Digital Manufacturing: An Emerging Technology

CIMdata considers digital manufacturing to be an emerging technology and a key element of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). Many manufacturing companies are extending their PLM solutions to encompass manufacturing engineering, including process planning functions as well as those functions within design or product engineering, and other elements of the product life cycle.

Columns From: 12/1/2002 Modern Machine Shop,

CIMdata considers digital manufacturing to be an emerging technology and a key element of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). Many manufacturing companies are extending their PLM solutions to encompass manufacturing engineering, including process planning functions as well as those functions within design or product engineering, and other elements of the product life cycle. PLM encompasses the entire product life cycle, and digital manufacturing is a component of that life cycle.

CIMdata defines PLM as "a strategic business approach that applies a consistent set of business solutions in support of the collaborative creation, management, dissemination and use of product definition information across the extended enterprise from concept to end of life—integrating people, processes, business systems and information." Digital manufacturing, or Manufacturing Process Management (MPM), as it is sometimes called, is an important component within PLM. All manufacturers should be cognizant of this technology and assess whether or not it is appropriate for their operations.

The concept of concurrent development of both the product and the process to produce the product was introduced with concurrent engineering. These developments are typically two distinct but related development threads. Concept and product engineering are primarily concerned with development of a product, and manufacturing engineering is primarily concerned with development of the process to produce the product. From a software perspective, CAD/CAE tools are employed to help define "what" is to be built and MPM tools are used to help define "how" it is to be built.

Digital manufacturing is an initiative to define manufacturing processes, manage manufacturing process information and support effective collaboration among engineering disciplines by using full digital product definition. It supports visualization, manufacturing simulation, ergonomic and human factor analyses, and other engineering analysis tools necessary to optimize the manufacturing process design. It also facilitates the holistic view of product and process design as integral components of the overall product life cycle and enables product design to be sensitive to process constraints and capabilities.

Digital manufacturing includes software support for functional areas such as the following.

  • Translation of design data to manufacturing
  • Full process planning
  • Production operations planning and machining process planning
  • Assembly definition and sequencing
  • Detailed line, cell, station and task design
  • Quality measurement and reporting
  • Manufacturing documentation, shopfloor instruction and collaboration

Individual functional capabilities, based on best practices, are often combined in an MPM offering to provide full industry-oriented solution offerings for manufacturing operations. Examples include automotive "body in white," automotive powertrain, automotive assembly, airframe assembly, electronics PCB assembly and others.

Although the benefits are significant, the size of the digital manufacturing software market is currently relatively modest and comprises one of the smaller segments of the PLM marketplace. Although much of the technology was introduced a number of years ago, it is just beginning to gain acceptance. Those manufacturers who are implementing the technology are often in the early stages.

CIMdata estimates that in 2002, the worldwide software and services revenue associated with MPM will be in the $300 million range. However, CIMdata believes that MPM will be one of the most rapidly growing segments of the PLM market during the next few years. A market size approaching $1 billion is anticipated in the next 5 to 6 years. Delmia (a subsidiary of Dassault Systèmes), Tecnomatix and EDS are currently the leading software vendors in digital manufacturing.

Those manufacturers who have implemented digital manufacturing or MPM software solutions have typically reported substantial benefits from improved process and production planning. CIMdata recently attended the Delmia User Group meeting. Representatives of major worldwide manufacturers—such as DaimlerChrysler, Toyota, Delphi, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and others—described their implementations and the benefits that they are achieving. These benefits include increased production throughput, reduced lead times, reduction in capital costs, better use of facilities, a reduction in operating costs, improved product quality and a reduction in continued product support.

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