Product lifecycle management (PLM) software ties together all product-related processes, data and non-product documentation. Car makers are using 3D development tools and collaborative PLM software to design, test, validate and manufacture car body structure, says Rakesh Rao.
In the earlier days, for developing products, designers used to work on just components. Once they had a possible solution, it was sent to the simulation department for analysis – based on which designers would know whether their components met the requirements or not. In case of the car body development process, these stages were often accomplished in different departments, making the overall process from concept to production more protracted (some time taking months) and costly. This was far from optimal.
“The typical process of body design starts with concept design wherein the high level styling requirements are put forth by OEMs and industrial designer creates concept sketches on paper. Couple of concepts are approved and body design process starts. Traditionally clay, wood or thermocol model is prepared to have a feel of concept, shape and dimensions. Corrections are done and final design is derived by reverse engineering. The whole process is lengthy and time consuming also requires highly skilled resources,” states Vivek Mahajan, National Manager Technical Support, DesignTech Systems – which provides engineering and design services.
However, the process of automotive designing and engineering has changed drastically over these years. Today computer-aided designing (CAD) tools, along with modern-day 3D printing technology, have shortened this lab-to-production loop from months to few days. Mahajan elaborates, “Over a period, the whole process has been shifted to digital platform wherein the sketches are prepared on industrial design softwares, digital 3D models are created in CAD tools using those sketches, approvals are done on 3D model itself and concepts are printed using 3D printing technology. Being all digital, data is easy to share, review, approve and collaborate. The whole process has been squeeze to few days from few months.”
Today, to stay competitive, car companies are looking to make their product development process more efficient with respect to added customer value, shorter time to market, efficient knowledge and technology transfer. For these, car companies are using the next generation of design, simulation, and manufacturing solutions that help deliver better products faster and more efficiently. For example, Siemens NX, a CAD/CAM/CAE PLM software suite, allows the designer to render the body shape into Class A surfaces that the detail designer can use to design body components. Class A surfaces define the visible surfaces of the vehicle. “Thanks to Class A surfacing capabilities, Siemens NX solution enables industrial designers to create Class A surface, check continuity and handover to designer for detailed design without doing data translation to neutral format,” states Mahajan.
The automotive industry is one the largest users of PLM (product lifecycle management) software today with manufacturers typically using a full portfolio of tools across the design/build lifecycle. Car makers use current state-of-the-art 3D development tools and collaborative PLM software to design, test, validate and manufacture car body structure. “PLM manages all data of a product from its birth, throughout its lifecycle, till its death. So the concepts, iterations, approved concepts, their versions/revisions and final concept is all managed in PLM along with all relevant documents and information at single place which is easy to access, share and collaborate,” says Vivek Mahajan.
According to him, PLM can address business process challenges such as non-value added activities (searching, archiving, printing, etc); limited knowledge re-use (challenges in parts commonisation); repetitive activities; manual paper-based processes; excessive time spent managing compliance; lack of access to the right information at the right time; manual data entry and re-entry; collaboration and change management (manual follow-ups); and limited lifecycle visibility (no single real time version of project status information; no single repository of all knowledge and history).
PLM software are used for body designing, irrespective of the type of vehicles (like 2 wheeler, 3 wheeler, passenger vehicles, commercial vehicles, etc) being developed. Vivek Mahajan elaborates, “Over a period, PLM tools are evolved and are capable to create digital twin of your product. It means, whatever your product is, whatever your process is, they can be replicated on digital platform which in turn can be simulated, validated, corrected before you reach to shop floor. The PLM modules are scalable and can be very specific to products and processes. Even if the body type is changed, overall the process remains the same as far as automotive design process is concerned.”
PLM enables companies to manage information about their products - from initial concept through to manufacturing and after-market service - within a single information environment. Moreover, PLM ties together all product-related processes, data and non-product documentation. Benefits of a PLM implementation can be seen throughout the new product development (NPD) value chain. With the demands for faster innovation, higher quality and increased regulation, it is apparent that auto makers will have to leverage product innovations to rapidly develop new platforms and increase their share in the fiercely competitive marketplace. At the same time, their suppliers will also have to adopt solutions such as PLM to support auto makers in this fight.
“The PLM software is already adapted by automotive OEMs and most of tier 1 suppliers. The OEMs are pushing suppliers to adapt PLM solutions so that data exchange happens synchronously, the collaborative environment is established and the development time is reduced which is important to cut down cost. Moreover, PLM solutions are extending towards manufacturing side trying to address actual shop floor challenges in terms of production planning, production management, quality management and data fed back to ERP system closing the loop. With development of cloud infrastructure and internet connectivity, more and more suppliers will adapt PLM solution enabling users to access, share data on the go. This change in work culture will contribute towards fast product launches, improved product quality, and reduced product cost,” concludes Vivek Mahajan.
The PLM modules are scalable and can be very specific to products and processes. Even if the body type is changed, overall the process remains the same as far as automotive design process is concerned.