Product development in 3D

Design for manufacturability—the idea of taking the company’s manufacturing capabilities into account during new product design—is not a new concept. What is new is the growing movement among manufacturers to integrate product life-cycle management (PLM) and production management software as the means for delivering product design data to the plant floor.

By Jim Fulcher, Contributing Editor February 1, 2009

Design for manufacturability—the idea of taking the company’s manufacturing capabilities into account during new product design—is not a new concept.

What is new is the growing movement among manufacturers to integrate product life-cycle management (PLM) and production management software as the means for delivering product design data to the plant floor. Linking these systems gives a company the confidence to begin designing production equipment—and mapping production processes—long before actual orders for a new product arrive.

Companies that have adopted this approach rightly reason that since they have worked diligently—through the use of PLM tools and techniques—to reduce the time it takes to design new products, they should continue to capitalize on those time savings by accelerating their products’ transition from design into production.

Marc Halpern, research director of manufacturing advisory service for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner , says these initiatives typically are launched with two primary goals in mind: continuing to reduce the time it takes to get products to market, and constantly improving manufacturing processes.

“Given growing global competition and increased pressure to get products to market sooner, manufacturers—particularly large companies with huge investments in capital equipment, but also companies with complex product designs—are interested in forging tighter integration between product design and manufacturing,” Halpern says. “Manufacturers need to minimize risk as much as possible because there’s so much at stake. Using visualization tools, for example, they can model a factory and simulate workflow to see what will happen if they design manufacturing equipment and processes a certain way.”

Grand River Group (GRG)—China’s top motorcycle manufacturer—develops, makes, and sells motorcycles, engines, and parts to both foreign and domestic markets. The Jiangmen City-based company has a production capacity of three million engines and three million motorcycles per year.

With the desire to get products to market faster, GRG focused on revamping the process of handing off product designs to manufacturing. But the company was looking for more than just a speedy handoff; it wanted to ensure that manufacturing receives accurate product design data so it can create standard process plans and work instructions for the plant to follow when products reach the volume production stage.

If done properly, GRG management surmised, the company could consistently get high-quality, innovative new products to market much faster than the competition.

The push is on to integrate product life-cycle management (PLM) and production management software to deliver product design data to the plant floor.

Chen Hai Lan, CIO for GRG, says the adoption of several software solutions was instrumental in the company achieving its goals. As it moved toward connecting its product design and manufacturing functions, the company first integrated its SAP enterprise solution with PTC ’s Windchill ProjectLink and Windchill PDMLink to build a central repository for all product-related data—whether that data originates in a mechanical/electrical CAD program, desktop application, or ERP suite. Next, GRG deployed another PTC solution: MPMLink, a PLM application designed for manufacturing engineers that allows them to digitally design and manage manufacturing process plans in sync with product design. Ultimately, GRG was able to create a closed-loop design-to-production process, in which product design and manufacturing engineers use the same data to both design and build the best possible products.

The result, Chen says, has been increased production and manufacturing engineering efficiency, improved product quality and consistency of manufacturing data, and a dramatic reduction in the time needed to get new product designs to manufacturing.

“Windchill MPMLink is just the thing we need to improve our entire manufacturing process,” Chen says.

GRG of course isn’t the only manufacturer with this type of initiative under way. Dick Slansky, senior analyst for PLM & discrete manufacturing with Dedham, Mass.-based ARC Advisory Group , says digital manufacturing technology is more widely used to create and test virtual production facilities. Using only software, manufacturing engineers are designing conveyance systems, robotic work cells, and control systems. They can then use advanced simulation tools to validate that all of these components are synchronized, controlled, and will function together.

Virtual commissioning eliminates many of the time- and resource-consuming tasks that otherwise must be physically performed by engineers. Not only does this reduce the product launch cycle, but it allows engineers to optimize production processes before they are implemented in a real plant.

“Streamlining the design, validation, and commissioning of production systems will be a key factor for manufacturers in meeting requirements for cost-effective and efficient product launches,” Slansky says. “Tools such as automation simulation platforms have emerged at precisely the right time in a global manufacturing climate where accelerating time-to-market and implementing manufacturing process optimization will be critical to a company’s success.”

Approaches vary

Tom Shoemaker, a VP with PTC, says the ability to, in effect, make product design and manufacturing process planning a single function opens up huge opportunities for manufacturers. “But to really pay off, it can’t be a sequential process; it must be one that is concurrent,” Shoemaker says.

He also says PTC enables companies to create both product designs and manufacturing plans concurrently by offering a set of solutions that cover both functions in a single software suite.

The Pro/ENGINEER CAD package can be used to create product designs, with the resulting data being stored in the central repository provided through Windchill PDMLink. Windchill MPMLink can then use the data stored in PDMLink to develop and manage manufacturing process plans.

Allowing both product design and manufacturing engineers to work with the same data eliminates problems inherent to creating and maintaining duplicate product information. Transforming engineering bills of material (BOM) into manufacturing BOMs—and then defining and managing the manufacturing processes in the same system—ensures that products are always manufactured exactly to design specifications, Shoemaker says.

Other vendors are offering users similar capabilities, through slightly different approaches.

Roughly a year and a half ago, Siemens AG acquired PLM software and services provider UGS, and subsequently created Siemens PLM Software .

Since then, Siemens PLM has worked to create a link between product design and manufacturing functions by integrating its PLM applications with production management solutions offered by the Siemens Automation and Drives unit.

“Siemens PLM continues to build on additions to its Tecnomatix [manufacturing process management] product to plan and execute manufacturing in a single environment, and to do things like simulate robotic lines versus single machines,” says Jeff Hojlo, research analyst at Boston-based AMR Research . “Technical direction includes virtual commissioning to simulate manufacturing equipment to a detailed level through tighter integration to Siemens controls.”

Dassault Systemes , which offers the CATIA CAD package and the DELMIA manufacturing process management suite, recently entered a partnership with Rockwell Automation to create a software utility that allows for incorporating the devices that control production equipment into virtual manufacturing process plans.

The result, says Rick Morse, Rockwell Automation’s business manager for design and simulation software, is that users can now create a virtual design and production environment for concurrent development of mechanical, electrical, and control systems. This will provide immediate feedback on the impact of any design changes—giving companies the ability to test multiple “what-if?” scenarios.

“This utility makes the virtual design and production environment a reality for manufacturers,” Morse says. “That’s crucial for industries such as automotive that look to simulation as a way to lower costs and decrease time-to-production of new models or model changes.”

Another crucial element, says Morse, is the solution allows engineers who design products to work in collaborative fashion with engineers who design plant control systems. They can communicate at any point during the design and development process to ensure that the plant’s design—including its control system—will be able to support building a product the way it’s designed. This will reduce time required for testing and debugging production systems during production ramp-up—ultimately accelerating the product’s time-to-market.

Put to practice

Process management technology can be used to create and test virtual production facilities, and incorporate devices that control production equipment into virtual manufacturing process plans.

While the merits of various approaches may be argued, it’s clear that there is significant benefit for manufacturers to closely integrate PLM and manufacturing solutions. After all, in today’s business climate, innovation in manufacturing business processes—that is, how the work gets done—is as important as product innovation, says Jean-Luc Delcuvellerie, director for MES product management at Apriso , a provider of software for managing manufacturing operations.

“Manufacturers facing frequent new product introductions must be adept at quickly configuring shop-floor processes capable of producing the expected quantity and quality with competitive differentiation,” says Delcuvellerie. “Then there is additional benefit to combining ‘as-designed’ product data from PLM with ‘as-built’ production data from an execution system because it ultimately enables a manufacturer to improve performance so it can bring products to market faster, more efficiently, and with higher quality. Those are substantial benefits given today’s business climate.”

MBDA —a leading global missile manufacturer jointly owned by BAE Systems, EADS, and Finmeccanica—uses features of the Apriso FlexNet solution to streamline the process of moving data between its PLM and manufacturing execution systems.

Detailed manufacturing plans and work instructions are now generated much more quickly because they are based on the as-designed product component definitions, routings, specifications, and BOMs contained in the PLM repository.

The company’s manufacturing execution system (MES) tracks the characteristics of all products passing through production, including “as-built” genealogy. This information is then fed to MBDA’s SAP ERP system where it’s combined with “as-planned” materials and order data. The result is a list comparing the characteristics of the finished products with their designs.

Once data about the quality of the finished products is added to the mix, MBDA has a solid set of information to aid product design and manufacturing engineers who determine if any of their existing processes require improvement, or warrant reuse.

“We leveraged the strong integration between FlexNet production and quality execution with our engineering PLM and ERP data,” explains Jeremie Ropero, IT project manager, MBDA. “We can quickly locate prior work instructions from previous processes to reuse them and significantly reduce our paperwork and quality costs. Our method engineers now easily incorporate FlexNet standard operations containing best practices into new production processes.”

IQMS offers the final link to a complete PLM strategy

Integrating product life-cycle management (PLM) and plant-floor solutions can bring a manufacturer one step closer to transforming product development into a strategic, enterprisewide business process. But the final step in that journey involves a link to the ERP system.

This three-tier connection not only gives product designers reliable information about whether the factory can bring their ideas to life—it also delivers fast answers concerning the availability of components they envision using.

But perhaps most important for companies seeking to turn product development into a competitive advantage, this end-to-end integration can supply quick feedback about any quality issues, or what customers like or don’t like about a product. Such data can be used to accelerate the pace of design changes, keeping a flow of new and improved products moving into the market.

Software vendors know manufacturers value this level of connectivity, but few are able to deliver it—at least not without the customer doing some custom integration work. One vendor that can make a claim for being able to offer end-to-end product development capabilities out of the box is IQMS , an enterprise software vendor that develops all of its own applications.

The IQMS product suite—called Enterprise IQ—contains the basic ERP components of accounting, inventory management, and production planning. But it also has an application that allows monitoring plant-floor activities in real time, in addition to its own PLM module. The Enterprise IQ lineup is rounded out by quality control, supply chain, CRM, and e-business solutions.

Initially IQMS catered solely to companies in the plastics industries, such as injection molders. It later created versions of its applications for manufacturers in the automotive, medical device, and packaging products industries. Many of these manufacturers are taking advantage of multilevel connections between shop-floor, PLM, and ERP components of Enterprise IQ, according to Randy Flamm, company president.

“Manufacturers trying to integrate ERP, PLM, and manufacturing often encounter numerous problems,” Flamm says. “That isn’t the case when a manufacturer uses a single-source solution.”

EnterpriseIQ’s PLM module, for example, includes direct links from PLM to all ERP-related information, as well as access to all information associated with the manufacture of the product—e.g., number of rejects, engineering change information, process cost information, deviations, and order releases.

“Introducing new products involves more than a company’s internal processes and procedures,” Flamm says. “To stay competitive, companies must instead use their global supply chains to bring products to market quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively—with guaranteed customer satisfaction. The PLM module in Enterprise IQ provides the ability to track products from the design and quoting process, through production, and to the end of their life cycle to meet those requirements.”