All roads lead to Sweden

James Pozzi details a recent visit to Sweden, where he examined the manufacturing activities of technology company PTC.

My travels recently took me to the Swedish city of Gothenburg to attend an open day detailing some of the activities of technology firm PTC with its manufacturing customers. Through its work in Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), the American firm has emerged as one of the world leaders in its field.

Proceedings began with PTC product manager director Jean-Claude Niyonkuru. One of the themes of his talk was working to improve process management through technology, and taking production planning from the virtual to the physical. It was Mr Niyonkuru’s belief that manufacturing products have become much more software intensive in recent times, a major force of transformation in the manufacturing sector including:

• Servitization
• Connectivity
• Personalisation
• Globalisation

So what is the PTC solution for both competing and influencing in this brave new world enhanced by the collective force of these factors? Niyonkuru pinpointed three categories:

• Unify – design, manufacture and plan on a single system
• Steamline – Process planning development system
• Optimise – manufacture products and sales

Following from the intro, the day developed into a range of case studies of companies working with PTC. I’ve detailed some of the more interesting cases.

Volvo

I was then given an insight into the PTC’s collaboration with Volvo, one of Sweden’s most iconic manufacturing companies. The automotive company, which recently celebrated its 200,000th registered truck in the UK since it began trading in the country in 1967, detailed its virtual manufacturing support throughout the years 2005-13. Klas Thelander, virtual manufacturing manager at Volvo Group, conducted an introspective presentation he said was designed to reflect on the company’s past.

In 2005, his department was challenged by Volvo management to present a lorry assembly process so lean that one truck can be assembled from start to finish in just 60 minutes. That’s right, 60 minutes. While such a number sounds incomprehensible, video footage showed the process at its Bourg-en-Bresse factory, located in France.

A Lego truck was then passed round to the audience as an example, with 1600 parts needed to assemble the model. But this was a mere drop in the ocean, as a real life-sized truck consists of 20,000 parts. This shows the sheer magnitude of component and parts assembly all fitted into one lean, efficient package.

Supporting this, is the virtual manufacturing process, enabling Volvo to find the best possible way of assembling trucks in an industrial system. The finished products were also showcased in this 2013 viral sensation starring a movie star Jean Claude Van Damme, the most ever watched automotive advert on YouTube.

Virtual Manufacturing

One of the day’s most intriguing insights was from Daniel Wigren, managing director of Swedish manufacturer Virtual Manufacturing. Based in Gothenburg, the company was established in 2006 and now has 40 employees specialising in the supply of lean-based production development services

With a core focus on service orientated solutions through PLM, its business areas include industrial management, robotics and automation and assembly and production flow. Ultimately, it’s all about avoiding surprises, as Wigren put it. “In manufacturing, we don’t like surprises, as we know surprises cost money,” he said.

Wigren summarised PTC’s investments in the technology employed by Virtual Manufacturing as simply, there is a lot of money to be saved in manufacturing. Such a mentality is continuously ongoing and will forever continue to do so, he added. Commenting on the rise of Industry 4.0 in Germany, Wigren explained the Sweden 2030 movement currently taking place in the country’s manufacturing sector.

At its core, it aims to make Sweden a key region for companies to develop products in. So far SEK135m has been invested into this by the government, covering areas of development. With a solid history of manufacturing and a culture of embracing innovation, companies like Virtual Manufacturing offer a compelling snapshot into the future of manufacturing; not just in Sweden, but the rest of Europe also.

General Electric

The day was rounded off by Brit Simon Lawson of conglomerate General Electric (GE). As product marketing manager of the company’s intelligent platform arm, Mr Lawson was speaking from the perspective of a company encompassing all major facets of manufacturing. Spanning all corners of the globe and employing 300,000 people and files 2,000 patents annually, the full scope of General Electric’s activities was ably condensed into a half an hour presentation.

Starting with a brief overview of GE’s history, a company founded by American inventor Thomas Edison in 1896, Lawson not only discussed its collaborations with PTC, but also its adoption of a host of innovative technologies. Calling the GE Windchill tool “one of the best kept secrets in manufacturing software,” Lawson highlighted its ability to utilise 3D models and construction.

Looking to future innovations, Lawson spoke of the arrival of the industrial internet, something he illustrated in video form.

Another of the innovations highlighted was GE’s aviation team in California adopting Google Glass technology as part of its manufacturing process. Used for a non-destructive test on a GE 90 engine, the prototype presents what GE called an opportunity around the corner. Long term, it hopes to yield greater efficiencies in production maintenance.

Talk expanded to other realms of company and particularly GE’s simplification programme. This included its ERP implementation, with the aim of reducing ERP instances 80% by 2016. With 122 different instances at present, it aims to slash this dramatically to 2016, a move Lawson described as making the ERP flavour “as vanilla as possible.”This was linked together by three layers; it’s PLM, ERP and MGS. Respectively, these were described as product orientated, transaction orientated and event orientated.

With innovation a continuous buzzword in manufacturing, seeing the reality of this extending from new players such as Virtual Manufacturing to established industry giants such as Volvo provided an insight into the importance of PLM. It also shed light on the emerging technologies of the future, and how PTC are adapting to this as it continues to increase its share of an ever-competitive market.