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Extending the Digital Advantage

Feb. 7, 2009
Digital strategies are enabling faster product development by accelerating information cycle times.

Increasingly referred to as the ultimate industrial stimulus, digital manufacturing strategies can potentially satisfy the pressure to manufacture faster, better and at lower cost. For example, automaker giant Toyota Motor Corp. participates as both a shareholder and a user of digital manufacturing solutions. The concept builds on 3-D CAD, enables product lifecycle management (PLM) and ultimately includes the means for connecting with the customer.

Many manufacturers, to be sure, are still limiting 3-D CAD data to the design function. The experts warn, however, that such restrictions limit the competitive benefits that a digital manufacturing strategy could deliver across corporate functions. For example, enterprisewide use of 3-D CAD data is the first step toward capturing the benefits of PLM, says Tom Emmrich, president, Dassault Systemes Americas. He says it is no coincidence that his company, a provider of PLM solutions, believes that 3-D data is an effective medium of communication in order to innovate and gain efficiency.

"We feel that 3-D is the means that can be used to talk across functions and across countries, languages and cultures, Emmrich says. The issue, he notes, is that viewing something helps in gaining an understanding of it. "In addition, 3-D can span the understanding gap between functions -- such as a design engineer and a production engineer."

Emmrich says that Dassault's digital conclusion is that the ultimate goal of all manufacturers is the virtual representation of the product with the use of 3-D.

Consider the power of virtual prototyping, the design example of digital manufacturing: "Instead of physically making new prototypes every time a new product is called for, we create virtual representations of all variations on a computer," says Paul Reynolds, business manager at the PZFlex division of Weidlinger Associates Inc., an engineering consulting firm.

Critical to a PLM strategy is the linking of digital design to digital manufacturing, which allows you to kickoff and troubleshoot a new assembly line in the virtual world to ensure that it will function as planned in the physical production environment.The result: faster time-to-market plus improved quality and better understanding of the designs, says Reynolds.

For example, just before PZFlex commercialized its virtual prototyping software, one of the company's consulting clients, a large medical transducer manufacturing company, was able to use the software to reduce the number of physical prototypes from 75 to just three, says Robbie Banks, lead design engineer for PZFlex. "In addition, the new designs reached the market faster and the software was also able to analyze and improve product performance."

As the time-to-market windows shrink, designers must ensure that what they build works the first time, adds Prabhakar Bendre, senior vice president, KPIT Cummins, an India-based IT service provider to manufacturing organizations. "Increasingly industrial designers are abandoning the hardware prototype approach for electronic virtualization, a technology that has been known to lop off as much as eight months from a development schedule." About 90% of KPIT's revenues come from services it provides to three manufacturing sectors -- automotive, industrial equipment and high-tech/electronic companies.

For example, virtualization predicts and abstracts redundant details when designing electronic control units for the automotive industry. In wireless phone design, virtual prototyping can also predict battery performance. In vehicle design, a virtual system prototype can be created for each engine control unit, including a specific processor, cache size, clock rate and peripherals.

"As a foundation for software development, virtual prototyping provides greater visibility into operation and performance than can be obtained with the actual hardware," Bendre observes. "If hardware can be abstracted away, the root of many software problems goes away with it. Virtualizing a product, in short, will decrease design iterations."

More Than Virtual Prototyping

But digital manufacturing also has significant potential beyond virtual prototyping. Bendre says that digital manufacturing, as practiced today, is a natural evolution of the CIM (computer-integrated manufacturing) initiatives of the 1980s. "Back then it was the simpler, less-comprehensive goal of going from art to part -- merely making the connection among CAD, CAE and CAM," he explains. "Today that has progressed to connecting, integrating, coordinating and optimizing the myriad digital solutions that enable modern manufacturing efforts. In contrast our customers now have more ambitious goals, which can include completely simulating the entire design to manufacturing scenario even before they have invested a single dollar on setting up a manufacturing facility."

Among the forces driving digital solutions in manufacturing companies are warranty costs, says Bendre. "Those costs range from 2% to 5% of sales and are motivating a more disciplined approach toward optimizing manufacturing processes and minimizing costs."

"Provide a trial period where employees receive both 2-D and 3-D data. After three or four days, they'll stop referring to the 2-D data."
-- Bill Barnes, general manager, Lattice Technology Inc."A lot of the motivation for digital solutions has to do with speed, quality and productivity," adds Sandy Joung, senior director of product marketing at PTC, a vendor of product development solutions. "Those factors are significant issues that encourage digital solutions, for example, when automotive suppliers compete for contracts. In addition, digital solutions such as CAD/CAM and PLM become even more necessary as competitive tools as manufacturing companies become global operations with multiple production sites."

As manufacturing companies become more global, Joung notes, the need develops to increase the communication capability, optimize collaboration and standardize processes. "When the information is captured electronically, it can be shared much more easily among geographically dispersed teams," he says.

"With more and more stakeholders involved in the product development process, collaboration and communication are critical to driving competitive advantage," adds Joung. "The product development team has grown outside the engineering department to now include cross-functional internal resources, suppliers, partners and customers located around the world.

"The necessity is to help everyone get on 'the same page' quickly with the same methodology and the same data. Digital tools are the effective way to leverage broad institutional knowledge as opposed to doing everything locally. The trend to implementing digital tools is as much a management necessity as a process requirement. The use of digital tools also becomes an effective way of elevating important manufacturing data easily and quickly to the attention of senior management."

By increasing nimbleness and responsiveness, implementing digital tools speed the business process and enable the business process advantages of a smaller, optimized company, adds Joung.

PLM for SMBs?

Have you categorized PLM as only a big-company solution? Think again. Siemens PLM Software is pursuing an SMB (small to medium sized businesses) initiative with the launch of an online resource center. Supporting evidence: a new Aberdeen report indicates that top SMB companies use PLM to respond effectively and efficiently to customer needs.

In this new initiative, Siemens shows customers how to reduce customer delivery time by 50%, reduce engineering change orders by 40% and save 30% in physical prototyping costs.

"Our research shows that a variety of pressures driving product development improvements ultimately tie back to customer responsiveness," says Chad Jackson, Aberdeen innovation practice vice president. "Our recent studies show that top-performing organizations leverage comprehensive toolsets including CAD, CAE, CAM as well as PLM to enable an approach to product development that allows them to respond effectively and quickly to changing customer needs, without sacrificing high-performance expectations of their engineering organizations."

SMB users of PLM technology include:

  • Luisito Chong, manager of production engineering at Angelus Sanitary Can, a supplier of can seamers and can closing machines: "We wanted the productivity gains and the superior visualization that 3-D offers so we could continue to meet our customers' requests."
  • Bob Schafbuch, assistant vice president of enterprise applications for biotech firm Integrated DNA Technology's manufacturing locations: "It will be much easier to meet the FDA's documentation requirements. This has been such a huge leap for us."

The Big Question

Is 3-D CAD data growing more accessible in manufacturing? That depends. In the automotive and aerospace sectors the transition from 2-D to 3-D is virtually complete, says Bill Barnes, general manager, Lattice Technology Inc., a digital solutions provider. "The lag, and the greatest challenge for digital solutions providers, lies in the general manufacturing area." Penetration of 3-D is approximately 50% to 60% for all of manufacturing, notes John MacKrell, senior analyst with analyst firm CIMdata.

Barnes says the 3-D lag can often be nothing more than shop-floor employees' unquestioning comfort with the 2-D status quo. His favorite solution: "Provide a trial period where employees receive both 2-D and 3-D data. After three or four days, they'll stop referring to the 2-D data."

Issues of data access, however, are more than simply agreeing to using the data. And another issue -- empowering 3-D data access in multivendor environments -- was part of the rationale when Toyota invested in Lattice Technology in 1997. Other major shareholders include Hitachi Software Engineering, Mitsui & Co. Ltd. and Tokyo Marine & Nichidi.

Lattice Technology's digital solutions use the proprietary XVL format to compress large CAD data into more usable sizes with no loss of accuracy. In addition to working with existing 3-D CAD, the solutions integrate fully with ERP and PLM systems. XVL can be reviewed at no charge using a free XVL player.

At Toyota, the Lattice Technology solution contends with three different CAD systems, converting each to the XVL format and combining data for partial or complete car models for multiple uses.

Barnes says Toyota conducts tests and reviews with XVL that are not possible with CAD due to large data sizes. In design reviews Barnes says Toyota decreased man hours for part interference checking by 66% and in parts procurement, interactive 3-D viewing/selection decreased error rates by 30%.

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