Marrying product and process design

Oct. 11, 2005
Digital manufacturing, a critical element of PLM, ensures that shops stay competitive and profitable.

By Ed Miller, CIMdata Inc.
Edited by James J. Benes,

associate editor

Mr. Miller is president of CIMdata Inc. in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Digital manufacturing bridges the gap between development and production.

Digital manufacturing revenue history and forcast.

With digital manufacturing, shops take advantage of advances in manufacturing-process-simulation technologies to develop manufacturing processes in collaboration with product design. Developing manufacturing processes early in the product-definition phase ensures that product designers benefit from manufacturing knowledge to produce high-quality products quickly and at low cost. Working concurrently in this manner prevents the problems that usually develop when product design and manufacturing processes are developed in isolation.

Digital manufacturing, or manufacturing-process management (MPM), as some vendors call it, is not new but rather the most recent incarnation of various industry initiatives that focus on ensuring products are defined and designed so they can be effectively manufactured. Examples of these initiatives include design-for-assembly, design-for-manufacturability, concurrent engineering and computerintegrated manufacturing (CIM).

A growing number of manufacturing companies of all sizes are investing in information-technology initiatives to improve business operations. While most of these solutions focus on solving specific issues for limited areas of the business, digital manufacturing, as a basic component of a full product-lifecycle management (PLM) initiative, is one of the few alternatives with the potential to transform businesses to become more competitive.

Driving the growing interest in digital manufacturing are its potential benefits, including:

  • Shortened product-development cycles.
  • Faster time-to-market.
  • Reduced manufacturing costs.
  • Support for lean manufacturing and agility initiatives
  • Enabling design-for-X initiatives, such as design-for-manufacturability or design-for-assembly.
  • Improved product quality.
  • Enhanced product-knowledge dissemination.

Providing a mechanism to describe, simulate, optimize and finalize manufacturingprocess definitions is the role of digital manufacturing. These definitions are part of the process of product definition, not just an after-the-fact reporting of how production was done.

As part of a PLM strategy, digital manufacturing is critical for companies looking to remain viable in markets where improvements in time-to-market, cost and quality remain competitive necessities, along with product and process innovation. Many of the long-term benefits companies expect from PLM investments are simply not achievable without a clear and comprehensive digital-manufacturing program as an integral part of the company's PLM strategy. As a result, digital manufacturing is gaining substantial visibility and investment from forwardthinking companies that are determined to foster innovation across their entire product lifecycle. Although digital manufacturing impacts the overall product lifecycle, it primarily supports the portion centered on manufacturingengineering activities.

Digital manufacturing incorporates solutions that support collaborative manufacturing-process planning among different engineering disciplines. The solutions use best practices and provide access to a complete digital product definition, including tooling and manufacturing-resource information. Integrated tool suites help to optimize product design and manufacturingprocess design through a wide range of analysis, simulation and visualization technologies.

A complete manufacturing-facility definition (including tooling, assembly lines, workcenters, ergonomics and resources) is an integral part of manufacturingprocess planning. Process optimization is gained through simulations of all facets of the production process. With feedback from operations, process definitions are modified to take advantage of real production experiences to better use capabilities and resources. A virtual product definition is a complete simulation of the creation of the product, from raw materials through final assembly.

Digital manufacturing is not just some new technology in the process of being evaluated to assess whether or not it can provide value. Many industry-leading companies around the world have made significant investments in the technology. CIMdata estimates that, in 2004, the worldwide software and services revenue associated with digital manufacturing was approximately $400 million. Tecnomatix Technologies Inc., Northville, Mich., (acquired by UGS in April 2005)

was the single largest provider of these solutions during 2004 with approximately $100 million in revenue with Dassault Systðmes, Woodland Hills, Calif., (DELMIA) following with over $80 million. CIMdata estimates that digital manufacturing will be one of the most rapidly growing segments of the PLM market and will exceed a market size of $1.3 billion within the next five years.

Process Development

  • Manufacturing concept
  • Resource planning
  • Layout planning/analysis
  • Ergonomics
  • Digital mockup & simulation
  • Tooling/equipment development
  • Tooling/robotic programming

Concept Development

  • Research
  • Requirements gathering
  • Conceptual design
  • Market analysis

Product Development

  • Detailed design
  • Component selection
  • Functional analysis
  • Digital mockup & simulation


  • Purchasing
  • Prototyping
  • Assembly & production
  • Testing
  • Logistics

Service & Maintenance

  • MRO
  • Warranty programs
  • Removal from service & disposal

Manufacturing knowledge is made available in the early stages of product development.

Who Provides Digital-Manufacturing Technologies?

The broadest range of digital-manufacturing solutions are offered by some of the traditional suppliers of broad-based PLM solutions. Among the major suppliers of high-end PLM solutions, Dassault Systðmes with their DELMIA suite of offerings, and UGS with their Tecnomatix product line, have devoted the most attention to digital manufacturing and clearly consider it to be a fundamental component of their overall PLM philosophies and solutions. PTC took a major step into this market with their acquisition of Polyplan Technologies earlier this year. Other major PLM leaders are also either beginning to offer digital-manufacturing solutions or are aligning with partners as appropriate.

A number of other suppliers focus specifically on digital manufacturing as their only area of business, often targeting a specific aspect. For example, Valor is a supplier of solutions focused on electronic manufacturing and the special problems encountered in that industry. A number of relatively small organizations also focus on some particular aspect of digital manufacturing and often serve limited geographic areas.

Not surprisingly, the largest source of support for digital manufacturing has been from in-house developments, many of which use tools such as computer-based spreadsheets. Although typically relatively crude, these developments provide an important service as companies struggle with the challenges of digital manufacturing. As commercial solutions become more capable, visible and accessible, they will undoubtedly take over the roles provided by these in-house systems.

What's PLM?

the core of PLM is complete product definition — all information and processes required to plan, develop, manufacture and support the product from concept through the end of its life — integrating people, processes, business systems, and information. PLM allows different groups at dispersed locations to share ideas, communicate better and access the information needed to develop new products and execute innovative processes. PLM is a strategic business approach that forms the productinformation backbone for a company and its extended enterprise. A range of tools and technologies are used to implement this approach, including collaboration, visualization, XML, authoring tools such as MCAD and FEA, data vaults, workflow, program management, configuration management, Web-based capabilities so people at dispersed locations are connected to the system and interfaces for people across the company to use the system.

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