Factory simulation gets it right the first time

Oct. 10, 2001
Factory-simulation software is so sophisticated, it is now possible to simulate individual tools used during the production process.

Diane Sofranec
Managing Editor
Computer-Aided Engineering

Factory-simulation software is so sophisticated, it is now possible to simulate individual tools used during the production process. AutoMod from Brooks Automation Inc. provides a realistic picture of how a facility will operate.

Design changes made early in the productdevelopment process decrease the impact on production. UGS' e-factory line of business makes it possible for manufacturers to evaluate production scenarios before the product design has been finalized.

With Delmia Corp.'s factory-simulation software, manufacturers can evaluate different product, process, and resource combinations. Creating a virtual factory eliminates the need for physical prototypes or physical mock-ups of the production tooling.

Production Pilot is a virtual factory-software suite from Adept Technology Inc. Manufacturers can analyze and simulate the assembly line process, the robotic cell layout, and cycle times.

When it comes time to plan and develop production lines and processes, manufacturers can find support with Tecnomatix Technologies Ltd.'s eMPower software. It saves information in an electronic bill of processes that everyone working on a project can access via a Web browser.

In today's highly competitive marketplace, manufacturers use the latest technology to shave time off production cycles, ramp up production, and speed time to market. One way companies can save time and money is by using factory-simulation software that lets them test production line activity before it is implemented.

"The greatest benefits are that the expensive production tooling works right the first time and that the workstations are ergonomically safe and efficient," says Bob Brown, CEO advisor of Delmia Corp. "By evaluating multiple production scenarios in the digital environment before the product design is finalized, minor product-design changes can be made that have a large impact on production efficiencies and tooling costs."

Delmia's software is for use during a product's conceptual design phase, through process planning, and until production ramps up. Applications include DPM for Assembly, Igrip, Envision, and Quest. The Process Design and Analysis modules are based on one product, process, and resource (PPR) data model that is stored in a database called the PPR Hub. Users can share data with those in different locations, departments, and disciplines throughout the enterprise and across the supply chain.

The software handles process planning; cost and efficiency analysis; resource planning for ergonomics, robotics, machine tools, coordinate-measuring machines, and custom automation; factory layout and material-flow simulation; offline programming of factory automation; daily production scheduling and line balancing; as well as electronic 3D work instructions. The PPR Hub links the manufacturing process data, product information, and resource data required for each task. "This data can be easily viewed to provide a bill of process or a manufacturing bill of materials," Brown says.

"Most simulation users will tell you that 70 to 80% of their time is spent acquiring the correct information for their analysis. The PPR Hub solves this problem by managing the data for all users in the project."

Factory-simulation software lets users capture and reuse best practices and models of existing manufacturing plants. Also, the simulations are not just animations, they are based on physics to accurately reflect the real world. "This is important in gaining the confidence of the corporate executives so that they will rely upon the Digital Manufacturing analysis," Brown says.

Tony Walsh, director of engineering for the Lamb Machining Systems unit of Lamb Technicon, Warren, Mich., uses Delmia's Quest and Virtual NC applications early in the engineering process so customers can identify and correct problems that could prove costly.

The company, which develops, integrates, and builds dedicated and flexible precision metalcutting systems for the automotive industry, uses Quest as a communication tool. "We prepared a proposal for a new transmission case line for a Big Three automaker and sent video of the simulation to the customer," Walsh comments. "Even without audio, the simulation's realism let us efficiently communicate everything about the process—the floor space, the parts flow, everything."

Factory-simulation software provides a way to describe ideas more clearly, which is especially important when presenting to financial planners and corporate officers.

Bob Slager uses Adept Technology Inc.'s Production Pilot simulation software as a sales tool. He handles robotics and 3D simulations for the Abbott Development Shop, an engineering division of worldwide health-care company Abbott Laboratories.

"In a sales meeting, there will be far fewer questions as to the concept and product flow or how the system operates if you can present a three-dimensional rendering or movie," Slager explains. "The audience can actually see it, so they can understand it better than a speech or paper handouts."

And the use of this software has given Slager a leg up on the competition. "A lot of companies are using solid-modeling tools," he says. "I've found that they're not all using simulation tools to take it one step further."

Of course, the software does so much more than make compelling presentations. Slager benefits from its avoidanceof-risk and proof-of-concept capabilities. "It is much easier to make a change on a piece of paper than it is once you've implemented multimillion dollar production equipment," he explains. "I use it to prove out ideas before we commit to spending capital dollars."

Adept Technology's factory simulation software helps resolve conflicts and correct unbuildable conditions. Production Pilot software consists of Pilot Line for assembly-line analysis and simulation, Pilot Cell for robotic workcell layout and cycletime analysis and simulations, and Pilot Yield for design engineers who want to evaluate the assembly cost effectiveness of a design.

Production Pilot can look at manufacturing process tolerances and the way components on the assembly line interact with one another. Eric Jacobs, director of product marketing for Adept Technology, says, "Production Pilot makes sure everything will run as flawlessly as possible. If you do not fully understand your process tolerances, you can have costly problems when ramping up from low to high-volume production." For instance, scrap rates may increase, and equipment may not run at optimum rates. It also costs a lot of engineering time and money for engineers to figure out what's wrong when the problem is not properly understood.

Simulation software lets manufacturers assess the manufacturing process in advance and dramatically cut the time needed to ramp up to production. A simulated environment can significantly compress the time needed to purchase materials and machines, place them on the factory floor, and get them to full production. It can also identify 90% of the problems before they occur on the factory floor, Jacobs says.

Indeed, factory-simulation software lets users create various scenarios and make decisions based on information and models that are closest to reality. Marsha Shalvi, director of marketing, Tecnomatix Technologies Ltd., says simulation software examines such situations as whether the layout, capacity, and throughput of the plant will meet production demands; what the throughput will be under different variables; the sensitivity of the system parameters; or if the line design is optimal for varying order volumes and product mixes. It also checks for bottlenecks, finds out if the line is well balanced, and ensures that the line components are correctly controlled and synchronized.

"For simulation to have maximum impact, it should be part of a larger system," Shalvi says. Tecnomatix Technologies' eMPower application provides a collaborative environment that supports the planning and development of production lines and processes. "At each stage of development, the process can be simulated, analyzed, and optimized," she comments.

The eMPower software captures manufacturing information in the form of an electronic bill of processes (eBOP), which is saved on a server. As a result, everyone who is working on the project has access to the eBOP.

Users can model, plan, validate, and optimize manufacturing systems at both the macro and micro level. They can define, manage, and share information between engineering applications in an object-oriented fashion. Also, the process model contains descriptions of the company's assets, including machines, toolings, and human models as well as descriptions of programs, processes, and methods. Users can create programs from a virtual cell and share data with shopfloor workers, robots, programmablelogic controllers, and enterprise resource planning systems.

When ASAP Automation and Bastian Material Handling were asked to design and analyze a new small parts sorting system for the e-business division of a major drug store chain, they spent months analyzing business systems, observing processes, conducting alternative design review sessions, and evaluating prototypes. Simulation was used to verify design alternatives and ensure the system they developed would perform as predicted.

AutoMod from Brooks Automation Inc. provided a realistic picture of how the facility will operate. Because the 3D animation of the overall layout of the sorter system could be viewed from any angle or perspective, they could identify potential problems. This also allowed the designers to experiment with proposed solutions.

"AutoMod allows you to simulate your factory floor all the way down to an individual tool," John Biasi, vice president of corporate marketing for Brooks Automation, explains. "That's an incredible level of detail."

Not long ago, automakers created five to seven physical vehicle prototypes for a new car program before they made one that worked completely and reliably. Thanks to factory-simulation software, these car companies make only two or three physical prototypes.

"Digital prototyping of the product has enabled millions in cost savings and taken years off of the vehicle design time," says Vynce Paradise, director of marketing for UGS' e-Factory line of business. "These same benefits are now being realized as users create 3D models of their factories and production systems involving humans and machines."

Plant changeovers required for each new car model can now occur in much less time and with significantly reduced rework costs as a result of the digital validation process. In addition, workers can reach higher productivity levels sooner, and safety issues that would have shown up shortly after vehicle production started are being caught before the first vehicle is produced.

UGS provides a suite of simulation tools that allow for the modeling, analysis, and presentation of elements of the manufacturing system. These tools work together to provide a means of modeling entire systems. They include VisFactory, VisSim, Jack, and VisProduction.

By evaluating many different production scenarios in the digital environment before the product design is finalized, product design changes can be made that have a huge impact on production efficiencies and tooling costs. As a result, manufacturers can build the tooling right the first time.

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