Kevin Parker: Digital manufacturing puts PLCs in contact with PLM

Continuing debacles at Airbus and Boeing demonstrate a looming chasm exists between today's advanced computerized design capabilities and shop-floor realities. The cure is called “digital manufacturing.” Two vendors, Siemens PLM Software and Dassault Systemes, recently made announcements or held events to further understanding of digital manufacturing.
By Kevin Parker, editorial director January 1, 2008

Continuing debacles at Airbus and Boeing demonstrate a looming chasm exists between today’s advanced computerized design capabilities and shop-floor realities. The cure is called “digital manufacturing.”

Two vendors, Siemens PLM Software and Dassault Systemes, recently made announcements or held events to further understanding of digital manufacturing. The Dassault announcement, in partnership with automation vendor Rockwell Automation, is about creating a collaborative engine that extends from engineering’s PLM system to the plant floor’s PLCs.

For their latest airliners, both Airbus and Boeing decentralized design and production. Airbus did so because it’s owned by a European consortium, EADS, and must spread work amongst national entities. Boeing made unprecedented use of outsourcing for its 787 Dreamliner. Unfortunately, when Airbus went to assemble major fuselage elements they didn’t match up. More recently, Boeing blamed significant delays for the 787 on failure to effectively monitor outsourcing partners.

Digital manufacturing connotes the ability to describe every aspect of the design-to-manufacturing process digitally. More specifically, we’re talking manufacturing process planning and modeling based on a common data model, user interface, interoperability, and workflow across design and manufacturing.

Tecnomatix, the Siemens digital-manufacturing solution, was originally acquired by UGS in 2005. By then, Dassault had already owned its solution, Delmia, several years. The impetus, said AMR Research’s Kevin Mixer at the time, was “growing interest in digital manufacturing to speed new product time-to-volume in asset-intensive industries like automotive and aerospace.”

At a Siemens event in Detroit, Alan Baumgartner, technical leader for manufacturing PLM and CAPE, Ford Motor Co., Office of the Technical Fellow, IT, said when Siemens’ acquisition of UGS was announced, he thought not much more than it was good that UGS had found a “safe haven.” Further examination, however, convinced him “significant opportunities exist in the space between product design and plant operations, more so even than between design and manufacturing engineering.”

Baumgartner said Ford and Siemens are exploring digital manufacturing in three areas: 1) flexible manufacturing and the associated production information flow, 2) measuring a plant’s current state relative to managed PLM data, and 3) examining possibilities for “process-driven product design.”

A major report on PLM just released by AMR Research says Siemens and Dassault are the leaders in digital manufacturing. According to AMR, Tecnomatix process planning—combined with the Siemens Simatic IT line—gives it “the opportunity to be the only PLM vendor offering a complete design-to-manufacture application.” Dassault’s Delmia, says AMR, has rich manufacturing planning, but not the organic “MES, SCADA, scheduling,” and other capabilities required.

But as 2007 ended, Dassault said its partnership with Rockwell Automation more than makes up for any perceived deficit in its efforts to drive convergence of design and production. A first step will allow virtual commissioning of new or refurbished production lines concurrent with product design. Again, this is seen as a particularly pressing need in automotive.