To fuel the collaborative culture that underpins highly engaged and successful engineering organizations, many manufacturers are embracing concurrent engineering. This is the process of using technology to automatically connect and communicate product information across globally distributed teams using multiple engineering tools.
While the main purpose of this approach is to harness the multidisciplinary team in a timely manner to accelerate product development, the key is using technology to integrate people and processes. In this way, concurrent engineering helps ensure manufacturing constraints are addressed early in the design process, such as through design for manufacturing (DfM), design for cost/procurement (DfC/DfP), design for assembly (DfA), and design for testability (DfT).
Through this integration, engineering can design and work in parallel with other stakeholders and overcome the drawbacks of sequential engineering. For instance, while product designers begin to design the product, the sales team can work on messaging and the product support department can start thinking about after-sale support. As another example: While mechanical designers work to incorporate the PCB (printed circuit board) being developed by the electrical engineering team, software engineers can start looking at the software code.
As mentioned, technology is the linchpin in concurrent engineering. Specifically, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software. PLM unites engineering and production by providing a common view of shared data through a digital thread. This digital thread connects manufacturing requirements to products, processes and resources and makes them easy to access and visualize.
PLM software enables a seamless flow of real-time, accurate information between engineering and manufacturing so teams can work concurrently and deliver higher quality products to market faster. PLM enables an automated, traceable, and bi-directional handoff of engineering data – including related plant-specific documentation and processes – to production systems. This includes manufacturing bills of material (MBOMs), manufacturing process management, and manufacturing optimization and simulation (such as ergonomic, robotic, layout, and process planning). By integrating with manufacturing execution systems (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP), PLM becomes the authoritative source of truth for product intelligence in the factory. Put another way, PLM enables applications of concurrent engineering.
PLM is typically rolled out in a step-wise fashion as part of achieving a “digital” factory of the future:
Step 1: In this step, manufacturing engineers typically use PLM and CAD software to develop the bill of process and work instructions from the 3D CAD structure released by engineering. This allows them to use the 3D data as a baseline for all downstream activities, making PLM the unique source of truth across functional teams. This information can then be used when performing simulations as input to the process plans and work instructions (assembly line, ergonomic, etc.). Change management processes are also developed to ensure the factory has early access.
Step 2: The goal of this step is enabling manufacturing engineers to develop unique factory views of products visible to all PLM users. This includes plant-specific associative processes, resource plans, and work instructions.
Step 3: This step is aimed at achieving additional integration between IT systems (e.g., PLM and ERP) and operational technology (OT) systems (e.g., SCADA), including connected machines and tools as part of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). This is where a manufacturer might use augmented reality (AR) for work instructions.
Let’s explore all the potential applications of concurrent engineering using PLM.
With BOM management and BOM transformation capabilities, product designers create and manage a part-centric digital product that can be leveraged at every step of the product lifecycle. This means mechanical, software, electronic parts and related artifacts can be integrated into the engineering BOM, providing a single interface to enable collaboration between the teams relying on domain-specific systems such as CAD, PLM and ERP. It also makes it possible to improve traceability and associativity across plant-specific MBOMs and streamline BOM reconciliation by leveraging plant-specific MBOM associativity and a unified change process.
In PLM, manufacturing creates and administers process descriptions in a robust and change sensitive repository. From the MBOM, process plans allow everyone to see how the product is assembled. At the same time, PLM dramatically reduces time to market because developers are empowered to easily reuse previous designs. Manufacturing performance becomes seamless with configuration-specific/plant-specific process plans containing multiple sequences of operations.
Support for the change workflow ensures that the factory knows a change is coming – early – and can plan for it or suggest a different approach. At the same time, support for a quality workflow back to engineering and manufacturing planners enables important root cause analysis.
PLM helps make more efficient use of manufacturing resources needed on the shop floor during the production, maintenance, inspection, or repair of parts. These resources can be physical (work centers, tooling, process materials) or persona skills, and are normally associated with cost, time, and/or technical constraints.
Today it’s essential for engineers to rapidly evaluate different design alternatives and the manufacturing processes that will provide the competitiveness and speed needed to win new projects. With the right CAD solutions, manufacturers can support the creation of innovative products using the most advanced and efficient manufacturing technologies. They can improve product and production in the context of real conditions.
Support for everything from generative design, real-time simulation, multibody design, and additive manufacturing – to name a few – makes it possible to efficiently take products from concept to digital prototype.
At a high level, PLM provides integrated configuration/change management for simulation artifacts (i.e., simulation models, results, and reports), creating the relationship between products, processes, and resources. Simulation-driven design capabilities support generative design and real-time simulation. The latter makes it possible to provide constant feedback on design decisions. In addition, it supports analyst-level simulation so all engineers can provide final validation of design before production.
A central repository and the design environment for manufacturing data management in PLM empowers frontline workers with relevant, up-to-date assembly work instructions. Using this software, engineering can define the necessary processes and specify the materials, tools, skills, parts/assemblies, and machines necessary to complete the work. With the right CAD software, engineering can even create custom 3D illustrations and animations from existing CAD assets, which can then be added to the central repository.
With the information from this repository, operators and end-user technicians can access 2D and 3D technical work instructions on screen, or via mobile devices, tablets, and AR headsets. Interactive, animated work instructions can be provided proactively at the start of assembly procedures or can be made available to the end user on-demand to assist in the completion of a task. And, with software that pulls information directly from PLM, frontline workers always have the most accurate, up-to-date, and relevant work instructions available for the parts or assemblies they're working on, helping reduce human error and minimize scrap and rework.
Organizations across industries use PLM for various applications of concurrent engineering. For example, Volvo uses PLM software as the backbone for an industrialized digital thread that improves cross-team efficiency and accelerates time to market. This is especially important for Volvo it increases configuration variations and complexities across its product catalog. Specifically, it uses PLM to enable a free flow of information between engineering and manufacturing, ensuring design changes are propagated downstream to the shop floor quickly and efficiently.
PLM enables a quick, accurate, and traceable workflow for product development, while reducing time to market, lowering cost, and improving quality. This helps with improving the design of components and bringing them to production quickly.
Mark Taber is Vice President of Marketing. In his current role, Mark is focused on helping manufacturers drive digital transformation, with a foundation of PLM and the digital thread, within the enterprise and across enterprises.
Mark has more than 30 years of experience working in the areas of process automation, application integration, cyber security, and development. Prior to PTC, Mark was CEO of Active Endpoints (acquired by Informatica), a process automation firm. A graduate of the Wharton School, Mark currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.