April 2008

PLM: Merging design with real world

By Gregory Hale

Product lifecycle management (PLM) is not a new concept, but it appears to be a growing need among manufacturing companies these days. The idea of combining the digital world with the daily environment should bring about positive changes for end users. At least that is what Siemens is betting $3.5 billion on.

Coming off the acquisition and the integration of PLM provider UGS last year, Siemens is now looking to work with end users to see if they can achieve greater productivity from idea conception to getting the product out the door.

It is a chief executive's dream having information naturally flow from design, into the digital factory, through to automation engineering, with all the minor adjustments occurring in real time. Each process would take into account what happened previously and what happens next.

Current look

In the old way of doing things, or what really happens now, a manufacturer would design a part, then pass it along to manufacturing, where engineers would re-enter, re-create, re-draw, and prototype the part. After doing all that work, they could have conceivably found a minor change that could have saved manufacturing costs. The old way would invariably add time and cost more money for the end user.

The idea of PLM now integrates all processes together where a manufacturer would save time and money and become much more productive.

Part of the goal is for companies to rework how they produce product, said Raj Batra, vice president of Siemens Energy and Automation, at the ARC Advisory Group conference in Orlando, Fla. 

Change is a concept people talk about, but rarely enact. After all, the idea of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" prevails throughout a good part of the industry.

"Part of the innovation is getting companies to rethink the process," Batra said. "Being able to assess asset management all the way to what the network is doing is absolutely critical."

Fighting and not enacting change really does affect the bottom line.

"Manufacturers are feeling the pressure to increase productivity," said Andreas Aufenanger, general manager of Process Automation Systems for Siemens Energy and Automation. He went on to add one big growth area is with process improvements. "Everyone wants to be more competitive," Aufenanger said.

"We want to get a view of a product from the idea all the way through to the truck," said Dave Shirk, executive vice president global marketing for Siemens Product Lifecycle Management.

"With everything becoming more networked, things are becoming more visible," Shirk said. He added right now the concept of PLM is a relatively new idea for manufacturers. "From our standpoint, it is more of an education process," he said.

Wireless potential

Along the lines of networking, Batra also talked about wireless and its growth potential.

Manufacturers are moving toward wireless so they can monitor and evaluate devices, machines, or an operation, inside or outside the plant. Wireless works well for remote asset management and conditioned-based monitoring. One of the strengths of wireless is it offers a chance to reduce the maintenance and labor costs associated with managing an automation operation, he said.

In one effort, Siemens is working with a wireless provider, Apprion, in an effort to give end users a unified platform of hardware, software, and services for the coexistence and security management of multiple industrial wireless networks.

Wireless is growing, Batra said. "Wireless is very much a part of our business. We are in the process of putting all those technologies in place," he said.

However, the idea of wireless being reliable remains a sticking point.

"We have to get people over the stigma about reliability and show them it works great," Batra said.

"Networking has always been a strength, and (wireless) is a form of networking," Aufenanger said.


Gregory Hale is the editor of InTech magazine.