This article discusses implementation of a new product lifecycle management (PLM) system at Parker Hannifin Corp.’s aerospace group. This group employs 6100 across its 18 design centers located around the world, where engineers create parts for commercial aircraft, including helicopters, and many military aircrafts. Managers within the Parker Hannifin aerospace group had been tracking digital documents with a document-management system since the early 1990s. The group recently upgraded its PLM system and is working on supplier access to design documents stored within the system. The new PLM system was rolled out in 2008. The Enovia MatrixOne system is from the same vendor that supplies the company’s main computer-aided design system, which is Catia from Dassault Systèmes of Paris. Regardless of how that project plays out, Parker Hannifin is now miles ahead of where it was only a few years ago when it comes to managing design documents and related data. The smoothing of any chinks among suppliers and in maintaining legacy information has all been worth the upgrade.
The way engineers design has changed greatly in the past 20 years. So has the way they manage documents generated in their work, and the way they share that information with partners up and down the supply chain.
Case in point: Parker Hannifin Corp.’s aerospace group, which recently upgraded its product lifecycle management system and is working on supplier access to design documents stored within the system.
Managers within the Parker Hannifin aerospace group had been tracking digital documents with a document-management system since the early 1990s, said Robert Deragisch, manager of enterprise systems at the Parker Hannifin aerospace group in Irvine, Calif.
The group employs 6,100 across its 18 design centers located around the world, where engineers create parts for commercial aircraft, including helicopters, and many military aircraft, he said.
“Five years ago we realized that we needed lifecycle management more than we needed document management,” Deragisch said. “We wanted to bring all of our information and knowledge about the products from conception to retirement into one place and eliminate the hoarding of information people do on their desktop or in network folders, which makes it difficult to hand off.”
The group needed a digital way to store and access all the data that quickly mounts about a project, including the latest design changes. Managers also sought a way to ensure they were looking at the latest versions when they made changes or brainstormed together, he said.
But managers also wanted a place to store legacy information created on older systems or on paper. This legacy data might be helpful for engineers down the road looking to update or answer questions about older products. It is also a way for today's engineers to leave their own legacy, Deragisch said.
“One of our chief engineers talked about the job he’d done every day and that he’d like to leave it at work to give other engineers something to build on in the future,” he said.
With that in mind, the group began rolling out a new PLM system in 2008. The Enovia MatrixOne system is from the same vendor that supplies the company's main CAD system, which is Catia from Dassault Systèmes of Paris.
Passing Around Info
The rollout went pretty smoothly, with engineers taking to the PLM system right away. But using the system to work with suppliers wasn’t as smooth, Deragisch said. In part, that may have been because suppliers often rely on CAD systems not used by Parker Hannifin.
In response Deragisch and his team have come up with some ways to pass files both up and down the supply chain.
In cases where engineers share the same CAD system, engineers can separate vital CAD design information from the rest of the bill of materials and pass the needed information along, Deragisch said.
“But when they’re running revision 19 of a CAD system and we’re on 20, or when we’re running two different systems, there are problems. We’ve spent a long time investigating solutions,” he said. “Right now, we have multiple ways to deal with it.
“The simplest approach, which doesn’t always work, is to use the STEP standard. We still have to dumb down our models, but it gives us a CAD neutral format,” Deragisch said. “But STEP functionality isn’t in every CAD tool and it isn’t supported in every feature of every CAD tool. If something isn’t supported we have to figure out another way to communicate that.”
In some instances, to convert from one CAD format to another, engineers take only the needed information from the CAD model, simplify it using a third-party software system, and convert it to a CAD format that can be opened by the end user. For simplification and data sharing across CAD systems, Parker Hannifin uses tools from Elysium Inc. of Southfield, Mich.
That company's translation software turns information embedded in the model into mathematical data that can then be read by another CAD system, said Martin Nowakowski, Elysium's vice president of sales.
The translator breaks out model information mathematically and includes other information that might one day be useful for business analytics such as box volume, which is the number of parts that will fit in the shipping container, Nowakowski said.
By sharing only mathematical model information with their partners, companies can also control the release of intellectual property, he added.
“This type of mathematical information can go beyond PLM,” Nowakowski said.
The aircraft manufacturers Parker Hannifin supplies often can’t access designs on the Parker Hannifin PLM system. Some aircraft makers might not have a PLM system; larger players may use PLM systems different from Parker Hannifin's.
Some customers, generally smaller aircraft manufacturers, have been given read-only access to the Parker Hannifin PLM system.
“They get an account into our network and a user ID and can look up anything related to their programs,” Deragisch said. “We’re in the early stages on that and so far we’re happy because they can see what they need to see.
“But that will never happen with the bigger ones because they’re just so big they’re not going to want to log on to our system,” he added.
He's currently at work on a system that will allow Parker Hannifin's current PLM system to communicate with those of the larger aircraft makers, which will likely involve some type of database, Deragisch said.
Regardless of how that project plays out, Parker Hannifin is already miles ahead of where it was only a few years ago when it comes to managing design documents and related data, he added.
The smoothing of any chinks among suppliers and in maintaining legacy information has all been worth the upgrade, he said.