Siemens are well-known around the world for their electronic consumer goods, and for their manufacturing hardware and software. To get a perspective on where they are heading in China with their production systems, AMS spoke to William Cui, General Manager, CCA (Competence Center Automotive), Automation & Drive Technologies Division, in Shanghai.

AMS: Please tell us a little more about your background, how you came to Siemens and how you came to this technical area?

WC: I have worked at Siemens for 19 years. Previously I had worked at a power plant in China. I started in industry sales, in industrial accounts with very large customers. After six years I joined the general OEM business (all sectors) and six years ago I took responsibility for the automotive business unit. My major at university was industrial automation and computers. Automotive is a very special, very tough industry. Process automation in automotive has a lot of common technologies and also some very specialised ones. Manufacturing automation in automotive is different, it is not continuous; the speed is low, there are large areas to control with more logic controllers and this brings special challenges.

AMS: PLM is central to Siemens' offering in automotive. How far OEback up the chain' do you help your customers? How do you help enable the vehicle and component design process with your PLM solutions?

WC: Normally in the automotive industry, we offer three kinds of solution in relation to PLM. First is digital production development, NX (Product Design). Second is digital lifecycle management that we call Teamcenter. Third is digital manufacturing, we call this Tecnomatix. These three different tools are responsible for three different tasks in the process. I believe Siemens has a very good portfolio and competence for the automotive industry, particularly for digital product design, which we have supplied to many automotive customers. Our traditional UGS products handle the design end and after that, our automation designer programs are linked to traditional PLM and thus to automation control

AMS: Please tell us about the Simatic Automation Designer product portfolio.

WC: Simatic Automation Designer is a suite of very powerful software. It acts as a 'bridge' from the virtual factory to real-time production control. This can save our customers a lot of time, enabling visibility from the design process through to the final production control.

AMS: Is the Siemens system designed to encompass design and production control packages and also handle the 'overarching' element of controlling the process from end to end?

WC: Our basic concept is that we want to cover the manufacturing chain, from product design through to the manufacturing process control.

AMS: Tell us about Siemens' human-machine interface software, about the modelling of human movement.

WC: With SIMATIC HMI, we offer a complete, integrated Human Machine Interface suite that includes best-in-class products and system for all HMI tasks. Our system range includes operating devices and visualization software for machine-level HMI, as well as the SCADA system, which can be used for a broad range of process visualization requirements in car plants and powertrain production.

AMS: As a business unit, how does Siemens compete with equipment and technology developed in countries with a lower overall production cost?

WC: In the automation controller area, our major competitors are from foreign and local manufacture; we try to offer the latest technology and what we call 'smart' products that are also cheaper. Many local automotive manufacturers here in China will not invest in the same way as an OEM might in Europe. They will not invest in high degrees of automation but will leverage the advantages of lower labour costs. We must meet this specialised demand. We offer low-cost but highly-effective controller concepts. We also offer a lot of service and support for the customer and encourage standardisation of process. Historically, Chinese carmakers have not standardised process concepts but as production has ramped up, they find they need more common processes. To succeed in this market, a company like Siemens must offer know-how to help the customer, in both hardware and software.

AMS: Siemens does not produce all its own sensors and safety-related equipment (light curtains, interlocks, etc.). How do you choose and work with supplier partners in these areas?

WC: Of course we are not complete line suppliers, we specialise in controllers and other electrical components so normally our components are sold to the line builder (an integrator or an OEM) and so the choice of sensor, etc. maker it theirs. We work very closely with individual OEMs, the line builder and the equipment makers and our concept is 'triangular' ­ we bring the three parties together. s. Typically, over the last three years, a lot of our work has come from overseas integrators, many of them our traditional partners from Europe, the US, etc. Within this time, local line builders are coming to the fore and these are becoming our new partners. But the specifying of sensors, safety equipment, etc., generally comes from the end customer, the carmaker.

AMS: What is the current state of development of the much-discussed 'wireless factory'? Do you see wireless control as a major development for the future in China, given the abundance of space for large plants?

WC: Wireless technology is definitely growing very fast, it can make the production line simpler and give more mobility of control. With mobile operating panels we can dramatically reduce the fixed control machine interface and enable an operator to walk around a whole plant, watch a whole process line, and make adjustments and changes. We feel that wireless will become more important in China.

Drawbacks in the past, such as radio interference, white noise, etc., in the plant are not such a problem here as conditions are more tightly controlled in the factories. Cost is another consideration and wireless technology can actually bring initial investment cost down. For example, when one installs a new machine with wired systems, installation is more complex, it takes longer and can cost more than using a mobile HMI.

AMS: Asset management ­ what do you offer customers in this area?

WC: This is a very important part of our PLM architecture. We offer software to maximise asset use, maintenance, time and job scale to achieve amortization of equipment

AMS: Design and simulation of production process and cells etc. Will you be acquiring more companies' software to complement Siemens existing systems or will you continue to develop in-house?

WC: We will continue to work hard to develop the right software - and hardware - for our customers' needs and do not plan an acquisition policy in this area.

AMS: Tell us about the tracking and material flow products offered in the Siemens range.

WC: These areas are central to our MES (manufacturing execution system) architecture. What we call our Simatic IT package is designed to manage all incoming materials and outbound product. We have heavily promoted this to the automotive industry, we have already been very successful with Simatic IT, initially in the tobacco industry and also the electronic and powertrain industries. Our next big push for this system is in the China automotive arena.

Simatic IT can also fit very well with automotive logistics providers, enabling them to simplify their processes and 'mesh' with their customers' systems. As demand on the Chinese carmakers' output is growing very fast, so these OEMs will increasingly need to order their materials and output more efficiently. This is where we think we can help them.

Also, the automotive supply chain in China can be very long, with great distances between suppliers and their OEM customers. Having effective MRP is a particularly important discipline here. Siemens will invest more resources and develop some new concepts in this area to meet the growing market demand, for OEMs, suppliers and logistics service providers.

AMS: Energy control and conservation ­ tell us about Siemens' developments in this area.

WC: We are very concerned with reducing energy consumption in plants and processes. Siemens has a special package called PROFIenergy, which provides intelligent production line shut down in non-production periods; the control matrix on a line controller, for example, will allow switching off the motor and HMI, while keeping the lights on, for safety. Using this type of intelligent stand-by concept can save up to 20% of energy consumption.