This article first appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of The Record.
A great piece of design can be a hugely complex task involving millions of parts and thousands of people – often coordinated across countries. Furthermore, in key markets such as electronics, automotive and aviation the relentless drive for improvement means new designs must be achieved faster. Given the complexity, there’s an understandable reluctance to move beyond tried and tested development processes. However, our customers report common problems across the development and production chain which can cause costly delays.
One key issue is that design teams use separate systems to their manufacturing colleagues. This means information can get out of sync so it’s hard for everyone to see what’s happening.
We regularly see problems with the creation of manufacturing floor layouts too. 2D floor plans and paper blueprints lack the intelligence and connectedness needed for smart decision-making. Often, these plans don’t reflect changes to the floor’s layout. This can become problematic in fast-moving markets, where production systems must be continuously extended and refreshed.
For process validation, manufacturers typically wait until equipment is in place to see how it performs. If it doesn’t do as well as expected, it’s late in the day to look for an alternative solution and any breakdown in this process can cause serious delays.
Because of the complexity of the modern floor and lack of coordination between software and planning systems, it can be hard to isolate areas or cells in production that are delaying the line. And when it comes to execution, customers report that it’s often difficult to see whether the process performs according to plan.
The digital twin is a concept around which all the key steps in the production process can be improved. We’ve aligned our product lifecycle management (PLM) tools to provide a complete digital framework around which digital twins can be modelled to realistically replicate the product design and assembly processes from beginning to end.
In the design phase, using NX software (and other CAD systems), we can create a model of the product and open it in Teamcenter as a 3D JT model. The software can virtually build thousands of variations of the product in seconds and identify any clashes. Identifying design problems this early can save time and money, into and beyond the manufacturing process.
The digital twin can improve collaboration between design and manufacturing teams to better plan what, how and where products are made. For example, with an updated assembly, the planning team can use the new bill of materials to input new steps into a 3D working model of the current process. Time estimates for the new processes indicate whether the workflow will ensure average unit product targets are met. If not, the cells can be moved and simulations run until the sequence ensures targets are met. Design and planning teams can work together to rectify any issues revealed during the process. The revised plan can be easily accessed by all stakeholders and signed off.
For the floor layout, the digital twin – with all the mechanical, automation and resource details – can be linked to the product design and manufacturing ecosystem. PLM tools can be used to drag and drop cells, equipment and people into place on the line and simulate the operation. When changes are needed, impact analysis can be run to avoid mistakes and inform suppliers that might be affected.
To validate the assembly process, intelligent modelling using quantitative analysis can assess the human factors associated with the build to advise on issues such as working posture. The report can be used for training with videos and process guidelines produced for staff.
The digital twin can also be used to statistically simulate and assess the planned production system. It can evaluate whether to use people, robots or a combination of these. All workflows can be simulated – down to the energy consumption of equipment – to look to streamline the process. The analysis can show how many parts will be produced by what process so manufacturers can be sure they’ll hit schedules before creating the physical line.
Manufacturing execution can be improved by using the digital twin to close the loop between the physical and virtual worlds. Manufacturing instructions are released direct to the design floor where operators can view them with associated videos. Operators can feed back data from the production floor while other automated systems collect performance data. This can be used to identify any difference between build designs and results, to isolate and rectify any issues.
A digital twin can help manufacturers to spot problems more quickly, accelerate production and reduce costs across the production chain. It ensures that you know the design can be made; the plan is always up to date and synchronised; the strategies will work; and production will perform as anticipated. It also helps you see how new technologies can be integrated into the line without the risk of buying and installing them to see how they perform.
Aaron Frankel is senior marketing director manufacturing engineering software and Jan Larsson is senior marketing director EMEA at Siemens PLM Software
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