Improving innovation, controlling costs and accelerating speed-to-market are among the top needs driving manufacturers to use multi-disciplinary engineering for complex product design. A key to optimal ROI for this approach—no matter the motivation—is to plan-in scalability, most importantly in product design technology.
What’s needed is a single platform for PLM that is scalable for a number of users, but also for needed capabilities now versus later. In such a solution, modules can be added as new needs arise. Additionally, an apps toolbox is easier to use than maintaining multiple solutions, is more secure, requires less training and specialization and allows for customizations.
In addition to internal benefits—faster time-to-market, higher productivity and less wasted time and materials—such a platform makes it easier and faster to incorporate files and other data from customers and partners. It also positions manufacturers to more easily add advanced technologies into products that create entirely new capabilities and experiences. That’s a form of scalability that leaves the door open to endless opportunities for new designs.
One example is Silicon Valley-based company Zipline, which invented autonomous drone planes the East African country of Rwanda uses to deliver crucial blood and medicines to otherwise inaccessible remote areas in the rainy season. Zipline uses Siemens NX as its product design platform.
Controlling cost was a crucial part of engineering a solution to this entrenched challenge that the country could not consistently solve.
“When you are manufacturing for a use case like in Rwanda, cost is a very significant factor,” explained Hersh Reddy, Zipline’s general counsel. “Safety is also important, but if you can’t meet the safety requirements with the bare minimum costs in that market, you essentially have a product that is meaningless. If the cost of the aircraft doubles, you essentially double the cost of deliveries.”
Zipline, which is continually testing and improving its aircraft systems, uses the Siemens NX platform to control weight and speed up design processes to control overhead costs (40 percent of its employees are highly skilled engineers).
One way Zipline does that is by using digital simulation as much as possible instead of more costly and time-consuming physical prototypes. By being able to create a custom, bottom-up bill of materials that gives detailed mass buildup, the company can zero in on elements that are driving up cost through weight, for instance, and address them immediately in the simulation software.
The simulations can also connect digital and physical worlds to provide a complete test bed at much lower costs. For example, Zipline engineers working on the autonomous plane's electronic “brain” can test physical scenarios by linking the electronics performance data to real-life digital simulations.
It’s not surprising that an “apps-style” singular platform is improving collaboration, speed-to-market and quality in multi-disciplinary engineering teams.
Companies have invested billions of dollars over the past decade to mobilize and connect their workforces with laptops, cell phones, tablets and other devices powered by discrete applications (apps) designed for one activity, such as sales or travel and expense management. In turn, they’ve improved collaboration and accelerated cash flow. They’ve also eliminated errors and redundant work, opened doors to new markets and reallocated resources from task work to value creation.
Now multi-disciplinary design teams can use a scalable platform like NX to draw applications from it as needed. The underlying knowledge that feeds the apps is a single stream of always-up-to-date data so everyone always uses one version of product truth. This maintains consistently high quality as disciplines work collaboratively and simultaneously using the apps within the platform.
Additionally, the platform “tool chest” is filled with apps designed to function together across teams, enterprises and even out to partners and customers. This means anyone trained to use the platform is trained to use the applications.
Companies have benefitted from transformations using apps and unified data streams in asset management, financial management, human resources and other back-office functions, and they should expect no less from investing in multi-disciplinary product design.
About the author Himanshu Iyeris a product marketing manager for NX Design at Siemens PLM Software. Himanshu has 15 years of experience with CAD, CAE, CAM and PLM working with partners and customers across multiple industries. Working with the broad NX portfolio, his primary focus is on the areas of multidisciplinary design, generative design and design for additive manufacturing to enable customers develop and optimize products using new design tools and methodologies. Himanshu holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and lives in southern California in the United States.