Ed Miller: The PLM footprint steps onto the factory floor

Once predominately focused on engineering design, product life-cycle management (PLM) today encompasses a broadening range of activities—from early-stage product strategy to design, manufacturing engineering, and field service. One aspect of this evolution is tight integration with factory automation equipment, which creates a more seamless flow of information between virtual product and...

By Ed Miller January 1, 2008

Once predominately focused on engineering design, product life-cycle management (PLM) today encompasses a broadening range of activities—from early-stage product strategy to design, manufacturing engineering, and field service.

One aspect of this evolution is tight integration with factory automation equipment, which creates a more seamless flow of information between virtual product and process designs and the physical world of PLCs and transfer lines.

Expansion into factory automation entails integration with the physical product arena, and represents an opportunity to share and leverage key product-related information within both environments.

Conceptually, the combination of design solutions with production automation systems creates an all-inclusive, seamless environment. This enables manufacturing knowledge to be incorporated earlier in the product-development process, and production-related issues to flow back into product design.

This integration between factory automation and PLM has evolved over decades, and is aimed at fulfilling computer-integrated manufacturing strategies launched in the 1970s.

The fulcrum point in this evolution today is Digital Manufacturing—systems aimed at developing production processes and simulating factory-floor workflow. Digital Manufacturing brings manufacturing engineering into the scope of PLM.

Another area where efforts span decades is NC programming for individual machine tools. Today, however, we’re talking about controlling the hardware of entire work cells.

Recognizing the market potential, the vendor community has responded with commercial product offerings aimed at closer integration of PLM and factory automation. Pioneering efforts in Digital Manufacturing were made by Siemens PLM Software with its Tecnomatix product line, as well as by Dassault Systemes with DELMIA and joint initiatives with companies such as Schneider Electric.

The Siemens acquisition of UGS may elevate these initiatives to the next level in terms of industry visibility and attention for both industrial companies and suppliers of solutions, resulting in increased value to users.

The opportunity to facilitate bidirectional information flow between design systems and production equipment offers huge potential for substantial savings as companies eliminate barriers, knock down traditional organizational silos, and flatten the walls that block information from flowing freely between engineering and manufacturing. Engineering changes can be transmitted to the shop floor efficiently in an integrated system, for example. Conversely, data on production problems can go directly to product engineers for evaluation of product design and process plans.

In some of the first implementations, automotive, aerospace, heavy equipment, and other large manufacturers with heavy investments in manufacturing systems have integrated pieces of their automation systems to PLM. As these giants gain experience, other companies will follow.

Technical challenges and organizational barriers notwithstanding, early adopters that integrate PLM and factory automation have a tremendous opportunity to differentiate themselves on an otherwise level playing field.

Author Information
Ed Miller is president of CIMdata Inc. (