Smart thinking: improving collaboration in manufacturing

Jacqui Griffiths finds out how the latest technologies are enabling design teams to work together, wherever they are, and design smarter than ever before

By Guest on 03 October 2014
Smart thinking: improving collaboration in manufacturing

This article was first published in the Autumn 2014 issue of Prime

From vehicles to refrigerators, a growing number of products now include sophisticated software and electronics. At the same time, consumers are demanding more personalised products, based on their own specifications. For manufacturers, that means managing increasing amounts of data from different sources, bringing more skills into the supply chain, and coordinating design teams that may be dispersed across the world – all while meeting stringent time, budget and compliance requirements.

“Designers who previously worked on something that was purely mechanical now have to consider software and electronics issues at the same time,” says Peter Schroer, CEO of Aras. “Product lifecycle management (PLM) has become a global infrastructure with thousands of employees and suppliers needing to participate, often working 24/7 from different continents with diverse languages, processes and quality standards. That is one of the real design challenges of this decade.”

All this means that more data is entering the PLM process. “Nearly everything has a small computer and an internet connection in it now,” says Simon Floyd, director of innovation and PLM solutions at Microsoft. “PLM needs to be able to manage and analyse data from customers, from global suppliers and design teams, and increasingly, as the internet of things (IoT) becomes a reality, data from the products themselves.”

In order to stay ahead, organisations need a sophisticated, scalable PLM system that is secure and accessible, enabling engineers to design on the move and to work together across geographical boundaries. That vision is being enabled through the industry expertise of technology providers like Aras, Dassault Systèmes, DriveWorks and Siemens PLM Software, and the enterprise-level capabilities of Microsoft technologies.

“The Siemens HD-PLM vision is focused on connecting people at a higher level and making all the information they need available in the context of their role,” says Paul Brown, senior marketing director at Siemens PLM Software. “There’s a real need for mobility in PLM and it’s crucial to be able to access the data and present it in a meaningful way. For example, an engineer installing industrial machinery needs to be able to show customers on site how a suggested design change will work and feed back to the team. Technologies like Teamcenter and Active Workspace enable fast access to data with no need for complex searches, and mobile devices such as the Microsoft Surface Pro now have the power to access that data and deliver it in a meaningful way – either for CAD authoring in tools like NX or in viewer applications using the lightweight JT format. It allows our customers to get closer to the supply chain and to their clients, enabling more input into the process.”

As well as enabling mobility for engineers, customers are increasingly enabled to take part in the PLM process. “PLM has traditionally been about standardising, monitoring and presenting data so someone can make a decision,” says Glen Smith, CEO of 3D configuration and design automation specialist DriveWorks. “But by automating PLM, the data can make certain decisions for you, such as the best material to use for a certain strength requirement. It makes better use of that data and normally, once people have automated, they spend more time creating new products, quicker. For example, one of our customers manufactures steel doors. By integrating its business systems using DriveWorks, it’s pushed the data entry part of the ordering process to the customer, who fills out their specifications in the browser while the system generates the manufacturing data. The company has increased its production volume from 100 to 300 doors a day and reduced the amount of wastage on the shop floor, while its telephone staff now address specific customer issues instead of simply taking orders. The extra speed also means they can offer a premium service and free up engineers to come up with new conceptions.”

For consumers, too, 3D visualisation and automation capabilities are enabling an increased level of input in product design – critical in meeting consumers’ growing demands for a personalised experience. “Companies are having to add more value around their products, modelling the product not only from a form and fit perspective, but also from a functional perspective – the experiences it can deliver which may not be related to its physical aspects,” says Andy Kalambi, Enovia CEO at Dassault Systèmes. “With personalisation, every product coming out on the manufacturing shop floor may be different from the previous one, so you need to manage the front-end process to track and manage consumer behaviours and relate data from a consumer experience perspective.”

With so many points for data to enter the PLM process, it’s crucial to ensure that everyone is working with the same information – and technologies such as SQL Server and the cloud are central to enabling that. “Technologies such as SQL Server and the cloud, and office applications such as Excel really help to extend the PLM network and enable a dialogue through different media,” says Jan Larsson, EMEA senior marketing director at Siemens PLM Software. “Tools like Teamcenter on Microsoft SQL Server ensure that everyone is working from a single source of information which gives them the latest revisions, all the requirements and regulatory compliance issues, all in one central point. Everyone can have access to that same information, in the context of their role, wherever they are.”

“In order to reach across diverse teams and scale all that data and workflow processes, PLM has to be mobile, and the cloud is the only way to reasonably provide an IT infrastructure for such a large, distributed supply chain,” says Schroer at Aras. “In recent tests using Microsoft SQL Server 2014, Aras’s PLM technology had no trouble supporting one million named users with 250,000 simultaneous connections.”

“The cloud brings a different way of doing things – of accessing, caching and streaming data,” says Smith of DriveWorks. “It’s distributable and scalable, and that makes a big difference. Many of our customers have scaled out the DriveWorks automation server on private cloud, not only to create data but also to share it quicker.”

The possibilities are evident in technologies such as the Dassault Systèmes 3DEXPERIENCE platform, which can significantly streamline PLM processes. “One of our customers, SHoP Architects and SHoP Construction, needed to quickly design and deliver an innovative, modular residential home for an area hard hit by Hurricane Sandy,” says Kalambi. “Using the 3DEXPERIENCE platform enabled online collaboration among project stakeholders – from the owners to designers, engineers, and the fabrication and on-site construction teams – to accelerate the project schedule and maximise savings.

“All our brands applications – CATIA, SOLIWORKS, ENOVIA, DELMIA, to name a few – have moved to the 3DEXPERIENCE platform,” he adds. “The platform is based on the V6 architecture, which has currently over one million users. It enables manufacturers to do global product development in the cloud and have engineers around the world working on the same product model, as they would work today in an Office 365 environment. It brings a real-time, fully global product development environment that can deliver a 20% increase in engineer productivity. ”

Today’s PLM challenges are being addressed through a combination of powerful, scalable infrastructure and sophisticated front-end interfaces that provide seamless access to data through a variety of devices. And with ever greater volumes of data set to flow from the IoT, the partners providing today’s capabilities are already looking at how they can support tomorrow’s innovation.

“With cloud and mobile, and technologies like Azure and the latest developments with .NET and Windows running on every platform, we’re building real solutions to today’s PLM needs,” says Schroer at Aras. “Now, right behind it comes the next challenge – the collection of all that IoT data. We need to help engineers balance all that data against things like compliance mandates, traceability and profitability. Microsoft is gearing up the technology with business intelligence tools and Azure to do that, and it won’t be long before we have very meaningful solutions to help customers achieve that.”

“The PLM backbone needs to be able to manage the systems involved in increasingly complex products, but you also need to be able to see how it’s actually going to work,” says Larsson. “You need to be able to simulate with the software, control systems and mechanical aspects running in a virtual environment so you know the product meets product requirements including customer needs and industry regulatory compliance before you manufacture it – to see, for example, how a car actually behaves on the road with or without the traction system on. We’re going to see more of that evolving as part of the overall PLM platform.”

As PLM becomes increasingly connected, exciting possibilities lie ahead. “There is an unrealised potential for truly smart products,” says Floyd. “Windows Embedded is already a part of many products such as cars and household appliances. If those products provide real-time data about user behaviour, service and repairs, they could become more interactive, adaptive and personal in the future. We could move away from disposable goods toward platform products that can adapt to the way they’re used and introduce new functionality or services through software updates – enabling a more sustainable, enriched user experience through connected product innovation.”

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