Digital Manufacturing's Growing PLM Role

5 Dec, 2007 By: Jeffrey Rowe

A suite of software from Siemens PLM Software is designed to take on the tasks of manufacturing process management.

A number of the segments that make up the product lifecycle management (PLM) world, such as CAD, CAM, CAE, and PDM, either have seen relatively modest increases this year or have remained relatively flat. However, one bright spot in the PLM picture is digital manufacturing, the central topic of the Siemens PLM Software Digital Manufacturing Symposium, held last month in Dearborn, Michigan.

The two-day event covered a lot of ground, including how companies have dealt with manufacturing issues through applying digital manufacturing technology, how Siemens is expanding its digital manufacturing offerings, best practice sessions that discussed applying the technology to specific industry problems, and the possible future directions digital manufacturing might take. Of course, the star of the show was Tecnomatix, Siemens’ product line for what is also called manufacturing process management (MPM), but is now more simply known as digital manufacturing. Today, the Tecnomatix suite of software and services has expanded to include MPM and control, production management, and execution.

I believe one reason MPM is gaining momentum in the PLM marketplace is that while other facets of PLM concern themselves with what will be created, digital manufacturing addresses how something will be created. In other words, the Tecnomatix product line is concerned with process as it relates to creating a product. As a further means of becoming more competitive, digital manufacturing is growing beyond its traditional automotive/aerospace niche and moving into the mainstream with manufacturers of all sizes and industries.

It’s All about Process
Because processes involve so many more things beyond just geometry, software applications that deal with the complexities of processes can be, by their nature, complex as well. Several of the symposium presentations showed just how complex things can get with variables, dependencies, interdependencies, and so on.

Digital manufacturing is all about collaborative process planning, which lets companies define the manufacturing processes that will be used to produce their products. In effect, digital manufacturing creates an environment in which manufacturing process definition is conducted concurrently with product design activities.

Although only a few of the many Tecnomatix products were discussed during the symposium itself, some caught my eye and were described by Siemens product managers and engineers:

Process Designer provides a collaborative environment for planning manufacturing processes by defining and verifying product assembly sequences; creating assembly line layouts; allocating the required time for operations; and verifying line performance, including throughput. The result is a bill of process (BOP) that contains a full description of the processes by which a product is assembled, manufactured, tested for quality, and packed for shipping. The BOP is the basic token of information exchangeable between central planning departments, plants, and contractors.

The BOPs are managed via Teamcenter for MPM. The information stored within Teamcenter’s MPM system includes processes, reports, analysis, and work instructions, which enables access, exchange, and interaction across the global enterprise. Process Designer can evaluate manufacturing alternatives, coordinate resources, optimize throughput, plan for multiple variants, implement changes, and estimate costs and cycle times during the early stages of concept planning.

FactoryFLOW is a graphical material handling system that enables manufacturing engineers to base factory layouts on material flow distances, frequency, and costs. It analyzes layouts by using part routing information, material storage needs, material handling equipment specifications, and part packaging (containerization) information. FactoryFLOW uses aisle network information to find the shortest distance between any two points to identify the closest incoming dock and storage area to a part's point of use. Material flow studies are performed on alternate layout configurations and automatically compared to determine which layout is better. FactoryFLOW can also be used to compute material handling equipment requirements and optimized routes. Factory layout information is stored in a FactoryFLOW database, and this information is used to help engineers develop layouts that optimize the manufacturing process.

Getting Everybody On Board
One of the fundamental issues for successfully implementing a digital manufacturing strategy is a desire to get product development and manufacturing processes to work together. During product development, product engineers define and validate product components and assemblies and generate bills of materials (BOMs) for various product configurations. Manufacturing engineers define and validate the assembly processes, fixtures, and tools required for assembling the product, as well as plant design and logistical material distribution plans.

Although companies want product development to work in parallel with manufacturing, the link between the two is often a weak one. Because tight collaboration does not exist, the overall process is usually more serial than parallel. Historically, the design and manufacturing groups have had difficulty working concurrently for two primary reasons: The manufacturing group lacks access to up-to-date product information early in the design process, and as the design progresses, inconsistent and unreliable change management procedures are more the rule than the exception.

It has always been a struggle to link and synchronize evolving product development and manufacturing process definitions, often resulting in costly product manufacturing and market introduction delays. Equally bad, errors introduced in a hastily prepared manufacturing definition too often get passed all the way to the factory floor at product launch, inevitably resulting in further delays.

Tecnomatix digital manufacturing applications are a means for uniting the product development and manufacturing processes that provide a superior means for managing assembly process planning so that manufacturing considerations can positively influence design decisions, and vice versa. More companies are realizing that successfully implementing a digital manufacturing environment involves linking product BOM configurations and the associated CAD data early in the design process and continuing it as the design progresses. It is this digital manufacturing environment that lets companies automatically synchronize their BOP to related product BOM information so that accurate manufacturing processes can be defined and implemented.

The Siemens symposium made it very clear that digital manufacturing is becoming an increasingly important part of any manufacturer's overall strategy, regardless of size. To better compete, it’s becoming not just another possible option but rather an absolute necessity, and not just for the big guys but for manufacturers of all sizes. I expect to see digital manufacturing continue to grow in the PLM mix and gain importance in manufacturing. It is an integral component of the long-promised nirvana of PLM and is absolutely essential for any manufacturing company that wants to pursue a comprehensive and successful PLM strategy.

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