Mannheim, 21.06.2021

PLM-based solutions for cross-domain engineering

The wide range of functions that mechatronic systems provide has been increasing for years and requires an end-to-end, integrated development approach. Only then can the top-class products to which customers are accustomed be brought to market cost-efficiently and within the often tight delivery deadlines. This is especially true of project business. The solutions for a shared project management philosophy and efficient, cross-departmental engineering that intelligent PLM connectors provide are demonstrated by an example involving intensive collaboration between mechanical and electronic design engineering.

An interdisciplinary engineering team that develops a mechatronic system within the framework of closely-knit collaboration from the word go and includes manufacturing at an early stage avoids time-consuming and cost-intensive design respins. The product can be manufactured as planned. A PLM system with intelligent CAD connectors offers specialists in their field – with their different tools, methods and processes – a shared environment for the controlled, replicable management of their data. The added value increases when the team is distributed across different time zones.

Ruling out production errors from the start

In the field of mechanical engineering, developers think primarily in terms of assemblies and available installation space. They visualize the assemblies using technical drawings and 3D models. They interpret an electronic component, such as a PCB, as one component among the many that occupy a certain space in the housing and need to be mounted.

Electronics engineers, on the other hand, think in terms of functions whose components and assemblies are interrelated logically to ensure that the entire application runs reliably. They plan these functions using circuit diagrams. Only in the next step do they visualize this circuit diagram as a (3D) layout.

To determine how much installation space is actually available to the electronics engineers for their PCBs, the mechanical engineering department creates basic 3D structures and stores them in the PLM system in a format like IDF or STEP, which their colleagues can process directly using their ECAD system. Among other things, this PCB geometry indicates the planned position of the mounting holes as well as the cut-outs for interfaces, diodes, etc.

Electronics engineers transfer this PCB geometry to their EDA tool so that they can place their components. They sometime change the position of interfaces or fasteners to observe keep-out zones and clearances or avoid collisions with the housing. They make the changes available to their colleagues in the mechanical engineering department in the STEP format when they store their native data in the PLM system.

An appropriate ping-pong process ensures that a PCB prototype is quickly created. The developers can comment on their actions via the chat integrated in the connector and attach appropriate documents as necessary. If the electronics engineers have access to the 3D housing model, they can convert their 2D layout into a 3D prototype in order to check collisions and virtually mount it in the housing.

Advantages of communication via PLM systems

Almost all MCAD and ECAD systems are able to exchange design data directly. But the possibilities offered by a shared data model make a significant contribution to making innovation cycles more efficient:

  • The PLM system provides a place where data can be stored securely and access is controlled by access rights. The version management capability provided by PLM systems ensures innovation processes that are as transparent as possible by bundling and jointly managing released and WIP data on a product-related basis. This ensures that the versions of individual documents and objects can be traced at any time. In addition, a mechatronic data model identifies compatible versions of 3D geometries and drawings, circuit diagram and PCB layout, and BOMs as belonging together. This ensures that developers are always working with valid data.
  • The storage mechanisms within this mechatronic data model follow the practices typical for the individual domains. Intelligent CAD connectors control the loading and storing of data from the familiar CAD environment.
  • In iterative development processes, the data store can be managed in such a way that only the changes are stored. This saves valuable time.
  • As a shared, consistent database – even in the cloud – a PLM system is particularly useful if distributed development teams are working in different time zones. At the same time, this single source of truth makes it easier to establish company-wide best practices. If the copy of a successfully completed project serves as the basis for a new project, intelligent PLM connectors can create the entire data model, including templates, and name files and objects in line with a predefined string.
  • Intelligent and partly automated workflows and information replace paper or email-based communication and verbal agreements, thus ensuring better development and process quality. Storing data in the PLM system can trigger automated downstream processes, e.g.:
    • Rule-based conversion to the desired exchange format
    • Generation of manufacturing data, representations and BOMs
    • Message to colleagues that a new version is available
  • Product adaptations triggered via change management also provide information about changing market requirements on the one hand and internal innovations on the other. New technologies, adapted development and business processes and new requirements in aftersales service play a role in this context.