Detroit--To move to a virtual design environment, all aspects of production must be computerized--from initial design to manufacturing. CAPE, computer-aided production engineering software from Tecnomatix assists in adding the manufacturing dimension for automobile manufacturer, General Motors, according to Robert Geary, manager for GM's small car group vehicle engineering.
Geary was instrumental in the development of CAPE at GM. He began exploring an electronic tooling process as early as 1992. "We were looking at moving into a totally electronic tooling development environment and away from manual processes," he says. So GM implemented a process to develop, simulate and validate a project without paper while developing a knowledge-based tool design process using parametrics. The project's ultimate aim: cut tooling time and cost.
To help the process along, the small car group joined forces with Tecnomatix. "The Tecnomatix RobCAD software suite of tools was an integral part of this process," he continues. Tecnomatix is a CAD independent CAPE vendor--meaning the company's software can integrate with any CAD system. "We continue to work with RobCAD as well as software from Unigraphics and write custom applications to integrate both pieces."
A body framing station is an example of GM's electronic tooling process. The station, about the length of two full car bodies, includes 10 robots, six on bottom and four on top plus a metal structure to hold the four robots in air. In addition, there are six clamping gates on vertical platforms, with three sets of gates per side.
The first time, through in 1993, the savings weren't that great, Geary says. When it came time to build the Malibu and Cutlass, GM engineers were able to utilize the electronic tools more--thanks to lessons learned from the previous experience. The library itself was a big cost savings. "It is a dynamic, living thing," says Geary. Once components are analyzed and entered, they can be accessed for future projects. New components can be added and older ones altered or removed.
Because the configuration of each car pl-ant is different, the same assembly tools won't work in every situation. GM's ultimate goal is to draw on past developments, changing only 10% of the tools for new plants. Currently, the small car group saves about a third of total production cost at the design end.
The company's target for complete virtual development: 2003.