Manufacturing Configurator




This overview presentation will introduce you to the concepts and capabilities of Product Data Management (PDM) systems and Configurators. The first part of this presentation provides back­ground. The remaining parts of the presentation develop the following aspects in more detail:

• Definition of Product Data Management systems

• Definition of Configurators

• Sources of software and selection issues

• Final conclusions


Leading manufacturing companies are constantly reassessing their growth strategies in light of the intense competition that always looms on their flanks. The dominant strategy of the 1990s will be speed and flexibility. Speed is the ability to reduce the total product development cycle to get to the market first, and flexibility is the ability to offer a product to meet unique customer needs.

In many industry sectors, companies wi'l no longer be able to compete just because they have successfully implemented JIT (Just-in-Time) in the manufacturing area.1;. The ability to define products for the customization market by To-Order companies (Design, Make, and Assemble) will be critical. The lead time reduction concepts of Concurrent Engineering—with enabling software tools—will need to be implemented also.

PDM systems are relatively new software and hardware technol­ogies for better management of the product and process develop­ment cycle and the related documentation throughout a company. PDM systems have been called Integration Enablers. The soft­ware capabilities provide the potential to integrate fully all forms of data from CAD, CAM, and MRP II systems.

Configurators are rules-based software systems to define product information for the To-Order company.

CAD and MRP II systems have developed somewhat inde­pendently. Many companies are still struggling with problems integrating these two major systems. CAD systems have tended to grow without the commensurate level of control needed to assure accurate documentation. The ease of access to product information by electronic means makes it easier to lose control over the integrity of the design. The need to increase productivity of design efforts by distributing the processing capabilities of workstations has also compounded the problems of control. So, the product is designed with the aid of modern computer systems, but the process of documentation management has lagged.

Some companies are still burdened with multiple legacy systems

•semiautomated documentation systems that are error-prone, not integrated, and slow to respond to increasing demands for more timely information. MRP II, JIT, and EDI techniques have improved the flow of parts and products markedly through the plant. But what about the speed and accuracy of the product and

process documentation relating to the parts?

Why Consider Implementing a PDM System?

In a recent survey, the CAD consulting firm of CIMdata (Ann Arbor, Michigan) received these general answers to the question of implementing a PDM system:

• Product and process data are becoming prolific.

• The various elements of CAD, CAM, MRP II need to be brought together into a coherent system.

• Companies want a cost-efficient alternative to the huge over­head staff functions now being used to track product and process information.

• Major manufacturers are passing down requirements to their first-tier suppliers—"forcing" may be a better word.

• In the defense industry, CALS (Computer-Aided Acquisition and Logistics Support) mandates electronic transmission of text, graphic, and image data for their products.

Why Consider Implementing a Configurator?

The To-Order company has been one of the most difficult environments in which to implement MRP II. In numerous texts, the concepts of restructuring bills of material to handle features and options seemed deceptively simple; in reality, some compa­nies found the cost of creating pseudo bills to be prohibitively expensive. Other companies have tried the impossible task of creating individual bills for every unique combination of options. The classic methods of product definition, i.e., unique part numbers and/or modular bills, proved cumbersome, if not impos­sible, to adopt in the To-Order company.

In such situations, a number of related problems appear: excessive involvement of engineering personnel to define products at order entry time, inconsistent forms of product documentation, and inaccurate pricing and costing.

Conclusion to Introduction

More companies are recognizing the need to implement Concur­rent Engineering (CE)—to compete vigorously in the marketplace of the 1990s. Serial methods of product development have been identified as one of the major reasons the product life cycle is too lengthy and results in a higher cost product. Simply defined, CE is the parallel processing of design and development functions traditionally performed in a serial fashion—conceptual design, detail design, prototyping, drawing release, process design, etc.

In the compressed time environment of CE and teaming arrange­ments among suppliers, the need to adequately manage product documentation becomes as critical as managing the flow of parts, and perhaps more so.

To be Continued


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