Digital Manufacturing Takes Off

Product lifecycle management (PLM) software could be coming to a control system near you. Maybe not to tomorrow, but given recent developments, sooner than you might suspect. The link from PLM directly into the controls layer is an emerging trend that presents yet another challenge — and opportunity — for control engineering professionals.

By Frank O Smith for Control Engineering August 1, 2007
Sharing and managing engineering content

Product lifecycle management (PLM) software could be coming to a control system near you. Maybe not to tomorrow, but given recent developments, sooner than you might suspect. The link from PLM directly into the controls layer is an emerging trend that presents yet another challenge — and opportunity — for control engineering professionals. It is in its early stages, but the growing importance of the role of PLM in manufacturing has been making great progress of late, and promises much more to come.

“What’s really interesting in this space is the acquisition of UGS by Siemens Automation & Drives. Siemens A&D [people] are a bunch of control engineers,” says Dick Slansky, senior analyst and director for PLM at ARC Advisory Group.

Gisela Wilson, director of product, project, and portfolio management for IDC concurs. “For awhile, it looked like the PLM market was going to merge more with ERP [enterprise resource planning software] into one application ERP controlled, with the ability to tap into manufacturing,” she says. “It now looks like PLM is going to have much closer integration with automation. That development is brand new. Siemens’ acquisition of UGS has given that trend a huge push forward.”

PLM manages the end-to-end product lifecycle, from concept to consumer. IDC states that “PLM is not an application or a group of applications, but an approach to tying traditional work practices into collaborative workflows across extended business networks.” IDC defines it as having six primary functional areas:

  • Product information management,

  • Project and portfolio management,

  • Enterprise asset management,

  • Mechanical computer-aided design (CAD),

  • Mechanical computer-aided engineering (CAE)

  • Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM).

With the evolution from two-dimensional to rich three-dimensional CAD visualization, PLM has been able to effectively reach into manufacturing and provide a set of integrated tools for designing, simulating, and validating production lines and work cells. The newest advance — directly impacting controls — is the ability to commission the automated lines and work cells with validated logic code generated for and downloaded to PLCs, robots, and other automated equipment.

According to ARC, automation simulation tools provide control engineers a virtual environment for using IEC61131-3 programming languages for generating generic PLC code that can then be mapped to the control logic of specific PLCs. “This provides the control engineer with capability to translate the generic control logic to a PLC’s native logic language.” This whole process has given rise to the umbrella moniker of “digital manufacturing” — the marriage of the virtual world with the physical world.

Digital manufacturing

Early adopters of digital manufacturing are currently confined to the automotive and aerospace industries, with companies like Volkswagen, Daimler, General Motors, Boeing, and Airbus among the leaders. They are all capital-equipment-intensive industries with high costs and long lead times. To be more innovative and agile, they’re seeking to dramatically reduce lead times and costs for bringing out new products — and investing in the new class of PLM software to achieve it.

Interest in digital manufacturing is the result of a perfect storm of converging trends:

  • Increase in emphasis on innovation and successful, rapid, new product launches,

  • Shorter product lifecycles,

  • On-demand production driven by customer orders, and

  • The need to accelerate time-to-value in line changeovers while also reducing costs.

PLM, in general, supports the fluid pursuit of emerging niche markets with products tailored to quickly exploit unique customer preferences and capture market share. The cell phone market is a great example of this, with its proliferation of designs, styles, and colors. So is the mammoth success of Apple’s iPod, and Apple looking for a repeat homerun with its new iPhone. But even auto manufacturers are pursuing niche strategies and enabling smaller runs of tailored models to address very focused markets.

“For many manufacturers, new product introductions are becoming a bigger percentage of what goes through their plants and how they make their money,” says Slansky. “Bringing agility and flexibility to production systems, being able to get them up and running faster, is a major impetus behind this.”

The automotive industry is the most advanced in doing this, Slansky adds, “and European carmakers more than American.” He says General Motors working with Delmia (part of Dassault Systemes) has pilot projects generating the control logic for GM’s production systems. “And aerospace and defense is starting to do this as well, with Boeing simulating the entire final assembly of its new 787 Dreamliner. We’re seeing the merging of the virtual world of design with the physical world of production,” he says.

One of the great gaps in the manufacturing process has always been between design and manufacturing, with design engineering developing blueprints and figuratively throwing them over the wall to production. “Today, the very real gap between PLM and the shop floor is being closed,” says Adam Jura, manufacturing analyst for research firm Datamonitor. “Being able to simulate and program the production line is a great positive for manufacturing. It’s where there’s always been a lot of pain and heartache and cost. To do it and test it virtually has the potential of saving months in the process and millions in costs.”

Two-horse race

Major traction in PLM-automation integration is currently shaping up as a two-horse race: Dassault Systemes riding its Delmia Automation product, and Siemens A&D, which ponied up $3.5 billion earlier this year to acquire UGS. Neither provided customers in pilot projects willing to talk, but interest is real, as are pilot projects.

“It’s very interesting what Boeing is doing,” says Mike Burkett, vice president of research for PLM at AMR Research. “There have been a lot of tools to simulate the factory, but Boeing is using simulation to validate the process before they cut any metal.” Burkett attended Boeing’s “virtual roll out” of the production process for the Boeing 787 in December and was impressed.

Dassault, in a press statement at the time, claimed the “the PLM technology underlying (the virtual roll out) is not simply an animation of the completed airplane, but a virtual simulation and validation of the entire manufacturing process.” Kevin Fowler, Boeing’s 787 vice president for process integration, said, “These new requirements for the production process required a new type of process and computing design technology backbone that didn’t exist before we started working with Dassault Systemes three years ago.”

Datamonitor’s Jura says, Dassault “has done well in this market the last couple of years with marquee deals,” citing Airbus as another example. Hundreds of suppliers collaborated to build the Airbus A380. “How you bring PLM and the manufacturing process together is critically important. This is why Siemens bought UGS. UGS was strong to begin with, but with Siemens, there’s fantastic potential,” Jura says.

UGS PLM Software — as the company is now officially known under Siemens — unveiled its vision at an annual media and analyst briefing in late June, with top executives from UGS and Siemens A&D participating. “This acquisition is a step change in the market,” said Bill Carrelli UGS vice president of strategic marketing. “It will create the next level in customer value.” This will come via a new generation of products and technology, delivering on the true vision for PLM, he stressed.

“We came to the conclusion that we had a missing piece in our portfolio,” said Anton Huber, group vice president of Siemens A&D. “We [saw we] needed product lifecycle support for the product, but needed the same thing for the production line. Any changes in the product have impact on the production line. This is our value proposition. It is a pretty simple story, but the only difference is Siemens has it in its portfolio now.”

Owning and controlling the destiny of all the pieces, rather than merely providing open APIs to various components from others, was a key driver behind the acquisition, said Siemens. The company believes the acquisition will provide them greater leverage, speed, and value in the PLM-automation market space. And “leverage” is clearly the theme of its vision, which is comprised initially in a set of five major “use cases.”

Siemens will partner closely with customers to fully develop these five use cases under the banner of “Project Archimedes.” They include:

  • Adaptive manufacturing,

  • Virtual commissioning,

  • Harmonized lifecycles,

  • Hi-fi machining, and

  • Mechtronics.

One of the primary goals of Project Archimedes, says Giorgio Cuttica, general manager of Siemens manufacturing execution system (MES) business, “is to directly create the code for PLCs from PLM, to populate all the running software in a seamless environment, and then close the loop back to PLM to optimize and simulate and drive workflow into manufacturing production.”

Such an architecture will enable control engineers to simulate and validate control code to PLCs, robotics, and other automation devices in a virtual environment, and be able to test various “what if” scenarios to optimize the automation line. The advantage is increased speed and confidence, and greatly reduced costs in commissioning production lines. The effects of changes in design on performance of the automation layer similarly can be tested, adjusted, and optimized in a virtual space. Product and process design will then be stored in the PLM data repository where they can be reused in future programming of work cells or production lines. For the enterprise, that means more products faster at less cost.

“What you have is digital manufacturing,” says Slansky of ARC. “The control engineer is at the end of the process, responsible for figuring out what needs to be automated and defining the control logic that is needed, then commissioning the production system or conveyor to make sure it all works.” Digital manufacturing puts the product design in the middle of the process, he says, “and enables the control engineer to simulate in 3D the entire process.”

Cultural learning challenges

Challenges remain. “One of the big things is cultural adoption. Organizations need to think differently,” says Burkett of AMR. “The average age of aerospace employees is around 45. You have an aging workforce that may not be ready to adopt these new tools. There is cultural learning to be done.” Integrated PLM-automation tools are different from ERP or supply chain management systems, he says. “Those systems are in areas of the business where companies are used to applying automated tools. When you move into production development, it’s harder to automate” without a history of automating the process, he says.

“Control engineers are focused on making sure the process runs and products get out the back door,” says Julie Fraser, principle of Industry Directions. “But this is an opportunity to leverage their expertise to help the design team do a better job in designing products. In a sense, it is an IT skill set that they’re gaining, and therefore it is a career opportunity. It will provide them easier access to design, and provide them the feedback mechanism to collaborate more easily when they’re trying to program something and the design prevents an efficient process.”

This leads into the politics of collaboration. “The turf wars and politics are tricky,” Fraser says. “It comes down to leadership and understanding. Somebody is going to have to step on somebody else’s turf to make it happen. But once control engineers get past ‘don’t touch my stuff,’ they’ll appreciate the opportunity to be a part of a bigger strategy. They can have better visibility into it and become more of a major player.”

Says Wilson of IDC: “It’ll give them the capability to get design data in synch with manufacturing data and requirements. It’ll provide the means to look backwards, from the manufacturing bill-of-material to the design bill-of-material — which are two different bills, and which has never been easy. It will enable keeping all product data in one place, from design to build to maintenance.”

“Anytime you automate a new process, it takes a while to trust it’” says Fraser. “That’s just good engineering. You stand back and say, ‘This is my theory. Let’s test it out.’ And you test it more than once to make sure you’re getting a sample that is accurate.”

The list of companies who are testing PLM automation integration, while not yet extensive, is nevertheless impressive and growing — mostly among large, capital-intensive, discrete manufacturers. There are even some second tier manufacturers as well. But, for the vast body of companies that comprise the volume of manufacturing, ‘stand back and observe’ is the order of the day. The best of them, however, are paying close attention to what the industrial leaders are doing. Control engineers should likewise seize the moment as an opportunity. PLM-automation integration very likely will prove a major step change in the way they do their jobs.

Author Information
Renee Robbins is editorial director with Control Engineering. Reach her at . Portions of this report were provided by Lisa Sutor, editorial assistant with Control Engineering.

Sharing and managing engineering content

Product lifecycle management (PLM) systems capture product design information, but actually getting usable information down to the plant floor and back is the next frontier of collaboration. At the same time, 3D models rich with useful data are rapidly overtaking 2D drawings as the collaborative tool of choice. As Mark Schneider, field marketing specialist at SolidWorks (a Dassault Systemes company,

According to CIMdata research (

Until such unification takes place, however, many companies are implementing point solutions for sharing and managing engineering content across the enterprise. Some are listed below. For detailed descriptions of the products, search “engineering content” at

Adobe Acrobat 3D encourages collaboration

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Synergis Software’s Web-based client facilitates document management

Seemage helps non-CAD users view and use 3D files

Right Hemisphere moves 3D design data into manuals and videos

Pinion software protects CAD files with controlled self-destruction