Rightsizing Design

Boeing and Intermec pick product lifecycle management apps that fit the needs of their respective projects.

One size does not fit all when it comes to automating the management of a product through its entire life cycle. Companies are finding they need to carefully select PLM (product lifecycle management) software so that it scales to the size of their project while not providing more features and complexity than is appropriate.

The Boeing Co. this month announced a deal valued in the tens of millions of dollars to use PLM software from Paris-based Dassault Systemes S.A. and IBM to build its next-generation 7E7 Dreamliner aircraft. Potentially the largest PLM deal to date, Boeing will standardize Dreamliner development on Dassaults Catia Version 5.0 PLM platform and applications for the expected 30-year life span of the 7E7.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are companies such as Intermec Technologies Corp. that are using collaboration software from smaller, lesser-known software developers. Intermec, which develops and manufactures handheld computer terminals, uses a PLM system from Co-Create Software Inc.

Both ends of the spectrum provide what has come to be known as traditional PLM: two- and three-dimensional tool sets with the ability to archive, manipulate, and share engineering documents and other information, from a products inception to its service after release. While they differ in scale and vertical functionality, customers note the big difference in price.

"Our initial investment was maybe $150,000, and that was hardware and software. Thats really cheap," said Brad McDermott, mechanical engineer and CAD administrator at Intermec. "When you see the functionality it has, its dirt cheap when you look at PTC [Parametric Technology Corp.] or Dassault. PTC has Windchill that basically manages two- and three-dimensional data and provides user access to that data. They also have a collaboration tool," all of which McDermott has in-house with CoCreate. Intermec uses CoCreates entire suite of tools, including its Designer Drafting, Designer Modeling and OneSpace.net collaboration offering, for everything from early product development and design to aftermarket engineering product changes.

Meanwhile, Chicago-based Boeing and Dassault will create a virtual development work space known internally as the 7E7 Global Collaboration Environment, which will enable Boeing engineers to design, simulate, build and test every aspect of the 7E7, officials said. With GCE, Boeing teams from around the world will be able to work together in real time.

As part of the deal, Boeing will transition to Dassaults Catia 5.0 for collaborative design and product development. At the same time, it will run Enovia Lifecycle Applications and SmarTeam for collaborative product data and lifecycle management. Dassaults Delmia Solution for digital manufacturing will act as Boeings simulation environment. IBM, which resells Dassault in the United States, is contributing its DB2 database, which will provide the data repository for internal teams and external development partners.

With the IBM/Dassault PLM platform, Boeing will be able to standardize on product and engineering specifications, engineering rules, operational parameters and simulation results across its enterprise. At the same time, the partners and suppliers in Boeings supply chain for the 7E7 will implement the virtual product development platform, which will improve collaboration, product quality and time to market, officials said.

Boston-based AMR Research Inc. warns manufacturers considering an investment in PLM to carefully assess their current needs, as well as their vision of where they hope to be. "In Boeings case, they are investing today in an application to support an aircraft with an expected life of 30 years," said AMR analyst Michael Burkett. "They are willing to build upon an expectation that it will take them to where they hope to be."

Intermecs McDermott is happy where he is with CoCreates PLM package today. "The beauty of [CoCreate] is you dont have this one huge umbrella that covers everything for everyone, crammed down your throat," said McDermott in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.