Digital factory ready for production

Herzliya, Israel--"Computer Aided Production Engineering (CAPE) will be to production engineering what CAD is to design engineering," claimed Harel Beit-On, president and CEO of Tecnomatix Technologies, Ltd., at the Daratech Conference for CAD/CAM/CAE Workshop Strategies in Chicago.

Tecnomatix's Digital Factory software helps production engineers automate their industrial processes from production strategies down to the most minute detail in individual work cells. Engineers can design complete plants, simulate operations, and identify potential bottlenecks. Material flows, work-in-process inventories, and the sequence of operations are clearly specified.

The greatest potential for productivity and efficiency gains lies with production engineering, says Beit-On. Rob Geary, engineering group manager of General Motors (Warren, MI) agrees. Geary has worked with Tecnomatix for the past eight years. "We've seen a 100% production gain in some processes," Geary says. For more complicated processes, they saw a 30 to 50% increase from the traditional drafting-board methods.

Geary's department develops the tooling process for small car body-in-white areas. This is the sheet metal used in the body shell. GM uses Tecnomatix's CAPE software in conjunction with a Unigraphics' CAD package. The Tecnomatix program provides direct access to Unigraphics' CAD models, allowing interoperability between the systems. For ease of use, Technomatix customized its software to produce a Windows-type motif. "Our engineers don't have to remember the names of all the software modules. They know the icons, and just point and click," Leary says.

As GM moves toward a complete electronic processing development, Tecnomatix software proves extremely valuable. "We use the software up front to help develop the process instead of using it after the fact to validate it," Geary says. "Not a lot of people take advantage of this aspect. This should be used as a process tool to help find problems along the way, instead of waiting until the end."

GM also developed libraries of existing parts and tools. "These can be reused, which saves us from doing redundant work," Geary says. Less work means more money saved.

As time and costs associated with design errors can be high, it is better to catch these before expensive prototypes are produced, says Amir Livne, vice president of marketing for Tecnomatix. Rover, an automobile manufacturer in the UK, found 3,200 of 4,000 design errors in a new car model using Tecnomatix's DYNAMO software. Before beginning a prototype, Rover engineers performed dynamic studies of product packaging, assembly process planning and maintenance procedures, as well as human simulation using Tecnomatix's ROBCAD Man. Eighty percent of the errors were caught using this method.

Tecnomatix can also help with plant reconfiguration. Volvo changes model designs quickly. The company shuts down on Friday and reopens Monday with a different factory layout for the new car design. Full ramp-up occurs in eight weeks. This is a full order of magnitude faster than traditional processes. To accomplish the 48-hr modification, Volvo uses Tecnomatix's ROBCAD software for design, simulation, optimization, and off-line programming of manufacturing processes.

GE Aircraft, maker of jet engines, saved $300,000 per engine with Tecnomatix's quality engineering package, VALISYS. The program helped engineers determine whether a part failed tolerance requirements because the part was defective or the measurement process was bad.

"A design engineer captures her intent in CAD and a production engineer captures his intent in CAPE," says Livne. Put CAPE and CAD together, and a company may never have to build prototypes again.

That is BMW's goal. By 2003, the company plans to have a zero prototype engineering process, says Livne. The entire design and production process will be done entirely on computer with some type of digital factory software.

"Doing designs on the computer is cheaper than doing them on the shop floor," says Livne. "And faster. The time-to-market is too critical to spend time making mistakes on prototypes. Our key challenge is to communicate that to our customers. This isn't some futuristic technology. This software is real, here and now."

Tecnomatix, founded in 1983, provides digital factory and CAPE tools. In addition to the ones mentioned, the company supplies: PART for generating machining process plans and toolpaths; SIMPLE++ for design, simulation and optimization of manufacturing plants, systems, and processes; and EXALINE for design, simulation, optimization, and off-line programming of pc-board assembly.

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