PLM supports greener vehicle designs

A British engineering company is using PLM software to manage design and manufacturing and to ensure that strict recycling and emissions targets for new vehicles are met. Dean Palmer reports

A British engineering company is using PLM software to manage design and manufacturing and to ensure that strict recycling and emissions targets for new vehicles are met. Dean Palmer reports Take up of product lifecycle management (PLM) systems in the manufacturing industry is now on the increase but some of the more enlightened companies are using the software, not only to manage their product development, design and manufacturing processes but also to ensure that design engineers create products that adhere to strict environmental targets for emissions, recyclability, reusability and resaleability. Menard Engineering (MEL), formerly TWR, is an engineering services company based in Oxfordshire that provides design, engineering and manufacturing services to OEMs. MEL's customers include mainly automotive and transportation manufacturers. The company was involved in the design of the Jaguar XKJ, Aston Martin DB7, Volvo C70 coupe and convertible, Renault Clio V6 and is currently working on a military transportation project, a concept car for Jaguar and a new theme park train for Disney. MEL is currently using UGS' PLM software, Teamcenter, in a pilot project to ensure that its design engineers develop 'greener' vehicles to meet strict European recycling and emissions legislation. Phil Gardner, head of data management at MEL, told Eureka: "At the moment we are using Teamcenter in a test environment but we will use it on a real project in November this year. It's mainly for automotive projects to integrate BOMs [bills of material] and CAD models so that we can calculate the overall weight of the vehicle. We can use the software to roll up the individual weights of car assemblies as we go through the design process, to calculate overall vehicle weight. This helps us establish whether we can meet emissions targets for the customer. We may decide to replace steel parts on the car with aluminium or carbon fibre assemblies ones to reduce the weight of the car. It's all about reducing weight which improves fuel consumption and therefore reduces the harmful effect on the environment." MEL's system of choice is Unigraphics for CAD and 3D modelling but it also uses Catia, Pro-Engineer and a host of engineering analysis software such as Nastran, Patran, ICEM Surf for surface modelling, Adams for chassis dynamics and Delmia for design and manufacturing simulation. But UGS' Teamcenter PLM software and Unigraphics 3D modelling system form the core of MEL's design process. Gardner explained: "Teamcenter gives us the ability to create attributes associated with every component in an assembly. Every part can have weight, cost and materials information associated with it so that as the design engineer develops a product or assembly, overall weight is automatically calculated. As parts are modified or material of a part altered the effect on the overall weight of the vehicle can be seen immediately." For any engineering change, MEL can now assess the impact on cost, weight and the likely effect on emissions targets and recycling. "We're also looking at including all the geometric dimensions and tolerancing information from CAD models within Teamcenter," he added. According to Gardner, it is possible to set rules within Teamcenter that flags up when a material is being used that does not comply with green legislation. The software can also inform users that they have exceeded the recycling target (typically set by the client as a percentage of overall vehicle weight) and can be programmed to suggest alternative lighter materials. The software can even set reminders of when legislation is due to be updated. MEL's integrated Unigraphics and Teamcenter system includes a standard parts and materials library. As Gardner explained, "you can add to this list of materials whenever you need to and flag materials that are preferred. Any design engineer that strays from the norm will need to get special sign-off to use a particular material before the design can proceed. Everyone at the company is now much more conscious and aware of why certain materials are chosen. It's rather like a more detailed FMEA approach. "The software is very tightly controlled by tiered access and security levels so that new materials and parts are not added without an administrator's sign-off first," said Gardner. "We could have up to 120 different design engineers working on one project so it is vital to have this level of control." On a typical car design, the seats, engine, chassis and trim is broken down into budgets or targets for cost and recycling. It may be that the engine is only 10% recyclable, but the trim is 60% recyclable meeting the overall 30% recycling target for the car. "We will monitor this on a weekly basis during a project," explained Gardner. "As soon as the designer creates a design, the material is assigned and therefore we know the weight immediately." "As a company, we've always struggled with the management of CAD design data. The average car comprises more than 6,000 individual parts. Throughout the development cycle you could get more than 20 design changes to a single part so there is a huge amount of CAD data to manage. MEL is also looking at using UGS' Teamcenter 'Community' software which will enable it to better collaborate with companies when developing products. "We want to be able to control the flow of data to our suppliers and customers. Things like bills of material, CAD models and manufacturing tooling data. I suppose it's really about bringing the outside world into our factory and letting suppliers act as extensions to your own business. As a result of this, we expect to cut lead times on supplier deliveries and reduce the number of prototypes by 30 to 50%." And, when you consider that most car developers spend around £250,000 on prototypes, a 30% saving on this is big money.