Sowing the seeds of growth

By moving to 3D CAD and product data management software, agricultural equipment maker Maschio has slashed prototype costs and cut time to market for new projects by 55%. Dean Palmer reports

The hurdles manufacturers have to overcome when implementing project lifecycle management (PLM) systems are well documented. To date, most projects have run over budget and take longer than expected to complete. But the good news is that many companies are now beginning to reap the rewards of their efforts in PLM. Take for example agricultural equipment maker the Maschio Group, based in Italy. There are two main arms to the business: Gaspardo manufactures crop cultivators, finger blade mowers and seed drills, while Maschio makes rotary tillers, power harrows and soil shredders. Here is an example of a business that has seen its design productivity improve dramatically; the quality of its product data improve by 70%; the time to market for new projects cut by 55%; prototype costs reduce by 115,000 euros per year; and a design office that can explore 50% more design options – all this because the company made the brave decision to move from a 2D CAD (with some product data management) environment, to a fully blown PLM system with 3D CAD and tightly managed PDM. The Group has 580 employees and turns over around 82 million euros in 2002. All the group’s machinery is designed and assembled at separate sites while most requisite parts are manufactured at the group’s Terranova components plant. Paolo Cera, the group’s marketing director, told Eureka: “Market needs differ from one region in the world to another due to differences in legislation, such as those concerning road dimensions.” To meet this challenge, the group decided it needed to develop an aggressive marketing strategy focused on producing agricultural machines that met local market needs anywhere globally. But, according to Cera, this meant having “the ability to quickly develop and manufacture innovative and market-specific products.” Before the PLM implementation began in 2002, Maschio’s design tools consisted of a 2D CAD system and a PDM system. One of the first hurdles was to migrate more than 25,000 drawings, including the corresponding archive system (links between drawings and historical records associated with the drawings) to the Smarteam database. The 10-person design office then had to be re-trained in the new 3D CAD software, Catia v5 from IBM Dassault. Lorenzo Asti, Maschio’s project manager, recalled: “Now we can manage any type of information in the Smarteam database [part of the PDM software] and link it to the project. Today, our design engineers say they cannot imagine how they could work without it.” Since using 3D CAD, Maschio’s design engineers have reduced product development costs. Asti explained: “We now realise that by switching from our previous 2D system to Catia v5, we’ve improved quality by 70%. We’ve been able to reduce the number of errors made during the design phase, which were proving very costly later on.” And Asti also said that using Smarteam’s PDM system has enabled his design engineers to cut development cycle times by spending less time making design changes. “To do a part modification, a designer can now immediately identify all projects where the part is used and verify the impact of the modification on the other projects. In the past, he had to open all assembly files one by one. This saves time, cost and worries.” The other side of the group, Gaspardo began implementing PLM in 1999. It began by transferring all its legacy data from its original 3D CAD system to Catia. The design office consists of three project managers and eight design engineers who develop all new machines using Catia 3D modelling, sheet metal, surfacing, assembly, drafting and analysis tools. Currently, the department is implementing Smarteam to structure their working processes. Paolo Grasso, project manager at Gaspardo commented: “A new employee starting from square one is now fully operational in Catia v5 within four to five days and is capable of producing detailed drawings 100% compliant with our standards after just two weeks. The software gives you the opportunity to think better, since your attention is not focused on the type of command that has to be used, but on the type of design that is being prepared.” Grasso told Eureka that the system has enabled the design engineers to explore 50% more design options for every project, which has improved quality and fosters innovation. Gaspardo has also reduced development costs by using digital mock-up capabilities within Catia. Engineers can now detect design errors before producing a physical prototype. “In the past, creating a mould for testing cost the company around 5,000 euros. With the new software, stereolithography prototypes cost 150 euros. This represents overall direct savings of more than 115,000 euros per year,” said Grasso. And, according to Grasso, Gaspardo has cut the development cycle of new machines by 55%, from 18 months to eight months, critical for a business that has precise, seasonal deadlines for its planting machines. As Grasso explained, “If the company misses planting time, it means delaying the project by a whole year.” As for the future, the group is planning to extend the use of Catia and Smarteam to the whole business. It plans to use Catia’s NC manufacturing module at its Terranova plant to automatically define the NC programmes dedicated to the machining of parts. And, it wants to use additional Smarteam tools to enable engineers to synchronise company databases and re-use part information between the design offices at Maschio and Gespardo. The next stage after that will be an integration project between the company’s ERP (enterprise resource planning) system and Smarteam to synchronise engineering and manufacturing bills of material and allow purchasing to be more reactive. Also on the agenda is the purchase of a web collaboration tool to enable the group to share design information (3D models, drawings) with other departments such as purchasing and manufacturing. These tools will also enable the company’s suppliers and remote operating centres to access the design information over the Internet.