PLM: A Lifetime Of Collaboration

Hundreds to thousands of people work together to develop and deliver quality products in ever-shorter lead times.

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Verigy Ltd. isn’t like many companies, where collaborating online and digital manufacturing are just goals to achieve someday. This Singapore-based builder of testing systems for the semiconductor industry is already sharing massive amounts of data on the fly, worldwide, among not only its more than 1,500 employees, but also among hundreds of other people in its supplier network.

Manufacturers such as Verigy attribute their success at marshalling hundreds to thousands of people to their product lifecycle management (PLM) programs. They use these programs to manage each product line from its conception and production through its service in the field and eventual disposal. At the heart of these programs is software that exploits the power of the Internet and the continual advancements in networking technology over the last decade.

With PLM software, companies can manage their product development and delivery activities from central locations. All parties collaborating on a project around the world work from the most up-to-date information, reducing the waiting and rework that often occurs in bringing new products to market. The result is much shorter lead times and smaller initial investments. Central management also makes it easier for manufacturers to establish tighter, more intimate relationships with their vendors.

In fact, Verigy owes its very existence to this latter ability. The intimate collaboration with suppliers established through the MatrixOne PLM software from Paris-based Dassault Systemes’ Enovia family of PLM solutions made it possible for Verigy to spin-off a year ago from Agilent Technologies, of Santa Clara, Calif. It was able to make the separation and bring its products to market with an extremely lean engineering and information technology staff.

At start-up, Verigy needed quite a bit of technical savvy to design its advanced technology and manage the design information. It also needed a sophisticated infrastructure capable of producing the hundreds of printed circuit boards, as well as fabricating the complex mechanical structures that house the electronics and manipulate the products being tested. The infrastructure also had to support the assembly and shipment of the final products. Instead of developing all of that in-house, it sought this expertise and capacity from different contract manufacturers around the world.

The PLM system became the glue for holding together this global network of people and uniting the various silos of product content throughout the company and its supply chain. The Verigy staff was able to clone and simplify Agilent’s MatrixOne implementation in about five or six months. “The most time-consuming part was installing the infrastructure, that is, the servers and rest of the network,” says John Cowles, Verigy’s manager of IT—R&D and Quality Solutions.

“We use MatrixOne as the bridge for capturing the new product design information as well as product change information,” Cowles adds. “And downstream participants in the product-generation process can participate in those review processes and access the information once it has been approved.”

One source of truth

For Cowles, the biggest advantage of the PLM software is its ability to roll eight to 10 product data management (PDM) instances into one PLM instance. The PLM software synchronizes the disparate databases automatically, making them appear as though they were one. “It gives us single source of truth,” Cowles says. “We can take advantage of new replication technologies that might improve performance and get out of the quagmire of replicated data.”

Although the MatrixOne software serves as the central clearinghouse of information, it doesn’t try to do it all. Verigy and its suppliers can use whatever other
enterprise-wide software makes sense for their operations. “The idea of using one system to control everything is unrealistic,” says Jon Gable, MatrixOne’s vice president of product management. “There will always be some niche that something is not the most effective tool for.”

The software developer kept this truth in mind when it designed its federated strategy, a strategy that distributes files to where end-users are working and manages the access to them through central servers. The company’s “adaplet” technology integrates the data in other enterprise systems by representing it as if it were stored natively within MatrixOne. So the information being exchanged might actually originate in other enterprise level systems without the user ever being aware of it.

“The MatrixOne data model has a flexible metaschema that lets us adapt it to how we want the solution to work and how upcoming application integrations need to work,” says Cowles, at Verigy. “You can have a very simple operation with one machine running your database and server tier. Or if you prefer, you can scale it, creating a farm of replicated databases and application servers. You can split the Web tier from the application tier and place file servers around the world to support thousands of people concurrently.”

Besides streamlining the flow of information throughout the company and its supply chain, the single instance has the added benefit of cutting costs. Not only does it eliminate the cost of supporting those other instances, but it also allowed Verigy to install a cheaper, lighter-weight infrastructure. “For example, instead of using the big Unix servers like we did in the past [when he was at
Agilent], we’ve moved to much cheaper Linux servers,” says Cowles. He also is using the Tomcat application server instead of the more expensive WebLogic or WebSphere.

Scalability has been especially important for the Aeronautics Co. of Lockheed Martin Corp., the lead contractor building the F-35, Lightening II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) for the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries. Not only must the Bethesda, Md.-based aerospace company collaborate with its two major partners, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman, but it also has to include input from another 600 suppliers in more than 30 countries and 17 time zones. So, the PLM software coordinating this massive collaborative effort had to be robust enough to handle regular updates from 6,500 engineers, and store more than 5 terabytes of data defining the more than 1 million parts on each aircraft.

So far, the five-year-old JSF program has produced the first prototypes of the F-35A, which is one of the three versions of the plane that will be produced. Version A is a conventional take-off aircraft for the U.S. Air Force, and Version B will be able to take off and land vertically. Version C will have a reinforced undercarriage to handle the restraining wires and the catapult attachments needed to operate from an aircraft carrier. Once the prototypes of Version A have been tested, it will be refined and should go into limited production. Then, prototypes of the other two variants also will be produced.

In these latter stages, the PLM software will track the production and maintenance of the fleet that the Lockheed Martin-led coalition will be producing over the 30-year life span of the aircraft. “Once more than 3,000 aircraft are in operation, they’ll be managing all the design data and all the maintenance and operating history concurrently,” says Tim Nichols, director of aerospace & defense industry marketing at UGS Corp., the software developer based in Plano, Texas, that supplied Lockheed Martin with its Teamcenter PLM system.

A different strategy pays

Lockheed Martin adopted a different data-management strategy than Verigy did. With Teamcenter, it is building one master model of each version of the fighter jet, which it stores at the main assembly plant in Fort Worth, Texas, and backs up to another location. Each engineer or team works on its assigned portion of the design and sends its updates, either directly to the main model or to workgroup servers, according to the published workflow schedule. Then using a replication function, Teamcenter duplicates those changes at all sites so that everyone is working from identical models. “Users are not waiting for huge files to download over the Internet,” says Nichols.

A fruit of centralized PLM has been a projected 35 percent shorter design cycle, which could save billions of dollars. The coalition expects to reap even greater savings in manufacturing time, as much as 66 percent, once the program goes into full production. Right now, it takes about 15 months to build a comparable military aircraft. The goal for the F-35 program is to build each jet in a five-month cycle, eventually completing one a day.

The dramatically faster production will flow from everyone’s working from exactly the same design specifications and manufacturing data. The uniform data will allow the supply chain to borrow and adapt some mass manufacturing techniques from the automobile and other industries. For example, the new production strategy includes moving production lines and dynamic fixtures that allow building any version of the plane in any sequence.

Also, various partner sites will be assembling and delivering major modules to Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth plant for final assembly. Eventually, they will begin shipping these sections to two more final assembly plants that will open in the UK and Italy once the program goes into full production. So the Joint Strike Fighter program will demand a lifetime of collaboration made possible by open and robust PLM software.


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