This article discusses the future of software that links engineering and manufacturing. Companies are seeking a natural link between engineering and manufacturing, even if some aspects of it may be restricted. According to experts, giving manufacturers direct access to that design information would help them isolate potential manufacturing problems earlier in the cycle, cut product development time by stepping up design-manufacturing communication, and ensure that products will comply with government regulations. The article also describes that by allowing for quick communication and updates to an already existing computer-aided design model, product lifecycle management (PLM) can help speed these products to market. Engineers are putting efforts to bring PLM information to the factory floor to cut production time. Though the day of easy integration has yet to arrive, many companies are using PLM to reduce cycle time. Pushing PLM to the factory floor would help, according to an engineer. However, that's not an option for many until integration software comes to the fore.
Companies could cut their production expenses and time by tying the manufacturing floor to the product life cycle management system used by mechanical engineers, according to researchers.
But linking the manufacturing and engineering sides of organizations isn't as easy as opening up the PLM system to manufacturing engineers.
To get the true value from such a link, analysts say, companies need to look at tying PLM to their manufacturing execution systems so information can easily move back and forth from engineering to manufacturing.
The manufacturing execution system (MES) tracks and manages the way jobs move across the factory floor. It also compiles manufacturing data housed within a company's supply chain, factory floor, and enterprise resource planning system. By adding PLM to that list of systems, manufacturing engineers could access pertinent design information much sooner in the manufacturing cycle, according to Marc Halpern, a PLM analyst at the technology analysis firm Gartner Group of Stamford, Conn.
Just as MES brings together manufacturing information from many points, a company's PLM system can be said to be a warehouse of the many technologies and techniques used by design engineers, including visualization, design, technical publishing, document and content management, and new product and supply chain information, according to Ken Amann, director of research at the PLM research firm CIMdata of Ann Arbor, Mich. The PLM system is also the electronic repository of CAD designs and of analyses specific to particular projects. It serves as a way for engineers to communicate about those designs.
Giving manufacturers direct access to that design information would help them isolate potential manufacturing problems earlier in the cycle, cut product development time by stepping up design-manufacturing communication, and ensure that products will comply with government regulations, Halpern said.
Getting It Done
The trouble is, only a few software vendors now offer off the-shelf applications that marry lifecycle management and manufacturing execution functions. That may be changing. Recently, Siemens PLM Software of PIano, Texas, (formerly UGS PLM Software), for example, paired its Teamcenter PLM product with the FlexNet MES system from Apriso of Long Beach, Calif., offering a combined PLM and MES.
MBDA Missile Systems of London is one of the early adopters. Earlier this year, MBDA began using Teamcenter and FlexNet. The missile manufacturer now uses the product component definitions, specifications, and bill of materials information housed in the PLM system to detail manufacturing procedures and work instructions, said Jeremie Ropero, information technology project manager at MBDA.
The pairing shortens workflow time between engineering and manufacturing. The integration also ensures that the plant has the right mix of resources and has tooling configured properly for a particular job.
Short of purchasing the few software options that allow for a closer marriage between MES and PLM, or of building a customized link, many companies have been finding their own ways to use PLM to track compliance and shorten production time.
Extreme Networks of Santa Clara, Calif., relies on the bill of materials information within the PLM system to ensure that its products will comply with government mandates, said Glenn Pohly. He's the director of environmental compliance, a relatively new position spurred by the growing number of worldwide environmental regulations that Extreme's products must meet.
The company makes a variety of communications switching equipment for wireless and telecommunications applications.
"To ship a wireless product internationally there are dozens of mandates you now have to comply with," Pohly said. These mandates include thew European Union's Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive, or RoHS, which went into effect last year. It restricts six hazardous materials, like cadmium and lead, in the manufacture of various types of electronic and electrical equipment.
Likewise, the EU's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, or WEEE, puts the responsibility for the disposal of waste electrical and electronic equipment on the equipment's manufacturers.
China takes a different approach to regulation. To sell products in China, the makers of targeted electronics need to disclose the presence of certain chemicals. Chemicals themselves aren't yet prohibited.
These directives mean that electronics makers like Extreme Network must rigorously document every substance their products contain.
"Chemical composition labeling requirements are no longer feasible to track on a spreadsheet," Pohly said. "Operations and manufacturing or sales systems can't track that alone; they need to be integrated with production tools."
The system assures that manufacturers have access to compliance information at every step of the way, Pohly said. He believes integrated manufacturing, engineering, and enterprise systems will come to the fore as many companies face more rigorous regulatory compliance standards. For now, Extreme Networks stores compliance relevant information in both its PLM system and its ERP system so the company can assure that productsboth as designed and as manufactured-will be able to meet all standards.
"Say you get a customer who asks for a quote on a bundled solution that involves four or five products expected to work together," PoWy said. "You need to know all the regulatory requirements for the customer's country and for those four or five products."
The company uses an ERP system from Oracle Corp. of Redwood City, Calif., and a PLM system from Agile Software Corp. of San Jose, Calif.
PLM maintains a product's entire BOM and that same information drives the product traceability function. Suppliers must verity that their components meet specifications and attest to the level of particular chemicals they contain. Documentation is included in the bill of materials. Engineers note those levels when they include these supplied parts in their design. That way, they can track the entire substance level in the parts as they design assemblies and subassemblies.
"We can do a rollup of an entire BOM and that inherently gives you a go or a no-go," PoWy said. "As we get product change notification, we can quickly see how that affects our product."
Extreme is also looking to tie its PLM and ERP systems to its customer relationship management system. The CRM tool tracks sales, which is useful when customers are in countries with RoHS and WEEE regulations.
Pohly expects other countries to adopt similar mandates in the future and wants Extreme to be ready for any new requirements.
"Regulations compliance is relatively new in the electronics OEM industry. As OEMs, we're reeling from RoHS and just trying to catch our breath," Pobly said. "But people like medical device makers and automakers have been dealing with this kind of stuff for years. So they've been struggling to make their systems work together."
Quicker to Market
Halpern has talked about bringing PLM information to the factory floor to cut production time. Though the day of easy integration has yet to arrive, many companies are using PLM to reduce cycle time
For example, take appliance maker BSH Bosch und Siemens Hausgerate GmbH of Munich, Germany. BSH cu t its production cycle by easing communication among varied departments. For this, it recently upgraded to Teamcenter 7 supplied by Siemens PLM Software. BSH operates 43 factories in 15 countries and makes large and small household appliances, from coffee machines to dishwashers, under the Bosch and Siemens brand names.
The PLM system ties together BSH's development teams, which include designers, quality managers, purchasing and production managers, and sales and marketing personnel," said Uwe Tontsch, head of product development and industrial engineering solutions at BSH.
"We need to take the next steps, such as feeding back knowledge from downstream departments into R&D," he added.
Tying PLM to research and development and to departments further downstream can also help companies design products to suit particular consumer needs, said Bill Boswell, senior director of Teamcenter product marketing. Today's engineering companies are tailoring products to particular market segments. BSH, for example, has designed scaled-down, apartment-size versions of its standard dishwasher specifically for city dwellers.
By allowing for quick communication and updates to an already existing CAD model, PLM can help speed these products to market, Boswell said.
Sharing is fine. But not all the time. What about instances when engineering companies want to restrict a manufacturer's access to engineering documents?
Sometimes, the very same companies that want to share information openly among their departments also seek to protect it from some pertinent production players, such as suppliers and contract manufacturers. This is where document management software is useful. The software lets stakeholders send information with restrictions when they deem it appropriate.
"To ship a wireless product from one country to another, there are now dozens of rules that you have to comply with"
"Many companies are reluctant to send designs externally for manufacturing purposes to. places like China or India, but then they don't get the benefit of cost reductions that can go into an outsourced manufacturing program," said Ed Gaudet, vice president of corporate development at Liquid Machines.
The company's enterprise rights management application can be programmed to protect particular documents or pieces of information. A system like Liquid Machines' offers a way to protect CAD designs when they're sent outside a protected system like PLM. An engineering company could choose to send geometry, but not the design's documentation to an off-site manufacturer. It could program the system to allow the manufacturer to see the design, but not accompanying notes that talk about the design's use. The manufacturer may not be able to access documents that depict how the part would be used in an overall assembly. Or the company could restrict access to the CAD model's design tree.
These options are programmed into the software, so a company can choose levels of access for its manufacturers and suppliers.
This way, contracted manufacturers can see geometry, but not the pertinent information tied to it. The manufacturers outside the company have access to what they need without being able to view or share what the company considers confidential intellectual property, Gaudet said.
An engineering company might also choose to send the manufacturer only pieces of the design, so manufacturers don't know exactly what they're making, he added. Still, these companies have to carefully study the types of information they want to share. A company that doesn't allow enough access may not truly see the benefits distributed manufacturing can bring.
"If you're keeping manufacturing and design from each other because you're concerned about IT control issues, you may not be leveraging collaboration," Gaudet said.
Companies are seeking a natural link between engineering and manufacturing, even if some aspects of it may be restricted.
Pushing PLM to the factory floor would help, Halpern said. But that's not an option for many until integration software comes to the fore.
Until the day of seamless engineering and manufacturing system integration, many companies find their own way to ensure that the manufacturing hand knows what the engineering hand is doing.