Fast lane to production

Vehicle manufacturers are implementing PLM systems to better integrate development and manufacturing. Stuart Nathan reports For Swiss performance car manufacturer Keonigsegg, a new product lifecycle management (PLM) system was vital for it to hold its own against the larger supercar makers. ‘We need to understand the demands of our customers and to quickly react to these demands by implementing ultra-fast launch development programmes,’ said Jon Gunner, the company’s technical director. ‘Even though we have few competitors who, for the most part, have more money than we do to invest in research and development, we nevertheless need to stay ahead by being cleverer and faster when a customer shows an interest in purchasing one of our tailor-made vehicles.’

‘Tailor-made’ is the operative phrase here: Koenigsegg’s vehicles are largely handmade and the company carries out most design and manufacturing processes in-house, apart from some crash testing and the production of major composites components. When it started work on its CCX range, Gunner decided to replace the previous CAD system with a PLM suite, so that design and production could be better integrated. He decided to use Dassault Systèmes’ CATIA system for this.

Previously, the company had used different software systems to develop its cars, with CAD for design and with business software to manage the bill of materials, but the systems did not ‘talk’ to each other. ‘We decided to move to CATIA PLM Express so we could have better control over our products’ lifecycle,’

said Gunner. The CCX was developed entirely in CAD and the new software allowed the tooling and masters for the bodywork, chassis and exterior surfaces to be machined directly from the CAD model. ‘Our previous CAD system was just not capable of this,’ he added.

CATIA has also given customers more input into the design process for their car, with digital rendering and simulation available in real time; the customers can indicate exactly what modifications they want on the design model of the car. ‘It’s very impressive when we show our customers our engineering facilities and the state-of-the-art design solution we are using,’ said Gunner.

However, the use of PLM systems is not confined to the world of supercars. Manufacturers do not come much more volume oriented than Ford, which has been using CATIA since 2003, first for body-in-white development and subsequently for interiors, chassis and electrics.

The latest part of the business to adopt the system is the Global Powertrain Organisation (PTO), which is faced with a daunting task: within the next three to four years, it has to design nearly all of the powertrains for the North American market. Ford’s latest powertrain innovation is EcoBoost, which uses direct-injection turbocharging to increase fuel economy in petrol engines by 20 per cent and is claimed to cut CO2 emissions by 15 per cent. EcoBoost is being rolled out over the course of this year.

As with many businesses, however, PTO is carrying out this development, preparing new programmes and trying to improve efficiency with a ‘significantly streamlined’ team, as Ford puts it. CATIA is an integral part of this process, allowing the company to use more engineering analysis at the earlier stages of the design process, to arrive at

solutions faster and to accelerate the development of systems.

Integrating new software within such a large organisation is a major operation and Dassault Systèmes’ consultants worked with Ford on site, both during and after implementation, to ensure a smooth changeover. More than 80 per cent of the Driveline organisation’s activity has now been migrated to CATIA.

‘At the one-year point, productivity is already higher and we are positioned for further gains by taking advantage of advanced features,’ said Lynda Green, CAD/CAE manager for Transmission and Driveline Engineering. ‘With such a major change, we would have expected significant delays as our technical team overcame the learning curve, but the initial project was completed in the same time that would have been required with our previous heavily customised tools.’

PLM has allowed the PTO design engineers to create ‘master skeletons’, which allow related parts to be updated in a single operation; all of the designers working on components related to each other automatically receive the update. This, according to Jeff Bautz, direc

tor/design manager for large gas and diesel-engine engineering, has reduced the time for a complete redesign of a cylinder head and valvetrain by 11 days. Optimising a valvetrain often takes up to 20 redesign iterations. ‘Preliminary estimates are that we can cut three to four weeks off the time required to conceive and design an engine,’ he said.

The PTO designers are now using CATIA for components that were previously modelled by hand, such as transmission gears and splines. Previously too complex to be designed on a computer, these components would frequently cause production delays; if the angles and profiles were slightly ‘out’, the tooling dies would have to be corrected in the prototyping phase. The PLM?system can accept information such as gear pitch diameter and the number of teeth, which the company claims has saved an average of two hours for the design of each of the 18 gears in a typical transmission.

Ford does not use CATIA alone, however; for an attempt at the world landspeed record for a hydrogen-powered production vehicle, it used CD-adapco’s STAR CFD analysis to optimise the airflow around the Fusion Hydrogen 999 saloon car. The car was modified with a new underbody and a rear spoiler to cut drag by 38 per cent and helped the car to reach 207.297mph (333.612km/h) to take the record. ‘Partnering with CD-adapco’s engineering services and using its advanced family of STAR software solutions allowed us to draw from a greater pool of expertise spanning CFD and aerodynamics,’ said programme manager John Zaleski.

CD-adapco has also been used to optimise the air-cooling system on Harley-Davidson’s V-Twin engines and to design the company’s first water-cooled mass-production engine, the V-Rod. Among the engine systems designed using STAR CFD are the circulation of oil within the crankcase, driven by the pistons, and the geometry of the inlet and exhaust ports on the cylinders.