Digital Assembly Comes of Age
Digital assembly is increasingly comprehensive and allows smoother product launches.
Assembly processes are complex. They intuit a level of uniqueness in production. “You typically have more human content in assembly operations, especially in vehicle assembly,” says Fred Thomas, the Dassault Systèmes DELMIA global industry director for automotive and industrial equipment industries. “You typically have a more complex line, with more work cells, more and different resources, and, ultimately, resource needs line-side.”
Knowing that complexity drives the risk of error is incentive enough to digitize assembly operations. Digitization helps resolve upfront the process design problems that lead to problems in product quality, production volume, bottlenecks and starved machines and stations, as well as answering whether a product can be assembled at a particular plant, line, or shift, and if not, what needs to be done, and where.
What is 3DEXPERIENCE?
Once upon a time—May 29, 2008, to be exact—Dassault introduced its V6 product to the market, “a next generation PLM 2.0 platform and solution set.” Flash forward to 2014. Dassault launched the 3DEXPERIENCE platform to replace the V6 product line. Well, not so much replace as to build on the V6 digital architecture and add information intelligence, dashboards, and social collaboration capabilities.
Nowadays, the 3DEXPERIENCE platform (3ds.com/about-3ds/3dexperience-platform/) and apps create a comprehensive digital replica of whatever is being developed. With this replica, designers, engineers, plant floor personnel, marketers, management, customers, and anyone else with access to a company’s 3DEXPERIENCE have the tools to analyze, design, simulate, engineer, and participate in the replicated experience(s). It’s a bidirectional experience: The platform also captures all the intelligent (i.e., data-driven and data-produced) interactions associated with the physical environment, including assembly operations, users, and the product itself. The platform’s big-data approach helps users analyze structured and unstructured data, static and dynamic data (such as modeling and usage data, respectively), integrate data from both in and outside the company, and understand boatloads of processed information in a secure and auditable manner that leads to data-driven, model-based decision making.
Dassault, says Thomas, refers to 3DEXPERIENCE as “digital continuity” because it “describes that movement of data and information through the digital world to the physical world, and then back into the virtual world—with the updated results of what happened. You’re always fine-tuning and honing the entire process, doing it efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible when you actually marry those worlds.”
In some circles, this concept is labeled “digital thread.” Not too long ago, it was labeled “product lifecycle management” (PLM). “Being model-based and built around 3D modeling,” explains Thomas, “3DEXPERIENCE uses 3D models in every facet of a business. This is a different focus than, say, a lifecycle management solution where you’re pushing data along a chain. This is an experience platform built to service a collaborative effort versus a sequential effort—all built around the concept of real-time collaboration.”
Not to be overlooked is the hurdle related to the computers, data integration, and software of yesteryear: “The idea of change being dependent on interfaces between files or batch programs between files; that whole concept is so quickly becoming antiquated,” muses Thomas. Companies can implement the rudiments of 3DEXPERIENCE platform right now, and start accruing benefits such as, enumerated by Thomas, “speed, efficiency, consistency, and the ability to deliver quickly anywhere in the world.”
Digitization in real life
For Thomas, Honda North America represents “gives a clear understanding of the extent that the virtual manufacturing capabilities actually deliver on the promise on that `closed loop’ idea between the virtual world and the physical execution world.”
Honda uses the 3DEXPERIENCE platform in new model process development (NMPD) “to realize the full potential of the virtual methods to simulate the gemba,” says Ron Emerson, associate chief engineer of Honda Virtual Maturation Team at Honda North America. “Gemba,” the Japanese term for “the actual place,” is used by Honda to mean “reality” or “at this spot.”
Before the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, Honda had a text-based tool for managing and “visualizing” NMPD. “It was a valuable tool for our process engineers at the time,” explains Emerson, “but we couldn’t take advantage of the 3D data generated by R&D, and it was really hard for process planners to visualize what they were assembling. They were just typing in part numbers and typing in a process sequence.”
After about two years, Honda and Dassault developed a product that “pulls in all of the product, process, and resource data, just as we did before. Then the process engineers can go in and make all of their changes. They can quickly understand part consumption, which is critical to making sure we don’t forget any parts in the overall process. This is done for every variation of the vehicle. Once the part is applied to the sequence, we can plan the sequence time and all the requirements that go along with that. With this, process engineers can do all the necessary balancing across the whole process line or within work cells.”
The source of the virtualization in Honda’s 3DEXPERIENCE comes from the product data in CATIA. These data are applied to a 3D plant layout at “the center of it all,” explains Emerson. “Especially challenging, some of our sites are more than 30 years old. We didn’t have any legacy data; it was all 2D drawings back then.” So Honda worked with an architectural/engineering/construction application to construct a virtual model of the plant.
Add conveyor simulation, which helps Honda understand how product moves throughout the plant in all the various build-up stages of assembly. Also included are the kinematics of people, machines, and product, such as the fixturing that associates move up and down to perform assembly work. “We can see those processes in action on the line,” comments Emerson. The replication uses real-time data from operating machines, sensors, employee-inputted data, and other data collection devices and systems. “It all comes together in the virtual build, where we actually go through a production sequence, step-by-step, to make sure a car can actually be built as planned and as designed.”
The upshot is that “Honda has switched from strictly physical verification to primarily digital verification. It’s enhanced our time-to-market and it’s also enhanced our productivity,” concludes Emerson. Equally important, Honda has connected NMPD with the visual connection—“We can see those processes in action on the line”; the virtual factory activity reflects the actual assembly plant—“We can see those processes in action on the line”; Honda can easily verify a plant can build a new vehicle model; and the groundwork exists to enhance and develop future assembly virtualization, such as logistics, carts running around the plant, and both simulating and optimizing delivery routes.
By James Gaffney, Product Engineer, Precision Grinding and Patrick D. Redington, Manager, Precision Grinding Business Unit, Norton Company (Worcester, MA)
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