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December 15, 2003
A New Foundation For Digital Automotive Body Development
Please note that contributed articles, blog entries, and comments posted on MCADcafe.com are the views and opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the management and staff of Internet Business Systems and its subsidiary web-sites.
Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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A New Foundation For Digital Automotive Body Development

UGS PLM Solutions, the PLM subsidiary of EDS, announced that it will provide software products to be used as part of the technical foundation for a $10.8 million project to develop the Digital Body Development System (DBDS) - a decision support software system that will integrate the virtual building of an automobile body structure with functional build decision making software.

Part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) Advanced Technology Program (ATP), the DBDS will potentially save U.S. automobile manufacturers $3.5 billion in vehicle launch costs by shortening lead times, reducing the number of physical evaluation model builds and improving vehicle quality. The four-year project will involve a validation phase where the DBDS will be implemented at two vehicle launches - one at Ford Motor Co. and one at General Motors Corp.

The goal of the DBDS is to enable the implementation of a virtual build methodology where designers and vehicle launch teams will be able to make better decisions faster and understand the quality, cost and timing impacts of these decisions. Key enabling technologies are anticipated to be the enterprise-wide visualization and the variation simulation technology of UGS PLM Solutions' Teamcenter.

In theory, DBDS will enable virtual implementation of functional build through the integration of a dimensional and finite element simulation engine with an agent-based decision support system. DBDS will simulate a newly designed automobile body and link its many components and manufacturing elements virtually, allowing designers and engineers to identify and solve problems before any assembly occurs. Then design and simulation results are integrated with manufactured parts data to identify problems and novel solutions during launch.

This is expected to reduce time to market and improve quality by focusing on the assembled product rather than individual parts. Also, by applying a systems perspective to monitor total program costs, the DBDS will allow cost reduction decisions that optimize the whole program, a capability the industry currently lacks.

Although joint venture members are contributing more than $5 million over the project's four years, NIST's ATP funding is needed because this technology is challenging and expensive to develop, and not commercially viable during the developmental stages. If successful, the joint venture members estimate that over a six-year period adoption of the DBDS will lower body assembly costs, by $3.5 billion; significantly increase revenues to the automobile supply chain; and possibly produce new jobs.

Possible qualitative benefits include increased model variety and vehicle quality (making U.S. cars more competitive), increased learning across vehicle platforms and a codified problem-solving process for sheet metal stampings and assemblies that will transfer to other industries, such as aerospace and major appliances.

"We are delighted to be part of this project as it has the potential to develop industry-changing technology and processes," said Joan Hirsch, vice president, UGS PLM Solutions. "It builds on a broad range of key strengths of our current solutions for automotive body development and has synergy with our product direction, particularly how our technology for simulating the variation of deformable parts, such as sheet metal body components, can be used in such an environment."

The Center for Automotive Research (CAR), located in Ann Arbor, MI, brought together automobile and tool manufacturers, a software development firm and academia to develop the DBDS. CAR will also manage the overall project. While previous efforts have focused on design methodologies, this project focuses on body development and manufacturing validation because these areas are so problematic and costly. In addition to Ford, General Motors and UGS PLM Solutions, the DBDS interdisciplinary research team consists of the following organizations: Altarum Institute, American Tooling Center, Atlas Tool, Autodie International, Cognitens, ComauPico, Perceptron, Riviera Tool Company, Sekely Industries and Thunder Bay Pattern Works. The University of Michigan and Wayne State University are also key research participants.

This is the second big CAD-related news item coming from the automotive industry in the past few weeks (the other one came from Delphi with its new CAD methods). This announcement is especially noteworthy because of the fact that many of its tenets could be directly applied to other industries with probable good results.

IronCAD Forms Chinese PLM Alliance

IronCAD, LLC is participating in a new Chinese-focused PLM alliance officially announced by CAXA, the largest domestic CAD/CAM provider in China. CAXA products have more than 120,000 legal (note the keyword "legal") installations in China. The alliance incorporates over 30 years of combined experience and expertise in CAD/CAM/PDM and related areas from its partners, including Cmodes, CAPPFramework from China, AsiaTek from Taiwan, and IronCAD from the U.S. The joint announcement signals an important message to the CAD/CAM market in both China and worldwide.

According to the announcement, the solution is called "CAXA Product Innovation and Collaboration Management Solutions". In particular, Product Innovation includes a series CAD/CAM software packages. Collaboration Management includes product data management (PDM), CAPP data management, production planning solutions with their associated consulting and deployment services and engineering data management (EDM) and personal data management tools. Companies can select one or an integration of multiple solutions and services depending on its own characteristics, requirements and implementation pace.

Many multi-national enterprises have moved their factories to China. Yet the factories of these Chinese manufacturers are still behind in terms of PLM. Currently the primary focus is mostly on design, CAPP and manufacturing that are directly related to the product itself. Chinese manufacturers have their own unique organizational structure and responsibilities, human resources, culture, expertise and local customs that are quite different from those in the US. Thus, a Chinese PLM strategy has to consider its own situations for matching solutions and services in order to have sustainable and long-term growth. Many Chinese enterprises have formed such "Chinese PLM" requirements, that is, globally competitive and compatible technology with local customization.

According to Zhang ZiQiang, General Manager of PLM Consulting Group, "CAXA's solutions integrate the latest in CAD/CAM/PDM technology from its alliance partners to address the various levels of PLM. Together with its own consultation, customization and deployment services, CAXA can meet this growing demand for Chinese oriented PLM."

Dr. Tao-Yang Han, President of IronCAD LLC sums up the announcement by saying, "IronCAD is very excited to be part of this new PLM alliance in China. We feel very honored to have been chosen as the provider of innovative 3D design tools as part of the PLM solution. We are fully confident in CAXA's ability to lead this PLM alliance to success in China."

This is all good and interesting news coming from a smaller U.S. CAD vendor with a very capable product offering. With China as a vast untapped market for the CAD market, it's kind of surprising that another vendor or vendors hasn't taken better advantage of the possibilities with the fanfare (and potential income) that this alliance is likely to generate.

CAM Vendors Expanding Use Of Parasolid Geometric Modeling Kernel

Parasolid, a major geometric modeling kernel, has expanded its position in the CAM software industry. UGS PLM Solutions develops Parasolid, uses it throughout its product development applications and licenses it to independent software vendors (ISVs) and end-user organizations on a "level playing field" policy that ensures all licensees have equal access to Parasolid updates and enhancements.

Recent shipments of new Parasolid-based software products from manufacturing industry leaders enhance interoperability between manufacturing and product design. In addition to its position in the CAM market, Parasolid's extensive use throughout product development has created an environment enabling the sharing of product geometry models between manufacturers and their suppliers worldwide, with high percentages of compatibility and data accuracy.

An analysis of the leading CAM software vendors listed in the May 2003 version of the NC Software and Related Services Market Assessment, developed by CIMdata, a PLM industry research and analysis firm, yields the following statistics: "Parasolid is clearly the geometric modeling kernel of choice for the vast majority of CAM software suppliers that offer 3D machining," said Alan Christman, vice president and senior manufacturing industry analyst for CIMdata. "Parasolid is establishing itself as the de facto standard for CAM software vendors that choose to base their applications on an open, commercially available kernel."

As impressive as the Parasolid announcement is, it is not the only modeling kernel on the market. The other major kernel technology, ACIS (developed by Spatial and owned by Dassault Systemes), has an equally impressive number of ISVs, as well. Beyond Parasolid and ACIS, however, a surprising number of CAD/CAM vendors also develop some or all of the underlying geometric technology used in their products. So who's got the best solution? That's a loaded question, but suffice it to say that the variety of options is a good thing for the CAD/CAM industry as a whole.

Jeffrey Rowe is the editor and publisher of MCADCafi and MCAD Weekly Review. He can be reached at Email Contact or 408.850.9230.

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-- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.