1 July 2007
A PLM evolution
PLM means one thing today, but it can fill the gap to enhance automation capabilities
By Ed Miller
Enterprises worldwide continue to seek ways to compete more effectively and achieve success in their own markets.
A key component for most companies is to more effectively utilize information technologies to enable process changes to successfully address their challenges and gain a competitive advantage.
That is where product lifecycle management (PLM) comes in. PLM ends up being a business strategy a manufacturer uses to support the full lifecycle of their products and accelerate business performance using a combination of process, organization, methodology, and technology. PLM incorporates processes that enable collaboration throughout the full lifecycle and across partner networks, utilizes technologies that support product and process development, and helps enable processes that foster innovation at all stages of the product lifecycle.
PLM focuses on support for the entire virtual product lifecycle, in the same manner that Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) focuses on support for the product production lifecycle. These major initiatives are complimentary, and they have different points of interaction throughout the product lifecycle.
As PLM expands through a close integration with factory automation and thus gets closer to the factory floor, this begins to provide a major layer of integration between the traditional arena of PLM and the production planning arena of ERP.
While the overall vision of PLM is broad and all encompassing, the actual usage has been more modest. The evolution of PLM comes from the changing scope of the “PLM footprint” industrial companies pursue. Part of that footprint comes from the expansion that focuses on engineering design to one that encompasses a range of activities, from early-stage product strategy development and planning, to product engineering and manu- facturing engineering, and through product maintenance and support. The broader the PLM approach, the higher the business performance acceleration and more complete integration to factory automation becomes a logical expansion of that footprint.
A common theme of PLM’s expansion has been the integration of various components of the footprint into a single “logical” solution, even if technologies from multiple sources support it.
As newer areas of lifecycle support have been developed and become available, they have gradually incorporated more effectively into complete PLM solutions. The evolutionary ex-pansion of the PLM footprint to include factory automation solutions with program- mable logic controllers (PLC), transfer lines, and feedback mechanisms should follow the same pattern, with initial integration at the most critical points of interaction, followed later by more extensive incorporation into full enterprise solutions.
Factory automation evolution
In concept, the combination of design and management solutions with production automation solutions can create an all-inclusive environment for design and manufacturing engineers. It can also enable manufacturing information and features to incorporate earlier and seamlessly into the overall product development process and allow changes and/or knowledge of production related issues to flow more readily from the production processes back into the product design process. This is totally consistent with the concept of a comprehensive PLM strategy, but isn’t achieved with a single step.
When considering the integration of automation solutions with PLM solutions, it is important to consider the best points of interaction between the two environments. Within the umbrella of PLM, digital manufacturing is the obvious first point of integration with factory automation. Digital manufacturing has been one of the major areas of PLM expansion over recent years, essentially bringing manufacturing engineering into the scope of PLM’s support.
Extending the scope of PLM through seamless integration with factory automation results in a PLM stra-tegy that has the opportunity to provide a higher level of manufacturing production benefit than has previously been the case.
One trend in the evolution of the major commercial digital manufacturing solution suites has been their consistent march toward integration with the factory floor.
The solutions seek to provide more complete and accurate definition for product production, more effective process plans, and complete instructions for machines. The current digital manufacturing-related “automation” initiatives that support development of PLC programming used directly with machines are clear examples of this trend and mirror the much earlier development of numerical control programming to automatically drive machine tool operations. However, current factory automation initiatives have a much greater ability to provide impact across the entire factory or plant. In addition, the trend to integrate digital manufacturing systems with manufacturing execution systems (MES) systems should help facilitate the feedback loop necessary to better understand the impact of product and process designs on production and provide quicker inputs to effect improvements.
The link between PLM solutions and factory automation systems comes with a PLM focus on solutions that encompass definitions of product, process, plant, and resources.
Integration to the factory and all resources within it is fundamental to comprehensive PLM.
Development of more substantial integrations between automation and PLM merely continues an evolution that has been occurring in industry for several years.
Feeling the impact
In enterprise implementations, comprehensive PLM consists of multiple components. Some of the major components most likely to feel the impact of a consolidating market include design tools, digital manufacturing, and collaborative product definition management (cPDm—the PLM solution components that address the management, control, sharing, and leveraging of product related information). Impacts in each of these areas are potentially significant.
There will be a significant impact on digital manufacturing solutions to integrate them much more fully with factory automation solutions. The integration of these components is a clear process that is already well underway.
Enhanced visibility that digital manufacturing should receive, and the boost in its perceived value to industrial executives could be one of the biggest impacts of the PLM automation integration movement.
Design tools, especially CAD/CAM will feel the affect. In some cases, design technologies that focus on product design may expand to better accommodate design of the plant and facilities. For years, design tools addressed tooling and machine designs. However, oftentimes manufacturers use specialized tools on plant and facility designs instead of traditional tools.
Another potential impact on design tools should be a greater understanding of the manufacturing processes associated with early design decisions (e.g. features, materials, etc.).
More feedback could go to the designers and engineers regarding the ramifications of their choices on the manufacturing processes and ultimate product cost. This could provide major improvements in cost and quality.
In essence, this impact on design tools furthers the “design for manufacturability” initiatives from several years ago.
cPDm solutions will undergo further expansion in the way they manage product definition information and its collaborative development and use across the extended enterprise. These solutions will need to be much more complete in accommodating manufacturing and automation needs, which will drive development of better integration of automation technologies.
Similar to the pressure on design tools, cPDm solutions will also be pushed to better encompass tooling, machine, and plant design issues as well as product design issues, so the full product and manufacturing design processes all integrate into an “enterprise” environment. They will also have to expand to support definition of complete production systems in addition to their current support of machine tool level definitions.
As with mechanical computer-aided design, few industrial companies utilize automation technologies from a single supplier; they use technologies from multiple suppliers. The cPDm solutions must be capable of incorporating automation systems from multiple suppliers into a coherent overall enterprise solution. In the process, cPDm solutions will become more robust, more enterprise capable, and much more visible as critical enterprise backbones.
As the scope of PLM and its supporting cPDm solutions expands to provide more extensive support of manufacturing automation and MES solutions, the necessity and requirements for clear and in-depth integrations with the backbone of manu- facturing production planning systems—the world of ERP—become more critical. There is a substantial layer of potential integration between the virtual product lifecycle managed by PLM and the physical product lifecycle managed by ERP. Factory automation provides a significant point of interaction between traditional PLM and ERP solutions, and this integration will mostly come through utilization of the underlying information backbone provided by cPDm solutions.
In order to build a truly integrated PLM-Automation solution environment, standard integration protocols and data standards have to be defined and used. By developing and leveraging open integration standards that include how data is formatted and transferred (e.g., XML), solution suppliers as well as industrial companies can greatly reduce implementation and maintenance costs. For this to occur, a partnership among solution suppliers, major industrial companies, and industrial groups will have to take place.
The good news is there are already a number of standards in place. The bad news is there are perhaps too many standards already in place.
Tie up loose ends
For companies that design and manufacture products, the combination of current PLM capabilities with factory automation can help bridge the gap that remains between production processes and the various design and manufacturing engineering processes. This gap causes a number of issues manufacturers can solve when production and design systems can communicate easily and share common definitions of product and production equipment designs and processes.
One area that will feel an impact is digital manufacturing solutions that develop and simulate production processes. The same types of data can set up process automation monitoring solutions in an integrated environment, saving data regeneration. PLM integration also provides a secure data storage and access facility for all data.
The potential to reduce the negative impacts, including costs of engineering changes that occur due to problems found in production is substantial. In an integrated environment, production systems can capture issues and communicate them directly into the PLM environment used by the various engineering organizations. Direct tracking and communication of these issues has the potential to reduce the lag times that can adversely impact production schedules and lead to lower product quality.
There is also a potential for savings when the production automation systems can base their planning and scheduling calculations and simulations on a common set of product and tooling design information. For instance, when ongoing machining operations can be checked against the desired part geometry, tooling failures such as wear can be detected and analyzed more quickly, leading to fewer scrapped parts.
In essence, these integrated PLM-Automation solutions offer a “closed loop” environment.
However, the commercial availability of integrated PLM-Automation solutions does not necessarily mean investments in these expanded solutions will be easily forthcoming. Although the potential value may be outstanding and the vision may match the strategic objectives of most major industrial companies, companies will still need to find ways to justify and fund investments in these expanded and enhanced solutions. This may be one of the most challenging aspects of PLM’s continued evolution.
The move to tie automation more closely to PLM will further increase the impact of PLM on the production portion of the lifecycle and provide additional benefits as companies develop and manufacture products in a much more integrated and knowledge-driven environment.
With automation capabilities on the rise, PLM becomes an even more critical enterprise investment for industrial companies. This natural evolution of PLM is transforming it from a design-centric solution to one encompassing all elements of the virtual product lifecycle. The PLM-Automation integration will ensure manufacturing’s key role in PLM strategies, as design, manufacturing, and information management integrate. For most companies, expansion of an overall PLM-Automation vision and strategy will require re-thinking and commitment to be effective.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ed Miller is president of CIMdata, an PLM industry consulting firm. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Making room for PLM
Quick and below budget
Auto industry road map
By Peter Bilello
A group of experts from the major U.S. automakers—Ford, GM, and Chrysler—created Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) in the early 1990s. This working group spent five years analyzing automotive development processes and defining a common approach for the OEM’s tier 1 suppliers to use.
Today, tier 1 suppliers typically follow APQP procedures and techniques.
APQP “produces a product quality plan that supports development of a product or service that will satisfy the customer.”
APQP serves as a guide in the product development process as well as a standard way to share product-related information among suppliers and their OEM customers.
APQP focuses on up-front quality planning and evaluating the process’ output, and supporting continuous improvement of the product and manufacturing process.
Fundamentally, APQP is a standard process framework within which automotive suppliers execute their product development process in conjunction with their OEM customers. They created the framework, so no matter which OEM they were working with, a supplier would work in the same manner with each one.
In addition to APQP, there is the Production Part Approval Process (PPAP). PPAP defines requirements for production part approval, including production and bulk materials. The purpose of PPAP is to determine whether all customer engineering design records and specification requirements are properly understood by the supplier and the proposed manufacturing process has the potential to produce a product that consistently meets these requirements.
The main business drivers behind APQP and PPAP include an automotive company’s need to:
These challenges clearly point to an automotive company’s need to take control of its product development process and leverage APQP, PPAP, and other repeatable process frameworks and tools.
Product lifecycle management (PLM) provides a foundation for APQP management and long-term support.
PLM’s data and process management capabilities fit into APQP, PPAP, and other product development driven initiatives, providing managed process execution and control of the documents required to support these processes, reducing the burden of compliance. Embedded workflow, data vaulting, project management, reporting, and integration capabilities found in most PLM solutions provide a foundation for any automotive company upon which they can support their product lifecycle. Unlike standalone APQP tools, PLM can provide a company with a single source of all product definition information, linking the APQP data to all of the product definition, as well as managing the processes used to create, manage, leverage, report on, and share information throughout the extended enterprise.
With a PLM-enabled APQP solution, an organization can gain:
For the most part, a manufacturer will not gain benefits by utilizing a set of manual, standalone, or partially integrated systems. By utilizing a PLM-enabled process, a manufacturer can garner more benefits.
About the Author
Peter Bilello is director of consulting at CIMdata, a PLM industry consulting firm. His e-mail is email@example.com.