Rockwell, Dassault Join Hands to Target Digital Factory

An integrated, joint solution will redefine how mechanical engineers and control engineers collaborate to reduce time to market and drive down costs, the companies say.

Aw 4060 0801 News01

Watch for activity to heat up in the product lifecycle management (PLM) space next year. 

One recent sign of newly forming battle lines came with this week’s announcement of a planned link between Rockwell Automation Inc., the Milwaukee-based automation controls heavyweight, and Paris-based Dassault Systèmes, a leading PLM supplier. The two vendors say they have signed a memorandum of understanding to work together on a joint solution to create a virtual design and production environment for manufacturers. It’s one of the latest salvos aimed at the emerging “digital manufacturing,” or “digital factory,” marketplace. 

According to the Dec. 11 announcement from Rockwell and Dassault, the joint solution will link manufacturing design to factory-floor control by integrating Rockwell’s RSLogix 5000 control programming and configuration software together with Dassault’s Delmia Automation PLM software. As a result, the companies said, manufacturers can expect to reduce the cost of engineering and ramp-up time, and to continually optimize their manufacturing operations with an accurate, real-time, simulation model.  

Earlier acquisitions 

The Rockwell/Dassault announcement comes less than a year after Siemens AG, the German industrial powerhouse and automation supplier, announced a $3.5 billion acquisition of UGS Corp., another big PLM provider based in Plano, Texas. Word of that deal came last January. Additional action in the PLM space followed last May, when Oracle Corp., the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based enterprise software vendor, announced its $495 million acquisition of Agile Software Corp., a San Jose, Calif., PLM supplier. For manufacturing customers, these developments could make for an increasingly lively PLM product space in 2008 and beyond, as the various players roll out their competing solutions.  

The joint Rockwell Automation/Dassault Systèmes solution contemplates a virtual design and production environment that more closely links product design to manufacturing. The solution will help enable collaborative mechanical and control design with bidirectional synchronization, the companies said. As a result, immediate feedback will be available on design changes, thus enabling the testing of various “what if” scenarios in order to continuously optimize manufacturing operations. Customers will benefit, said Rockwell and Dassault, because manufacturing operations will be commissioned faster, with optimal production performance. 

During a recent visit to Automation World offices to discuss the announcement, executives from both companies said that the ability to exchange information bidirectionally between the two companies’ software on the mechanical and control sides will be a key advantage. “There is no other solution on the market today that can deliver this,” claimed Patrick Michel, Dassault’s vice president for Delmia solutions.  

Rockwell and Dassault have worked together informally for about 10 years, executives said, and have created complementary manufacturing engineering technologies built around strong, object-oriented data models for representing devices and operations. This will enable the rapid development of the links needed to create the bidirectional synchronization capability, they said. 

Months, not years 

While this capability is “not yet commercially launched, it will be available soon,” said Martin Canell, manager, strategic alliances, global business development, for Rockwell Automation. The timing is yet to be determined, he said, “but we’re talking months, not years,” until the solution is available. While the joint technology will prove valuable in a number of industry segments, Rockwell and Dassault said they will initially target the automotive market, where they both have common customers.  

The press release announcing the agreement quoted Rockwell and Dassault executives, as well as various industry analysts, regarding the virtues of the deal. “Manufacturers are anxiously awaiting a solution that can turn the idea of a virtual design and production environment into reality,” said Kevin Roach, Rockwell’s vice president of software. “We see this relationship as a way to make our customers’ visions come true in the very near term by capitalizing on the strengths of both the Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture and Dassault Systèmes’ PLM solutions.”  

“This relationship is a natural fit for both Dassault Systèmes and Rockwell Automation,” said Philippe Charles, chief executive officer, Dassault Systèmes Delmia Corp. “The years of development that we have put into our Delmia Automation solution and that Rockwell Automation has put into its Integrated Architecture make it possible for our two companies to integrate these technologies and provide a joint solution to customers in the very near future.” 

Analysts speak 

“We are one step closer to realizing the dream of a virtual design and production environment with the relationship between Rockwell Automation and Dassault Systèmes,” said Jim Caie, vice president, consulting, ARC Advisory Group Inc., in Dedham, Mass. “Virtual commissioning is a key capability in helping manufacturers go to market with speed, confidence and efficiency.”  

“The recent announcement from Dassault Systèmes and Rockwell Automation positions Rockwell Automation squarely in the digital manufacturing technology space and extends Dassault Systèmes’ reach into manufacturing operations,” said Dick Slansky, ARC senior analyst, PLM & discrete manufacturing. “The integration of these solutions will provide manufacturers with the capability to virtually design their production systems in 3D, and design and validate control logic prior to physical implementation and commissioning. This will reduce the time it takes to launch manufacturing systems, as well as its associated costs." 

“Our benchmark research finds that over 75 percent of best-in-class manufacturers are investing in real-time interoperability between PLM and plant-floor technologies. In addition, our research on digital manufacturing indicates the best-in-class are twice as likely as laggards to hit their deadlines by starting manufacturing planning prior to design release, and simulating facility and equipment operation during design,” said Jim Brown, vice president & group director of product innovation, engineering and manufacturing research at Aberdeen Group Inc., in Boston. “Manufacturers of complex, asset-intensive products like automobiles are turning to holistic factory simulation to decrease time to full volume production.” 

The interplay between design and manufacturing will help increase efficiencies in the design process and ultimately minimize the time between design and delivery, said Rockwell and Dassault. Engineers involved in all stages of design will have the ability to make adjustments in real-time, incorporating, preserving and augmenting knowledge rapidly across various stages of the production life cycle, the announcement concluded.

Dassault Systèmes
www.3ds.com

Oracle Corp.
www.oracle.com

Rockwell Automation Inc.
www.rockwellautomation.com

Siemens AG
www.siemens.com

More in Control