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Concurrent Engineering Blog

Don't Let a Single Idea Go to Waste in Product Development

Posted by Richard Strange on 25-May-2009 10:40:00

This article was published in the German daily business and financial newspaper "The Financial Times" on 13 May 2009

Be it microphones or motors: Thanks to new software, experts from sales and marketing or suppliers engage directly into design processes. Customers also shall provide impulses soon.

As for the second quarter 2009, software vendor, PTC, got off with a slap on the wrist. “In a year-over-year comparison our revenue for the second quarter of fiscal year 2009 was down by approximately 25 million USD, i.e. roughly 10 per cent”, says CEO Richard Harrison. PTC offers software for the management of all data created during development, manufacturing, warehousing and sales of a product.

However, business with new licenses for applications in Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is slowing down. Few companies are ready to invest money in such programs. This is what PTC is feeling as well – its software licenses business decreased by 44 per cent.

But since PTC generates 80 per cent of its revenue with maintenance and services for installed licenses, the shortfall in revenue is kept in check. As indicated in PTC’s quarterly results, only few companies are ready to put new money into this digital technology that would help improve product development processes. But when PLM software and further digital construction support is implemented, money continues to be spent. “The need to keep shortening product development cycles is one of the main drivers for the project business in the automotive industry as well as in discrete manufacturing,” explains Stefanie Naujoks, consultant at Pierre Audoin Consultants (PAC).

Given the rising complexity of projects e.g. in plant building or mechanical engineering, in the automotive industry, in shipbuilding or in the aerospace industry along with ever tighter project cycles, the PLM scene counts on seeing more and more demand for their offer. For instance, aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing have excluded investments into their PLM systems from any cost saving programs. Both are working on a companywide harmonisation of their product data management which currently consists of a patchwork of different systems from different vendors. Properly integrated PLM systems shall help to realise projects faster and – even more important – without fatal breakdowns in the future.

In particular, Airbus has room for improvement here. Responsible for the A380 disaster of the non-conforming cable tree module that lead to expensive delivery date slips were two non-compatible versions of Dassault 3D design software. The engineers in Hamburg worked with an older version than the engineers in Toulouse.

That is why the modules delivered from Hamburg didn’t fit perfectly. The Toulouse crew suffered with the task of attempting to fit the two together by hand. In future such disasters are to be avoided by the use of the PTC production data system software implemented across the enterprise. In turn, Boeing is unifying its data with Siemens software in order to prevent any such delivery catastrophe with Dreamliner.

But the challenge for providers of such systems today is not in integrating old island solutions into new environments. Now, in order to get feedback from other departments to flow into product development, downstream departments such as sales, support, controlling and service are being pulled in to the development process.

"We assume that within the next few years there will be a significant extension of the target groups of PLM systems," says PAC consultant Naujoks. In response to this development, Dassault Systems introduced its PLM 2.0 strategy in January. The interaction and dialog functionality in Web 2.0 applications are to be carried over to the management of product data.

When an auto mechanic works online with a motor development engineer in a foreign country to locate a problem with a motor, they search the 3D model of the motor to find the problem and then the solution for repair. In the Dassault solution, every user has access to an integrated chat function and a 3D viewer. Meanwhile, a number of other software providers offer this approach as well.

In addition to engineers, other employees are being added to the product data management process step by step, like at audio device manufacturer Sennheiser based in Wennebostel in Lower Saxony. Electronic and mechanical development data flow together in product data management. Not only project engineers but also sales and marketing experts are encouraged to supply input for development. Their feedback is especially important when Sennheiser organises field studies with customers for the phase between prototyping and release to manufacture. The concern wants to be sure that newly gained know-how doesn’t get lost along the way.

As for mass production it is even more important to integrate input from manufacturing specialists in the development phase, which considerably lowers cost during manufacturing. Development doesn’t end with communication across the enterprise. Suppliers are also linked directly into the development system. "Including the suppliers more tightly in the production process than ever before is a strong lever for reducing the product development cycle," says Naujoks.

In future, customers are to have insight into the development system in certain cases. "This will enable customers to see how a new product will be designed or how it will work," said Ed Miller, general manager of CimData, an American consultancy firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "The end customer can make changes to the model himself to communicate his wishes as he imagines them." However, there is no plan for potential Mercedes customers.

To get internet access to the sanctum drafts of gearboxes and edit them as they like. "But this method could make a lot of sense for machinery engineers who very often deliver tailor-made products for a few select customers in the industry," Miller concludes.