With ever-closer links between 3D simulation tools and factory floor automation, major PLM vendors have pushed digital manufacturing technology from the fringe to the mainstream. Ford is one carmaker that has taken full advantage of such software, an example of which can be seen in how production of the new Focus (C346 architecture) has been organised across seven plants on three different continents. The vision here, according to Achim Schmidt-Soltau, Supervisor – Trim and Final Assembly at the Ford Werke facility in Cologne, Germany, was to have one product and one process for all plants.

Ford put together three main teams representing manufacturing and product development in Australia, North America and Europe. The early phase saw all of the data (tooling, carriers, manipulators, etc.) collated in a central database within Siemens PLM software. Ford uses the entire gambit of Siemens’ PLM products, including Teamcenter. “The next stage is validation of design,” explains Schmidt-Soltau. “We check feasibility and perform virtual builds. Here we’re talking a complete build in process order – everything from headlamps to doors – with all three teams live online. With the help of the software we apply meticulous assessment: Is it feasible? Do we have the necessary clearances? With the Focus we performed this process three times, refining and refining.” The teams then perform an additional virtual build concentrating entirely on ergonomics, a factor much appreciated by line operators at Ford. Using the ‘Jack’ software, an application within Siemens’ Tecnomatix package, the process includes a check called ‘E-car’, which assesses tasks such as assembling electrical connectors to see how much push-on force is required.

“The next step is a virtual plant layout where we can review interfaces such as chassis carriers and door carriers. Teamcenter immediately highlights any issues or anomalies,” explains Schmidt-Soltau. “At the end of the virtual phase we perform FDJ – final data judgement, which has to meet the approval of all the manufacturing and product development teams before the model is released and the first prototypes can be produced.”

According to Schmidt-Soltau, the new Focus was the first time this level of virtual manufacturing was performed globally in a standardised way, and he was more than impressed by the technology. “We encountered a very low number of issues, with no major redesigns required,” he states. “Overall the project was very successful – I would score it at least eight or nine out of 10. After all, we went from a standing start in December 2010 to full volume of 14,000 units a day in March 2011. Before our adoption of Siemens PLM, the same process would have taken between six and 12 months.”

For its part, Siemens has recently released Tecnomatix 10, where new capabilities include a more productive user interface, 3D animated work instructions and a shopfloor link for Teamcenter that provides connection to machine controllers ensuring manufacturing data is secure and the manufacturing plan-to-production process is controlled. Furthermore, enhanced validation enables the interaction between the virtual production model and the physical production equipment for the purposes of debugging and testing the operations to be executed and the program logic necessary to control them. Known as virtual commissioning, this allows manufacturers to ensure that the systems they design can be installed and implemented correctly, first time.

Improved collaboration
As automotive product development requires more global collaboration, pressure to bring the right product to the right market, on time, has never been greater. As a result, PLM software development is equally fast paced. For this, Dassault Systèmes has recently launched Release 2012 of its Version 6 platform.

Understanding the variety of implementation environments in its customer base and beyond, Dassault has continued to enable an immersive Enovia Version 6 data management experience, now available in CATIA Version 5 and SolidWorks, as well as in Pro/Engineer, Inventor, NX, SolidEdge, Adobe Creative Suite, and other solutions. Release 2012 also introduces new interoperability solutions, based on XML Schema and Web Services, between Version 6 and other PDM systems, offering bi-directional exchanges of 3D design product structures with exact geometry in STEP and CATIA V5 formats. BMW and Jaguar Land Rover are among the most recent OEMs to have announced the implementation of Dassault Systèmes’ Version 6 PLM solutions.

“One of the keys to innovation is collaboration within an enterprise, as well as with the value chain outside of it. We are planning to use V6 PLM solutions to connect our global organisation back to the 3D model and use this as our primary collaboration and communication structure,” says John Knight-Gregson, PLM Program Lead, Jaguar Land Rover.

Similarly, BMW has selected V6 PLM solutions to develop the future electrical, electronics and embedded software (E/E) architecture of its cars. The German auto giant will leverage V6 to create a single IP reference, linking customer requirements to ‘implementable’ functions in the car. It will help manage the future complexity of embedded systems in the vehicle by providing a master architecture for all car derivations and enable constant modernisation of car functions.

Cut to size
Of course, the ultimate ambition of digital manufacturing adoption is make bottom-line savings through reduced development time, an achievement ably demonstrated at Faurecia, which has cut seat trim cover prototype time by 20% using Vistagy’s Seat Design Environment (SDE). Other advantages include the provision of master models tailored to the needs of the seat trim engineer and increased accuracy of bids.

Typically, the automotive seat trim cover process starts with a bid. OEMs provide suppliers with a seat trim outline and ask them to provide pricing and a delivery date. Having the ability to generate a bid quickly is critical because it enables suppliers to identify product costs and production issues as soon as possible and make necessary changes. This is why every manufacturer covets the ability to quickly make prototypes. SDE facilitates the bidding process because it has a utility for exporting data directly into a supplier’s or OEM’s cost model, enabling them to quickly calculate a bid based on their parameters and requirements. “The best part of SDE is that it provides us with an early calculation of the cover cost, which gives us a competitive advantage, especially when submitting a bid,” says Nicolas Michot, Senior Trim Expert and manager of Faurecia’s R&D Seat Division.

Prior to implementing SDE at its French and German sites, Faurecia used a 2D CAD process with work performed manually. The foam was developed first and then the seat patterns for the seat trim cover were created by hand, greatly increasing the time required to develop patterns. Using SDE, engineers are able to deliver the first pattern quicker because they can create it virtually, without the foam. “The problem with current 3D CAD systems is they provide the necessary geometry but not a way to easily author the non-geometric data that is necessary to fully define a seat trim cover, which requires 5,000 bits of data for a single seat cushion, backrest and headrest,” says Ed Bernardon, Vice-President of Business Development at Vistagy. “However, since SDE is integrated into commercial 3D CAD systems, it is possible to capture geometric and non-geometric data in a CAD model in a way that is intuitive to a seat trim engineer.”

PLM cuts costs
“Bringing a car from concept through design to production is a study in complexity,” states James Heppelmann, President and CEO at PLM specialist, PTC. “Automakers must co-ordinate intricate global supply chains, massive production facilities, huge payrolls, and bet it all against a fickle and unpredictable car-buying public.”

Heppelmann points to the bill of materials (BoM) as offering the greatest potential for cost savings, with PLM the logical tool for its mastery. To help support PTC’s expertise in the area, in 2011 the company opened an R&D Centre of Excellence in South Korea focused on the specific PLM requirements of the automotive industry, including the requirement for globalisation, the desire for an open PLM platform, the opportunity to optimise service operations and the need for tighter integration between CAD, BoM and the digital mock-up for rapidly changing vehicle configurations. Vehicle OEMs such as Hyundai and Kia Motors are among recent adopters of PTC’s Windchill PLM software; the intention is to use it as the backbone of their product development technology platforms. The first phase of delivery, which has already started, establishes a system of record for the complete vehicle – the BoM – and for change management. Phase I also includes CATIA data management and a digital mock-up environment.

With new capabilities focusing on product analytics and quality management, the latest version of Windchill (10.0) allows customers to more effectively define, manage and validate complete BoMs, providing linkages across domainspecific views of product structures throughout the entire lifecycle.

Visual Components, a specialist in 3D factory simulation solutions, has also introduced a new product release into this technology area with the launch of its 2012 simulation suite, which improves the task of importing CAD geometry data into the system. Typically, geometry information is resident in CAD files and the process of converting original data for different programs into the simulation system is complicated or requires dedicated conversion software. With the new CAD readers, most major CAD files (CATIA, Step, IGES, SolidWorks) can be imported automatically, resulting in a more accurate, faster and easier process.

Other enhancements include shared simulations, where modelling and simulating robotic setups can combine material flow with human resources on one platform using plug-and-play, drag-and-drop component libraries, allowing complete factory floor set-up validation. These results can then be shared for collaboration with vendors and clients alike using a new feature named 3D PDF. This uses the global universality of the PDF format to allow simulation creators to share dynamic layouts over the internet and via email from within all Visual Components’ products.

Virtual design drives improved efficiency
Of course, the origins of digital manufacturing can be traced back to the early days of CAD/CAM, and such systems still have a core role in virtual simulations today. “CAMWorks provides a simple and documented application programming interface (API) platform for integration into enterprise systems at automotive companies to drive operational efficiencies,” confirms Sunil Palrecha, Director for Product Marketing and Sales at Geometric, developer of CAMWorks. “A good example would be one of our customers, CP-Carrillo of Irvine, California, which envisioned a system that would enable the sales staff to instruct the assembly line to start the order. The CAM software needed to be integrated with their design software, with customisation capabilities through APIs that could be linked to the ordering system.”

Today, CP Carrillo has a master model for designing and manufacturing pistons. The company has template libraries and family tables for various types of pistons which are categorised by manufacturing processes. When someone takes an order, it is entered into the job order system (essentially an Access database). After passing checks and balances, it is passed to the automated design/programming system via Visual Basic. SolidWorks and CAMWorks automation (using APIs) creates the design, regenerates toolpaths, outputs the G-code to the network, and is ready at each operation site as the job travels through the shop. “CP Carrillo has now doubled its productivity while ensuring consistency, thanks to a small investment in CAM software,” says Palrecha. “Also, a repeat order, even after a few years, can be machined exactly the same way it was the first time the order was processed.”

Edgecam, from Planit Software, is another CAM suite offering competitive gains for automotive manufacturers, highlighting

ZF Friedrichshafen AG, an established supplier of automotive components such as transmission systems, axles, shafts and housings, as a showcase customer. “Edgecam has enabled us to move on from the traditional way of working with 2D drawings, to 3D models. It’s important that customers know we now work in a 3D and virtual area, and that our computer-integrated manufacturing means components are produced to the highest quality,” says Peter Robl, Production Services Team Manager, who while located in Passau, Germany, is responsible for 12 of ZF’s ‘A-division’ plants. “The degree of integration and interoperability we achieve between Edgecam and our corporate CAD solution, Pro/Engineer, enables us to take component designs and automatically generate and apply optimised toolpaths.”

With ZF having a total of 84 users working on 52 seats of Edgecam, the software drives more than 400 CNC machines across six manufacturing plants in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Engineers at these plants have generated around 2,200 Edgecam programs in total, many of them using more than 100 tools, and with over 1,000 instructions.

For Robl’s colleague, Max Weishaeupl, the simulation feature is of paramount importance. “With the user being able to simulate how the part, the fixture, the tool and the machine will combine to carry out programming before the actual production run, it gives us absolute confidence to press the button to start the process, knowing we’ve created safe (to 99.9%), collision-free CNC programs.” The story is similar at DECS GmbH of Thuringia, Germany, a specialist in the design and manufacture of interior and exterior trim composite components for customers including Audi, BMW, Lamborghini, Mercedes and Porsche. A recent project reference for process optimisation is the Artega GT mid-engine, rear-wheel drive sports car. Within the framework of this project, DECS has contributed with the manufacture of the front bonnet, tailgate and roof sections.

Here, Huber & Grimme gantry milling machines, which are equipped with twin-shaft spindles and tandem worktables, are used for multi-axis part trimming. Once the body panels are removed from the tool, they are placed on to fixtures for further trimming and additional operations. All five-axis operations are programmed using VISI Machining from Vero Software and posted using a Siemens 840D controller. Due to the complex nature of multiaxis machining, NC programs are also simulated prior to running on the shopfloor. The simulation checks against the physical machine limits and ensures process-safe toolpaths. Inventing and managing the lifecycle of a manufactured product is today easier than ever before. Virtual manufacturing means that engineers and product managers can get new ventures off the ground faster and with much less capital expenditure than before, while the amount of risk involved is far less than it has ever been.