Auto manufacturer gets cool solution

Engineers at BorgWarner are now benefiting from software that makes it easier to share and communicate design information between departments and sites. Dean Palmer investigates

Engineers at BorgWarner are now benefiting from software that makes it easier to share and communicate design information between departments and sites. Dean Palmer investigates "The software means that not only product engineering, but also the manufacturing department, has access to the data. This means we save time and re-use designs more often," explains Randall Schwan, CAD and PDM (product data management) systems manager for engine cooling systems manufacturer BorgWarner. "We don’t have to keep redesigning the wheel." Schwan is referring to his company's recent implementation of product data management [PDM] software from SmarTeam. And the benefits of the project look to have emerged already. According to Schwan, everyone at the company can now access design data, which means engineers spend less time searching, querying or sending files. All the files are checked and controlled so that there's less risk of users overwriting other peoples’ files. The software also makes users aware of any design changes at any point in the process and makes the required modifications down the line. There's also a formal engineering release process so that engineers cannot modify parts which affect other engineers without their knowledge. BorgWarner Cooling Systems, part of the BorgWarner Operating Group, designs and manufactures air-sensing and coolant-sensing fan clutch systems that can be mechanically or electronically controlled, polymer fan blades and air control shutters for engine cooling systems. As a tier one automotive supplier, the firm develops cooling systems that are also used in commercial, agricultural and industrial engines. But being a global manufacturer has its problems. The company has sites in Brazil, the US and Germany, and so maintaining communication and controlling all the shared design and manufacturing information is difficult. The firm has also been involved in a merger with three other cooling system manufacturers which has further complicated the issue of information sharing and communication. As a result, the CAD and information systems used across the group were incompatible, making it difficult to share information between sites or to search and access data on a corporate level. The company therefore looked for a solution and approached PDM software specialist, SmarTeam. The problem Marc Young, SmarTeam's systems integration manager comments: "The problem was centred around information, or rather, a lack of it. Engineers at one site could make changes to a design that could then adversely affect other engineers further down the chain without their knowing anything about it." According to Young, the lack of a common workflow or system of collaboration between sites and departments was slowing down processes. Each company and location had different part number schemes and different methods of re-using designs. So Young started by making on-site visits to BorgWarner to look at the firm's requirements, examine the types of data they were dealing with, and to assess the current business processes. He found that the company was using several systems, including an MS Access database, an in-house product data system and NT software for file management. As a result, communication between sites tended to be manual. "What the company needed was for everyone to be able to access all of the product data," explains Young. "If someone in Michigan was designing a product and an engineer in Germany had a very similar requirement for the same type of design, BorgWarner wanted that engineer to be able to look through the data, find the similar part quickly and then be able to reuse the part for his own purpose. Whereas before they could have been re-engineering parts, they wanted to be able to quickly query the system to see if a similar part already existed and be able to get access to it and modify it." SmarTeam then worked with the staff to analyse the data and then formulate a plan for the implementation process. After this, a core development team was established, headed up by a BorgWarner key systems integrator. Several employees were then selected across the company who would be using the new software. This team comprised engineers, designers, IT staff and employees from other sites. After the initial assessment, SmarTeam provided staff of the flagship site (based in Marshall, Michigan) with software training. Following implementation at Michigan, SmarTeam provided extra training for the core team, which would allow them in future installations across the remaining eight sites, to become implementation 'experts'. The first implementation began in March 2001. "The system chosen includes the ability to check in, check out and keep control of files, almost like a library system," explains Young. "Users can generate part numbers and initiate engineering changes. They can also associate products and models, designs for projects and manage the manufacturing data. Remote users can also get access to the data signing on from various locations." Of the seven BorgWarner sites involved in the installation, four are already up and running with the new software (two US sites, Brazil and Germany) and the fifth, Cadillac, Michigan, is currently being implemented. Sales sites world-wide are also accessing the data and the remaining replicated data sites are Bradford, UK and Ningbo in China.