Mannheim, 15.03.2021

Comparison of potential for higher throughput in cost-effective mechatron-ics projects

The number of desired projects is increasing and so are their technical requirements. There is also a lack of specialists. The aim is to nevertheless keep opportunity costs as near zero as possible. Systems that can be used to manage product data consistently and transparently so that it can be incorporated intelligently in business processes are expected to provide a solution to this dilemma. The question is which system offers the greater potential for optimization in the context of the product engineering process (PEP), EDM or PLM?

Developers want a tool that allows them to manage all product data and BOMs centrally in a transparent, audit-proof manner and ensures that both can be reused. They also want to be able to easily share data with team members throughout the product lifecycle, even when working at different locations. The structures and workflows in the management system should also reflect the way in which they typically work. It should also be possible to exchange data directly with other departments like purchasing, quality assurance and manufacturing, as well as with external parties such as customers and technology partners, via interfaces using both neutral formats and exchange formats.

Both EDM and PLM systems satisfy these requirements, which means that both help get new products ready for market faster. But how can the two systems implement the concept of function-oriented systems engineering?

Mechatronic data structures synchronize the PEP internally

The development of machines and systems invariably involves multiple development domains. Everything from housings, switching units, control units, appropriate fluid engineering elements and PCBs through to the control software are created in different expert teams. The result data is as different as the development methods and processes used.

In recent years, it has become apparent that innovation cycles can best be shortened by true cross-departmental collaboration. This however goes far beyond the mere exchange of data between development teams. Interdisciplinary coordination is an iterative and therefore extremely frequent process and involves colleagues from manufacturing and procurement at an early stage. This makes it possible for providers to speed up the release of new products, which can immediately enter the well-prepared manufacturing process.

If the individual development teams each manage their data in the EDM system designed for their discipline, data silos are created because, as monolithic systems, they are unable to include development data from other development tools. This means that the data exchanged is still product data that has different versions, no logical links and is managed in isolation.

PLM systems with their mechatronic data model, on the other hand, serve as an enterprise-wide collaboration platform. PLM systems manage all a product's documents and objects in an individually defined system architecture and links them logically. This includes not only CAD drawings, 3D models, circuit diagrams and PCB designs together with their BOMs, but also NC programs, assembly plans, procedural instructions, work schedules, process plans, and the like. PLM systems thus make it possible to trace the entire product lifecycle, from development to production, assembly, acceptance and commissioning through to disposal.

The art of implementing PLM across a wide variety of engineering and enterprise systems lies in defining a system architecture that meets the highly diverse requirements of the individual development domains and connects them in a way that makes true collaboration possible.

Company growth thanks to flexible, closely-knit collaboration

Manufacturers are not only incorporating a growing amount of software in their products, they are also increasingly developing new business models for their products that are based on data-driven eServices.

This means that they have to rethink their product development process in order to shift focus within integrated development to software engineering. In practice, this means expanding data management for mechanical, electronic and electrotechnical components to include control software.

If software developers are not managing their data in an application lifecycle management (ALM) system, they can manage the individual software components with their specifications and test procedures, as well as libraries, business objects, source files, binary files, build files, etc. in the PLM system together with their logical object relationships. These in turn can be linked with the associated product data from the other engineering disciplines.

Once all the product-related data has been merged in a single structure, the next logical step is digitalization of business processes that are integrated across the entire company. Once all product data is available digitally, this paves the way for shorter, reliably scheduled delivery deadlines. Last but not least, it allows manufacturers in most cases to respond flexibly to change requests from customers up until shortly before delivery. This type of scenario is easier to implement with a PLM system.

Detecting bottlenecks early and taking corrective action saves a lot of time and money

Another key task performed by EDM and PLM systems is reliably controlling data streams and processes in fields beyond the scope of product engineering. The data generated should be made available, preferably in digital form, to downstream processes, for example in purchasing, in work preparation for sheet metal and wire processing, and in manufacturing for wiring control cabinets, assembling PCBs, implementing hydraulic and pneumatic functions, etc. In applications like ERP, MES and the digital factory, it should not only be possible to process the manufacturing data generated directly but also on machines, via viewers or using assistance systems.

This means that certain events in the development process should trigger defined workflows across different departments. The release process should be triggered when what is assumed to be the last version is checked in. Both EDM and PLM systems are able to do this. However, only PLM systems are able to collate all the data relevant for the release in the context of the release process.

A high level of potential for optimization and cost savings can also be found in the purchasing department. It is able to work much more efficiently if the CAD component libraries are synchronized with its parts database at regular intervals. Among other things, this saves a lot of time because the system can be used to compare a new BOM from electrical engineering with the previous version instead of having to compare them manually item by item. Further potential for cost savings lies in strategies for avoiding the creation of duplicate components and duplicate orders, for example if electrical engineering and electronics are planning one and the same engine.

This means that PLM systems enhance added value in terms of quality, time and money throughout a company more readily than EDM systems thanks to secure, lean and transparent business processes.


Conclusion

Both EDM and PLM systems offer users great added value in the context of product development by shortening the time to market, improving product quality and reducing development costs.

PLM systems offer the advantage of closely-knit digital collaboration with other departments, development partners, suppliers and customers involved in the product development process. Even data from other systems such as the data needed for requirements management, quality management or compliance management can be linked to the product data. PLM systems thus provide a robust foundation for uniform enterprise-wide standards, the creation of a digital twin, enterprise-wide know-how and a continuous improvement process (CIP). Partly automated cross-departmental workflows allow agile product development and a prompt, coordinated response to change requests.