Far more than traceability

Where can you look for software to enable continuous innovation, minimise investment and maximise revenue? Try the much misunderstood PLM, suggests Charles Clarke

Some would argue that PLM is only directly relevant to maybe 1,000 companies worldwide in the automotive/aerospace sectors, where traceability is required from cradle to grave (ie ‘real’ product lifecycle management). It is more recognisable for normal mortals outside the aerospace/defence sector when you consider the car from concept to recycling or scrapping. Today the green lobby has such an influence on the automotive industry that the use of natural fibres and considerations for recycling and disposal have a real influence on design. And every company, large or small, in this kind of supply chain has its own subset of requirements of PLM technology.

Far from just being about traceability, PLM is relevant to every company interested in continuous innovation, minimising investment and maximising revenue at every stage of the product lifecycle. PLM is about building on a core set of bestof- breed applications. These applications provide a secure foundation and technologies to enable collaboration, and extend those capabilities through solutions integration. The other part of the offering is middleware and consulting – only major vendors like Siemens PLM, IBM/Dassault and PTC, and enterprise system providers like SAP and their partners have this kind of experience and capability.

“PLM is built on a foundation of company experience and it has become a vehicle for increasing amounts of data – often visual,” said Trevor Barkley, systems controller at Husqvarna UK. “That means it can be used by more people within and beyond the Husqvarna enterprise.” Visual 3D data is applied, for example, in marketing, purchasing, quality and servicing, as well as in more established applications such as manufacturing, mould-making and passing design data to outsourced contractors.

“PLM offers choices,” said Barkley. “It is possible to use 3D data in so many ways that we have introduced a strategic methodology to deal with its implementation. The benefits are easy to see, and demand for 3D data is growing exponentially as more people realise the productivity benefits and conveniences that it enables.”

“One of the main benefits of using V5 PLM data (from Dassault Systemes) is that it speeds our work,” said Barkley. “This is especially so at the design stage where generative shape design software (GSD) is used to iterate forms in compliance with corporate aesthetic parameters. In conjunction with rapid prototyping, we produce scale models that can be scanned, measured and tested while the design is still digital. This methodology gives us new ways of thinking about the design to manufacturing process, and often produces advantages to us in both areas. We also use kinematics both to develop and to verify mechanisms. Noise and vibration is an important measure of quality for the Flymo user, and PLM is a very useful engineering tool to aid the reduction of both.”

Today’s manufacturing value chain is an extremely complex, dynamic, data-driven network of interrelationships among dozens, hundreds or even thousands of suppliers, customers and partners spread across the globe and inside companies. It spans a multitude of contact points and processes, creating a global network of partners working together to increase innovation and optimise product value. “The range of weighing systems that we manufacture, sell and service is based on more than 300,000 components,” said Heath Tipton, PLM project manager at Avery Weigh-Tronix in Birmingham. “Each territory in which we sell has its own individual standards and local requirements for weighing accuracy. This represents significant complexity and requires a significant number of market variants in our product lines.”

“We recognised that a systematic workflow system needed to be introduced to integrate departments of the company across the world and enable channelling of engineering requests,” said Tipton. “We needed a standard method to encompass and control the generation of components, software, electrical systems, approval certification and technical documentation. In other words, we needed to be able to define all related data in a single enterprise-wide collaboration system, for use across our extended enterprise. “In early 2005,” he continued, “we investigated a range of PLM systems and, based on a 37-point functional weighting, selected Enovia SmarTeam from Dassualt Systemes. Full implementation is an ongoing process in several defined stages. Stage one has been completed, and for the first time the company has a unified R&D project system that encapsulates and defines all of our parts and project data.”

The effect on the company has been immediate and profound, as Heath Tipton explained. “Going from virtually no system to one as comprehensive as Enovia SmarTeam has given us the ability to see exactly what is happening in R&D. We now define all projects using Enovia SmarTeam. The system helps engineers to prioritise projects better, and since they now log their time we can see how they spend it. This has immediately reduced unplanned activity by 10 per cent. Enovia SmarTeam now allows us to find data related to projects instantly. This gives us the confidence that we are working productively and saves time previously spent searching for project-related data.”

Managers of complex value chains struggle with the lack of useful timely data from their customers, suppl iers, logistics providers, offshore operations, near shore finishing centres and distribution networks. As a result, they are stuck in reactive mode, without the opportunity for proactive corrective intervention. This problem prevents them from exploiting the data and turning the value chain into a competitive advantage.

Internal and external data sharing is now vital. Getting the right data at the right time has a significant effect on time to market. It is well known that up to 60 per cent of people’s time is spent looking for data – PLM solutions eliminate wasted time looking for shared data both internally and externally.

“Using PTC solutions to connect design, prototyping and testing within a single product development system, we expect to improve our overall product quality,” explained Dr Frank Metzner, head of powertrain module management, Volkswagen AG. “Furthermore, we will be able to automate our development processes and monitor projects in real time which will lead to shorter cycle times.”

The Windchill deployment is an expansion of Volkswagen’s current use of the PTC product development system, which includes Pro/Engineer for 3D design, ProductView for visualisation and Windchill for content and process management and collaboration. The roll-out started simultaneously within Audi and at Volkswagen, followed by Skoda in the Czech Republic and the Americas Region of Volkswagen and further international brands like Seat and Lamborghini. Since the end of 2005, PTC’s Windchill has been used by more than 1,200 employees of the Volkswagen and Audi brands.

“The global deployment of PTC solutions is strategically important for us to improve the leverage of existing knowledge and information in the powertrain process in our subsidiaries all over the world,” said Dr Trac Tang, corporate executive director of information systems for product creation at Volkswagen AG.

Keeping people and processes operating to the same plan, when the plan is changing dynamically to meet demand, is no small undertaking. Even in an imaginary world of unchanging products, materials are sometimes delivered to the wrong place, and customers sometimes change their requirements. Both cases trigger changes to plans.

In the real world of customised and configured products, designed and built in flexible ways to optimise use of assets, value chain synchronisation becomes more difficult, more important, and more valuable. The task is much more than just scheduling. It involves co-ordinating collaborative design, manufacturing engineering, and service work, as well as achieving smooth flow of materials through factories, distribution and installation. This requires visibility of good information ranging from partner know-how to project progress and snags. In many cases, there is no predefined workflow or automatic scheduling to provide the answer about what everyone should do next. Instead, the individuals involved must create, discuss and implement appropriate revisions to a plan.

“We’ve been working with Siemens PLM Software since 2006 when we selected Teamcenter as the foundation for our corporate-wide PLM initiative known as Through life PLM,” said Graham Malley, PLM programme manager at BAE Systems Military Air Solutions. “With its inservice support definition capability, Teamcenter is the only system we’ve seen to integrate engineering, logistics and sustainability into a single product knowledge backbone under configuration control. As a result, we will be able to retire a number of our current logistics applications and consolidate on a single software environment. This will greatly facilitate working as an integrated product team, while supporting the closed loop processes associated with contractor logistics support (CLS) contracts such as the one linked to the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft.”

The word coming back from users most often is that the major benefits of PLM are workflow management and synchronisation of data within and across enterprises. PLM is not rocket science – it’s just joined-up thinking and allowing the computers to take the strain, internally and externally.

PLM tends to have a big company image and, some think, a big company price tag. This is no longer the case. PLM is not just for big companies, but for small companies with significant complexity.

Fortunately for small- to mid-sized companies, most PLM vendors offer modular systems so you can buy as much as you need and build your system one piece at a time.