Manufacturers can hit product innovation targets with PLM/MES integration

A European weapons maker is among the first manufacturers to forge a working link between its product life-cycle management (PLM) system and manufacturing execution system (MES).
By Manufacturing Business Technology Staff July 30, 2007

A European weapons maker is among the first manufacturers to forge a working link between its product life-cycle management (PLM) system and manufacturing execution system (MES). MBDA Missile Systems says this connection allows it to constantly improve everything from product design processes to the manner in which it allocates engineering and production resources.

Industry analysts have long been urging manufacturers to explore the PLM-MES link. Until recently, however, complex custom integration projects were the only possible means of connecting these disparate applications.

“The transition from product design to production is typically the most expensive, time-intensive aspect of delivering products,” Marc Halpern and Andrew Hughes, two analysts from Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner stated in a January 29, 2007 Research Bulletin . “The ability to manage these linkages through manufacturing process management initiatives allows manufacturers to continuously improve design and operations.”

According to most industry experts, these specific gains would result from PLM/MES integration:

  • Discover potential manufacturing problems earlier, ensuring higher product quality;

  • Shorten product development cycles due to enhanced communication;

  • Ramp up production of new products faster; and

  • Facilitate compliance with government regulations through tracking and tracing mechanisms.

UGS PLM Software and Apriso , which also happen to be the suppliers of MBDA’s PLM and MES applications.

“For the last decade, most manufacturers are focused on cost,” says Frederick L. Thomas, industry director at Apriso, which calls its MES product, FlexNet, an operations execution system. “As we look forward, most are going to be looking at ways to increase revenue, so we need to connect manufacturing into product management to help accelerate things like new product introductions.”

Precise processes: MBDA Missile Systems says a link between its PLM and MES solutions streamlined the processes for building all its products, including the Precision Guided Munitions affixed to this aircraft.

amcenter PLM package from UGS.

An accurate history
Jeremie Ropero, IT project manager for MBDA, says this integrated application set allows tracking “as-built” product characteristics against specifications, creating an accurate history of all products that is accessible throughout the supply chain. This history is fed into MBDA’s SAP ERP system, where data about materials used in the product—and orders placed for the product—is added. Those complete product records then flow back to Teamcenter and FlexNet, where they are available to both the engineering and production staffs.

“We have leveraged the strong integration between FlexNet Production and Quality execution with our PLM and ERP data,” Ropero explains. “We can quickly locate prior work instructions from previous processes to reuse them, significantly reducing paperwork and quality cost. Our method engineers now easily incorporate FlexNet standard operations containing best practices into new production processes.”

UGS has been on a mission of sorts to blend PLM and MES functionality. In addition to its work with Apriso, UGS purchased Tecnomatix , a supplier of production management software. That merger led to Teamcenter being integrated with several Tecnomatix solutions, including a SCADA system. Then, on the heels of the Tecnomatix deal, UGS agreed to be acquired itself, by the Siemens Automation and Drives business unit, a transaction that promises to give Teamcenter ever further reach onto the plant floor.

“This is all about manufacturing performance,” says Alain Iung, UGS VP of digital manufacturing marketing. “[PLM/MES integration] is not only about collecting data—it’s also about adjusting or correcting [processes when necessary].”