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    Transforming Product Design for Today’s Smart Products (survey invite)
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    Design Data Management Maturity Improves Profitability (survey report)

Digital Manufacturing

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Digital Manufacturing: The PLM Approach to Better Manufacturing Processes Discusses the use of technology—including 3D CAD and simulation—within a PLM strategy to help manufacturers develop more profitable products by optimizing the planning, development and deployment of better manufacturing processes. Please enjoy the free Introduction below, or click the report title above to download the full PDF (free of charge, no registration required).

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Digital Manufacturing in a PLM Strategy
  • Produce it Digitally – Before Investing
  • Simulation Encourages Innovation
  • Find the “Gotcha” Before Design Freeze
  • Reduce the Need for Physical Prototypes and Mockups
  • Build the Process in Parallel
  • Optimize the Production Line – Before Deployment
  • Optimize Assembly Sequences and Steps
  • Communicate Processes to the Plant
  • Don’t Forget the People Factor – Ergonomics
  • Keep Production Equipment in Production
  • Don’t Leave Manufacturing in a Vacuum
  • Adopting Digital Manufacturing Concepts
  • Managing the Digital Manufacturing Program
  • Recommendations
  • About the Author

Introduction
Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is a business strategy that enables manufacturing companies to achieve greater profitability from their products. Within PLM, there are a number of tools designed to accomplish this, with a lot of attention historically placed on the design of the product itself. A new and fast growing discipline within PLM is Digital Manufacturing, a strategic approach to developing and deploying optimal manufacturing processes. Digital Manufacturing consists of new business processes, design methodologies, organizational approaches and software tools that help manufacturers improve their competitiveness and product profitability by planning, designing and implementing better manufacturing processes.

Let’s step back and look at the modern design environment to understand why Digital Manufacturing is becoming increasingly important to manufacturers. Ideally, we could all visualize a product in our heads and communicate the design to each other in verbal or simple written form. This may be possible for a simple object, but today’s products are far too complex for that. To communicate complex designs, product engineers have turned to visual design and communication tools to translate the product in their imagination into a digital representation. Once digitized, the design can be shared, communicated and collaborated on electronically with others. Today’s Computer Aided Design (CAD) systems reduce the burden on verbal and written communication, allowing product designs to transcend differences in location, time and even language. As CAD tools have become more powerful and have incorporated 3D Modeling, the communication has improved dramatically. Even complex products with thousands of components can now be modeled accurately and communicated effectively to other engineers, customers, suppliers, and manufacturing personnel.

Now that a complex product can be created in a digital format that comes very close to matching reality, it would be nice to simply hit the “Print” button on the CAD tool to produce the product. Although there are some very nice tools that generate prototypes of simple parts out of polymers, we are a long way away from the “Print” feature in CAD. In the real world, complex manufacturing environments, intricate production processes and dispersed production facilities are utilized to produce increasingly complex products.

As hard as it is to verbally describe a complex product in detail, imagine trying to describe the production line, equipment, material flow, tooling, processes and work instructions to manufacture that product. According to General Motors, the amount of information required to describe the production of a product is 1,000 times greater than the information represented in the product design itself. This explosion of data is required to properly document and communicate manufacturing complexities. Unfortunately for many engineers, the digital communication and visualization environment stops with the product design. When it is time to develop plant layouts, work cells, production processes, material flow paths and other manufacturing process designs, many engineers must rely on older, disconnected technology. Manufacturing and Process Engineers have been left to sort out their design work without the advantages that have helped Product Engineers produce more complex and robust product designs.

Some leading manufacturers are addressing the manufacturing engineering design tool gap by providing engineers with robust tools to plan, design, simulate and communicate manufacturing processes. These manufacturers are producing virtual, digital products in virtual, digital plants in order to perfect manufacturing processes before the physical plant investments have been made. What’s more, some manufacturers are seeing even greater leverage by combining the power of the digital product with the power of digital processes and resources—creating a “Digital Manufacturing” environment. By simulating production in a “Digital Factory”, companies can evaluate multiple plant and process designs before investing in even a prototype—leading to the development of production facilities and processes in a much faster, more efficient, cost effective and error free way. Further, by simulating production of virtual products in virtual plants early in the product design process, designs for the products themselves can be enhanced to make manufacturing and assembly more efficient—leading to significant product cost reductions.

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