For the past three years, I’ve headed out to Phoenix AZ for the Congress on the Future of Engineering Software to talk with numerous providers and users of engineering software. The discussions are always pretty forward-looking, almost bleeding edge instead of leading edge. In the analyst briefing on System Modeling and Analysis, which was led by Allan Behren (who goes by the twitter handle @AllanBehrens), one of the engineering IT leader for For, Richard Riff, made a statement that made my ears perk up (the following is a paraphrase).

The Ford Fusion has 142 processors in it. We no longer split up systems for development, hand them off to various teams and then integrate at the end. We actually work a lot more like a software company where we compile builds on a weekly basis. Everything is so integrated we just can’t wait until the end of development anymore.

Richard, please correct me for any misstatements I might have made above.

From my perspective, Ford isn’t alone in this stance. There is so much software, processors and electronic systems in new products today that manufacturers are having to rethink their development processes. Which brings us to an interesting question: how can enterprise systems, like PDM and PLM, best support mechatronics development? Today, it seems like there’s an increasing focus on how all of the product’s items and the artifacts that describe them should be managed in one place. But there can be quite a wide range of support capabilities that are offered.

Let’s take a look at each level and understand the advantages and benefits of each.

This series of four posts looks at the management of items, data and bills of material for mechatronic products. It is split into mechanical aspects, electrical aspect, software aspects and integrated aspects.

Managing Mechanical Aspects of the Product

For the most part, the capabilities of enterprise systems like PLM and PDM in managing mechanical items, data and BOMs is one of the most mature in the context of a mechatronic product.

Managing Assemblies of Mechanical Components

Many CAD applications use what I like to call a federated approach to building up an assembly. Each mechanical component is often represented by a single part file. Those separate part files are then placed together to form an assembly, which is a separate file also. As those individual parts and assembly files change, you run into a configuration management problem. You need to know which version and iteration of each was used on a particular date for testing, a ramp-up run on the shop floor or was sent to a supplier. Most PLM and PDM systems extract and understand these relationships between these artifacts.

Managing Design Deliverables

Also, individual deliverables such as engineering drawings are separate files. These files have direct relationships to the parts or assemblies that they represent. And the same configuration problem that exists between part and assembly files also exists with their deliverables. Most PLM and PDM systems understand and manage these relationships.

Extracting Information for the Enterprise

In addition to managing configuration issues, the information in these artifacts are extracted and used for broader enterprise purposes. The structure within the assembly is often used to generate an as-designed bill of material (BOM). Additionally, the solid models of the assemblies or parts can be extracted for visualization purposes.

Conclusions and Questions

Today’s products are increasingly mechatronic. This series of four posts take a look at different aspects of mechatronics management. From a mechanical perspective, it is important to manage the configuration issues for the relationships between parts and assemblies, items and their deliverables such as drawings and to be able to extract information from these artifacts like BOMs and visualization models for the rest of the enterprise.

Now it’s your turn to weigh in. What’s missing in terms of capabilities for the management of mechanical design? Sound off and let us know what you think.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.