and demanding their suppliers join in the pursuit.

By Renee Robbins, Control Engineering February 1, 2008
‘Go concurrent’ to improve flexibility
Virtual commissioning step by step

Could 2008 be the year that control engineers finally get what they need from product lifecycle management (PLM) software?

Three-dimensional modeling and work cell simulation are providing real benefits today. Automotive OEMs and aerospace firms are pushing for more functionality, and demanding their suppliers join in the pursuit. Machine builders and systems integrators are seeing how 3D production-line simulations can help them win the next job and deliver it faster. But early adopters want more, and smaller companies want a piece of the action. All are being asked to be more flexible and efficient than ever before, and they’re looking to integrated software to help them do that. PLM software vendors are racing to respond.

“The goal of the PLM environment is to make models and simulations available to a brand new group of users from several areas, turning the 3D information into an effective communication vehicle,” says Giuliano Mendonca, product development engineer for Embraer, a maker of commercial, executive and military aircraft based in Sao Paolo, Brazil. The 2,400-person company—reportedly home to the largest engineering staff in Brazil—uses Dassault Systemes’ Catia V5 3D product modeling software, and a design-to-change modeling approach based on relational design and assembly simulations. Mendonca, who leads the engineering tools team for Embraer’s first entries into the light and very light executive jet markets, was instrumental in increasing the company’s use of manufacturing simulations and 3D-based process planning in early product development phases. Use of “manufacturing simulations since the early design phases,” he says, “achiev[ed] significant reduction of assembly errors and expensive rework.”

PLM is a strategic business approach, supported by multiple software applications, whose goal is the collaborative creation, management, dissemination and use of product data, which includes both CAD/CAE [computer-aided design/engineering] data and manufacturing data.

“From a software perspective, CAD/CAE tools are employed to help define ‘what’ is to be built. This is then delivered automatically to a manufacturing execution system [MES] to manage actual production. PLM backbone solutions provide the integration and management of these tools and processes,” explained Ken Amann, director of research at CIMdata Inc., a consulting firm specializing in PLM solutions.

PLM has its origins in product data management (PDM) applications developed in the 1980s for engineering departments, but has evolved to encompass workflow and processes from product design through manufacture to maintenance and redesign. Process modeling and manufacturing simulations are key components, thus the nickname “digital manufacturing.”

Confidently handle changes

The benefit of these tools and software advances is greater flexibility in production line design, “the ability to make changes quickly with a high degree on confidence,” says Alain Iung, vice president of Tecnomatix marketing for Siemens PLM Software. Whether it’s changes to products being produced, introduction of new or modified products, unexpected changes to subassemblies, or leveraging best practices in continuous improvement initiatives, ability to handle change is key.

Point solutions for simulation and modeling streamline work for individual manual tasks or workcells, and success is well-established with robotics. CAD systems deliver device models, behavior and mechanical simulation of robotic workcells. The next step is integrating data from multiple cells and simulating controls to create a system-level approach to PLM.

“Plant simulation, material flow, how to optimize the factory floor, where material is and is it the right material. All this is about making sure the plant will be profitable,” Iung says. “Point solutions from a simulation approach are not enough. You can do a perfect layout, a perfect work cell, a perfect product design, but you also need visibility into the system to anticipate changes. Customers are interested in things like better product information capture and process reuse. Only with an integrated solution is that possible.”

Kuka Systems Corporation of North America in Detroit, the system integration arm of Kuka Group, knows about change and the need to be flexible. The company bids for work with customers in the automotive, aeronautical and produce-transfer industries. Jim Pacyga, director of engineering, says, “We quote a thousand jobs and might do 50 a year. With engineering being what it is, people are still designing the product while we’re designing the process. The tools we need have to enable those processes to happen concurrently. In fact, we’re finding OEMS going through the process verification stage earlier, before we actually win the job.”

Kuka’s team of proposal engineers get together to review best practices from other industries, look for proven and new technologies, and suggest process models. “Our internal processes make us efficient, but 3D modeling and simulation tools make everything happen faster,” says Pacyga, and “we push the tools to the limits.”

Kuka Systems uses Tecnomatix Process Designer and Process Simulate software from Siemens to create 3D system layouts called virtual system representations or VSRs. Dennis Capa, Kuka’s advanced process planning specialist, says working in the automotive industry means “we have to plan for the fourth model of an automobile on that production line, when the product designers don’t even know what the fourth model looks like.”

When a new project is started, Kuka engineers are not necessarily starting from scratch. “Kuka has excelled at developing scripts, plus purchasing software that communicates and/or translates other engineering software. This allows Kuka to utilize current information in our facility and historical data from previous jobs,” says Capa. “We also explore different supplier Websites to download data [model] information if it is available so that it doesn’t need to be recreated. There is a lot of information available for the latest technological advances, and it’s our job to find it and use it efficiently.”

For users, better integrated PLM software would lessen the need for custom translators and Website searches. When Dassault Systemes and Rockwell Automation announced their intent to integrate Delmia Automation PLM software with Rockwell’s RS Logix software late last year, Rockwell’s Martin Canell said their customers were already performing such integration. “This isn’t something that’s new. They are [already] building their own workflows and standard operating procedures. What we’re doing is really finishing that, helping to make this a real system that they can manage in a software structure, and derive real benefit from the information.”

How to plan for flexibility

A November 2007 report by Aberdeen Group tells how premier manufacturers (“best-in-class”) are using digital manufacturing tools and techniques, and how those successes are attainable by everyone else. “Companies across the performance framework are focused on the same priorities when it comes to improving manufacturing planning,” says Chad Jackson, research and service director. “What makes the difference between best-in-class and laggards is that the best-in-class are integrating the design of product and process in a concurrent product development approach.…”

Concurrent development takes manufacturing process planning into consideration during the product design phase. “This approach enables companies to validate manufacturability and develop production processes early in the product design cycle by coordinating the knowledge of product engineers, manufacturing engineers, and manufacturing personnel in a collaborative environment. The resulting design is completed more rapidly and efficiently for fast production ramp-ups, increased throughput, and an overall faster time to market,” says Jackson.

General Motors is one best-in-class company that is “relying more and more on digital process models for launch process and manufacturing execution,” said Richard Woodhead, director of GME IS&S manufacturing engineering, whose team handles GM’s global IT infrastructure. That infrastructure is necessary to enable manufacturing engineers to work independently and use best practices across 11 design centers, 13 engineering centers and more than 160 manufacturing facilities worldwide, he said.

In a speech at the 2007 Delmia Worldwide Customer Conference, Woodhead said, “Many automakers are in the midst of fundamental redesigns of their processes. In the last 7-8 years, we’ve made tremendous progress. We were in a 2D drafting environment, with a significant amount of manual effort and data managed locally in drawers and local file systems. Now, we’ve eliminated all manual drafting processes as well as most of our physical and manufacturing bills.”

Woodhead says this entailed “a fundamental re-engineering of our business processes,” and was the result of “personal championship by global vice presidents who put in personal effort communicating the importance of digital manufacturing.” GM is committed to a globally identical multi-vendor infrastructure and application plan for all regions of the world, he said. So it also meant that in addition to its partnership with Dassault Systemes, GM also employs Siemens/UGS solutions.

“We started in product engineering, then moved to manufacturing engineering, now we’re into the plants with a database and visualization infrastructure, as well as an IT/networking infrastructure,” said Woodhead. “Manufacturing engineering encompasses a more complex environment than product engineering. That drove us to multiple partners, drove us to find the best in class. The important question was, can it be integrated seamlessly?”

The answer is yes, according to Woodhead and others, and the rewards appear to be great. Operating in a virtual 3D environment allows GM to:

  • Create systematic digital virtual assessments, which ensure that product and process designs can meet GM’s manufacturing needs;

  • Build digitally first, which eliminates the need to physically build components, vehicles, tooling or the assembly process more than once;

  • Eliminate change requests in production; and

  • Integrate the experience of specific plant personnel without extensive travel.

“We’ve implemented virtual assessment rooms in which teams from plants participate in digital design review, and the manufacturing team uses digital manufacturing tools and information to validate [their work],” said Woodhead. “Two or three years ago, we would fly in tens or hundreds of people to have on site prior to start up. Virtualization has been a tremendous enabler for the best transformations we’ve been able to accomplish. Our core processes have migrated more than 90% from manual to digital.”

One transformation that is ongoing is the move to virtual commissioning of machines. “We have a huge opportunity with virtual controls and commissioning,” said Woodhead. “We’re proud that we can validate controls logic in software. We can integrate PLCs and HMIs without the machine processes running.”

Virtual commissioning

Virtual commissioning of machines is the holy grail of modeling software, partially because it promises to bridge the divide between manufacturing disciplines. “In the U.S., design engineers have all the power,” says Delmia vice president Peter Schmidt. “If they say change [the product], the production line is changed. In Japan, manufacturing has the power. They say, ‘Prove to me your design change won’t affect my production, then I’ll let you do it. Virtual commissioning solves that problem.”

In a paper published last year in the journal Production Engineering , authors Gunther Reinhart and Georg Wünsch discuss “Economic application of virtual commissioning to mechatronic production systems.” In it, they say “a method that is referred to as Virtual Commissioning [aims to] enable control software engineering to both take over the initiative in system design and to perform important activities earlier in the design process of production equipment.” The authors analyze the technological and economic scalability of virtual commissioning, and present a technical concept for a scalable simulation environment. (View this article online for a link to the paper.)

Controls engineers are always on the critical path when it comes to testing and debugging control applications to make the system work, says Valerie Duclair, solutions engineer consultant for Dassault Systemes Delmia. Sometimes, they cannot guarantee that the production will start-up on time and with the expected production performances. Risk of errors and time to ramp-up have become crucial factors in determining productivity and profitability, she says.

Delmia V5 Automation software and Delmia PLM Express software enable virtual commissioning today. The Smart Device Builder module allows controls engineers to “build and validate a library of mechatronic smart devices and to capitalize on virtual commissioning knowledge for better productivity,” says Duclair. “It enables the user to prepare the virtual environment and to debug and validate against it weeks before the physical integration occurs on the shop floor. She says the software allows the user to:

  • Debug and validate the PLC code in a virtual environment;

  • Validate all the what-if scenarios that can occur in the real cell by simulating defects, such as sensor failed, mechanical clash, emergency stop, or electrical shutdown;

  • Improve the production performances; and

  • Work with any PLC available on the market, including those from Rockwell Automation, Mitsubishi Electric, Omron, Schneider Electric and Siemens.

Virtual commissioning is happening with individual robotic workcells, but coordinating the mechanical and electrical control systems of multiple cells in a virtual production line environment is still a challenge. The variety of PLC and HMI hardware is just one aspect of the complexity. But 2008 may be the year for more breakthroughs.

Siemens is partnering with customers to develop virtual commissioning and other PLM “use cases” under the banner of “Project Archimedes.” The Dassault Systemes/Rockwell Automation partnership promises to bear fruit in the first half of the year, although the companies aren’t saying what specific functionalities will be enabled.

At General Motors, Woodhead said data integration of all kinds—including the integration of virtual commissioning systems and MES systems—remains a challenge. His company is looking for lifecycle feature management, from design through production through weld design, as well as for maximum reuse of digital designs.

“We need better use of PDM [product data management], and query and visualization systems to help engineers find relevant data quickly and incorporate it,” he said. GM is also looking for value-added use and maintenance of digital data. “For example, we deliver weld data to the plant floor, but we struggle through the process to update that data on the plant floor,” he said.

Rod Brown, controls program manager at Kuka Systems says they’re looking for “a detailed sequence of operation that has been proven out during simulations, which includes multiple models, cycle times, throughput etc…. We are also looking at different tools to help automatically extract information from the simulations, such as cylinder bore and stroke sizes to assist the hardware designers.”

Vendors say users are also looking for more intelligence in the software, including having everything embedded and placed directly to the simulator. They’re looking to simulate the PLC program and HMI on a PC. They want the ability to quickly map IO and signal data in the virtual environment. They want all project data in one place, so they can manage electrical and mechanical data and workflow. They want models to be built, more accuracy in simulations, and workflows pre-written for specific environments. They also want per-seat software prices to come down.

But for all they want, users also seem to be investing in the software today—and in the not insignificant internal changes required to make the most of it. The push may be coming from the consumer explosion of 3D video games and online virtual worlds, or from competitive pressures to accommodate more change faster, or from some other combination of factors. But the result is the same: more and more manufacturers are discovering the benefits of PLM software and pushing it to serve them to enhance production line design flexibility.

Author Information
Renee Robbins is senior editor of Control Engineering. She can be reached at renee.robbins@reedbusiness.com

‘Go concurrent’ to improve flexibility

Aberdeen Group’s November 2007 report, “Digital Manufacturing Planning– Concurrent Development of Product and Process,” provides the following advice for using product development initiatives to improve manufacturing planning and production line design flexibility. The report urges companies to go concurrent with:

Manufacturing Bill of Materials (mBOM) . Best-in-class companies develop the mBOM concurrently as the engineering Bill of Materials (eBOM) is being developed in the design phase. As a result, the overall process is compressed. In support, create the mBOM in the engineering PDM system to make change propagation easier.

Facility, line and workcell design . Best-in-class companies don’t wait until design release before laying out their facilities. They get started earlier in an effort to shave time off the schedule. Also, centrally manage and control facility plans so you can keep up to date with product changes more easily.

Work instructions, by leveraging 3D . The best-in-class are more likely to create 3D-based documentation or embed 3D in their documentation. Not only do they leverage this engineering asset, they also start earlier to compress the manufacturing planning phase of development. Finally, they centrally manage and control these deliverables so they can more easily keep up with product changes.

Robotic programming . Start programming prior to design release and centrally manage the resulting deliverables. Not only program robotics offline, but also validate their operation through virtual robotic commissioning.

Find the full report online at

Virtual commissioning step by step

Delmia V5 Automation software and Delmia PLM Express software enable virtual commissioning of robotic workcells. The following is a look at what’s involved:

Get a validated workcell from the Robot Simulation/Workcell Builder (RSU/WBU) package and generate an Internal Logic (IL) for each mechanical device (smart device).

Integrate the other smart devices (control devices) that interact with the PLC and define the workcell wiring.

Optional: Define a control sequence and validate the workcell behavior.

Define the IOs connected with the PLC.

Validate the PLC nominal mode.

Validate all the what-if scenarios.

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