New tools help get things together
Tom Shelley looks at new tools and strategies to assist collaborative engineering and product life management.
Although no-one should underestimate the task, it is definitely becoming easier to integrate the design and manufacturing process across the supply chain and the life of products. The barriers to integration in most enterprises are no longer mainly technical, but managerial and organisational.
At a seminar organised by UGS in California, salesmen and UGS managers spoke about how easy it was to integrate all aspects of engineering design, manufacturing and supply chain, but users and consultants were more cautious.
UGS application: Alstom
Kirk Gutmann, global product development information officer for General Motors, spoke of "trying to integrate the packages together" and "the biggest challenge we have now is the organisational challenge". Peter Greer, of consultants AT Kearney, said that extended enterprises usually have no common CAE system, with the typical result that vehicle development programmes suffer from increased costs. Furthermore, he said "quality spills are becoming more common" and spoke of "recalls with high visibility safety-related problems". He said that motor vehicle companies need "good leadership or organisation and intense communication" for a successful launch, especially when it involves collaboration across several countries.
Tony Affuso, chief executive and president of UGS, told Eureka over lunch that he thought the slowness to integrate CAD, CAM and all the other computer-based functions involved in manufacturing was more a "people problem" than a technical one. However, he said that now that more and more people are using the Internet at home and computers in their work, more engineers are now keen to reap maximum benefit from the available technologies. The only barrier to further integration he could foresee was a possible future shortage of engineers, both software and mechanical, which arises in the US from the same causes as in the UK - poor pay and poor image, leading to bright students seeking their fortunes elsewhere.
UGS Application: Design Interface, Hong Kong
Full integration of all different systems is still impossible, and probably always will be, since it requires active co-operation by competitors. Some companies are willing to partner, and some are willing to make their interfaces and file formats available to anyone, while others, such as PTC, encrypt them to make them as difficult as possible to access by others.
Dr Jung K Paeng, chief information officer at Hyundai-Kia, said his company has been able to provide complete access at all stages of the design process to all those who needed access, by using UGS's e-Vis products. e-Vis is enabling software for the latest three-letter acronym: CPC, which stands for Collaborative Product Commerce. We assume that it means working together across the whole supply chain from supply of components through design, manufacturing and supply to end user, and possibly what they do with it. However, in the words of Raj Khoshoo, UGS's VP strategic marketing: "There are different versions of what this CPC elephant is."
The e-Vis 'elephant' comprises an entry-level viewer, VisView Standard, VisViewPro, VisMockup, VisPublish3D and VisView Web. It is fully incorporated into the Covisint automotive ecommerce exchange, which may also turn out to be some kind of an 'elephant', but a less successful one, and is embedded in SAP, the market-leading ERP platform. 50,000 seats of e-Vis are used in the automotive industry alone.
UGS Application: Dunlop Aviation
Collaborating with e-Vis aims to improve the links between engineering data distributed on different platforms. It may be used as an interface to UGS's PDM software I-Man and, presumably, now that UGS has acquired SDRC, to its Metaphase product and other PDM and ERP systems. However, it can be used very effectively on its own.
The other approach to integration is the Oracle Exchange Partner Initiative, which aims to improve the e-business flow side of the process. UGS currently regards Oracle as a competitor, although since UGS is heavy on the engineering design side, and Oracle is heavy on the business-management side, their capabilities could well turn out to be complementary. Companies such as Theorem Solutions, which produces CAD data translators, work with both companies.
e-Vis can be downloaded from public exchange, www.e-Vis.com , and all its facilities used for a free 30-day trial period. Up to 50Mb of project data will be retained for another 30 days while the user considers whether to sign up.
Future developments of e-Vis include a Lightweight Viewer Framework (LVF). This will include streaming, which means that only that part of a model which is being viewed will be sent across, and eXT. Graphics exchange is to make increasing use of JT files (the JT standing for Jupiter Technology, the original name of the development programme). XT files are Parasolid files, a publicly available format published by UGS. The origins of Parasolid are found in Cambridge in the 1970s at consulting firm Shape Data, where Parasolid is still based. Work on Parasolid itself started in 1986. Parasolid extended XT (eXT) provides a mechanism for the additional exchanging of product, part and process data. It is an open source project implemented using XML. XML is derived from HTML, the language of the web. Initially, eXT is being developed and managed by UGS but it is intended that subsequent versions will be developed by an open source consortium.
Anyone can define their own XML schema and add it to eXT. Parsers that encounter unfamiliar tags will simply ignore them and pass onto those parts of the data they can read. More information can be found at www.extxml.org . Ken Sears, director of Parasolid, says that the new buzzword is "co-operatition". He also adds that 230 CAD applications are now based on the Parasolid modelling kernel, although it is still head to head with ACIS, the other main modelling engine, the biggest user of which is Autodesk. Parasolid is currently developing code that will assist the implementation of XML in applications. Geometry is transmitted as binary code, not XT, so, in theory, it should be possible to use eXT to transmit product data even when the geometry data has been prepared using ACIS. The same presumably applies to models prepared using CAD packages such as VX, which are based on their own proprietary kernels.
Competitor PTC has announced a service called Pro/Collaborate. The Net-native collaboration service will be free of charge to maintenance-paying Pro/Engineer users, allowing them to create virtual web-based project workspaces and invite anyone in the world to work collaboratively with them. The service can be accessed at www.procollaborate.com . The service is powered by Windchill ProjectLink.
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