Towards Paperless Manufacturing: an interview on Advanced Manufacturing, Product Manufacturing Information (PMI), and the Model Based Enterprise

November 20, 2015

The paperless workspace has been hype for decades, but recent government contract mandates are pushing it to the forefront. Manufacturers face both great challenges and great opportunities.

Let’s start with the basics of Advanced Manufacturing and PMI?

Advanced Manufacturing defines two things. One is a system of software & services to tie your organization together. The other is the use of cutting-edge material and fabrication techniques (such as nanotech, growing crystals, additive manufacturing, etc.). And of course, it can mean the use of both simultaneously.

Product Manufacturing Information (PMI) is a component of AM, and simply put it means the extension of your design intent to the shop floor.

What are the biggest opportunities with PMI?

There’s the potential to reduce the amount of time it takes to document a part. Some clients see a 50% reduction in the amount of time to document a part. There are a ton of caveats that go along with that, such as, it is a mistake to go from a 2D documentation world to 3D PMI and have the same level of documentation.

The idea behind using 3D PMI is that you can go with a “reduced dimension” approach. If you give a machinist a 3D part file he can make it, what you need to convey is your GD&T (geometric dimension and tolerancing) surface finish and other things like threaded holes and tolerance callouts.

What often happens in the industry is if you send 2 pieces of data – typically your paper drawing and 3D model – to a manufacturer, the data can become separated. It could be the shop calls with, “we can’t do XY, can we do XZ instead?” Now the drawing and the model have become separated.

You have to identify what the master is, and you have to get back to making the 3D model the master. If the 3D model is the master, you’re going to have fewer mistakes. Your first-time build quality is going to go up because of fewer mistakes, and if it takes less time to document, the whole program is going to cost less.

What are the biggest risks?

The risks are getting your supply chain involved with 3D PMI. Most machine shops are reluctant to quote a part based on just the 3D model. We need to change the manufacturing environment toward the 3D model being the master and the authority.

Other risks are the dataset type that you share with your supply chain; they need to understand what that dataset type is and what it gives them on the other end.

If you give a supplier a dataset that doesn’t have paper, and their internal standards require them to have a paper drawing, a lot of companies will think that’s the supplier’s problem, but when it comes back “no bid,” then it becomes your problem. You have to train your supply chain to use the datasets you’re giving them.

The most successful companies out there are training their supply chain to use the datasets that are provided, they’re not just tossing them over the wall and hoping for the best.

It’s great when you’re the 800 pound gorilla huge company, and it’s also great if you own the whole vertical process, but when you design it locally and you ship it over seas to get manufactured, then that’s shipped somewhere else to get assembled…, it’s trying to get that supply chain educated; that’s a risk.

What’s the average investment cost?

If you’re an NX user, chances are you already have a license for NX PMI, you just don’t know it. But typically your startup costs are going to be nothing. The biggest cost is developing your internal people to use PMI, not just the engineering team, but procurement, manufacturing, maybe even the legal department, the entire internal enterpriseThe caveat here is Mach bundle licensing. PMI is included with Mach 2 and above.

If I’m a manager, that sounds overwhelming. What do you say to make the PMI case to a manager?

Engineers understand that the 3D model should be the master. CNC programmers understand that the 3D model also contains almost all the information to build the part, and just by virtue of procurement already being involved, it’s just a training issue.

In my presentations I have a slide on Model Based Definition that asks, “how does MBD fit in your enterprise?” You can start off with just engineering and nobody would know the difference. Start small, start with PMI, inherent that into drafting, and don’t change any processes anyone else can see. You can train your internal resources with “no one the wiser” until you’re ready to include more of the internal enterprise.

At that point, again, start with small steps. Do a pilot project with one or two suppliers, and the pilot project will help you understand any issues you’ll run into on their end.

What if the shop doesn’t want to take your data, what do you do then?

If your supply chain relies on the mom-and-pop shops, that becomes kind of a purchasing and negotiating issue. It comes back to training, there are a lot of free viewers out there, and you can point the supplier in the direction of free software. But beyond that, I’m not sure it’s an engineering question, it’s all about training.

But once you get your supply side to say “we don’t want paper anymore,” then you’ll have reached paper-less manufacturing.

What would you say to someone who’s used to drafting and paper files, and is unsure about PMI?

There’s a lot of people who want to just hit file-print and have a piece of paper on their desk. It’s a different way of visualizing the data, and the 3D data’s going to be easier to interpret. The majority of mistakes in manufacturing come back to the misinterpretation of 2D data. We all know those complicated drawings, where you’re trying to rebuild it in your head where the data comes from. In the 3D world you don’t have to do that. You can see what the designer intended you to see.

Can you explain the path from AM, to PMI, and to Model Based Enterprise and Model Based Definition?

AM is more of a mindset. PMI is the same as MBD, and when you start using PMI/MBD your enterprise is on the path to becoming a MBE (Model Based Enterprise). The further you extend people using that dataset within your enterprisethe more MBE you are. It usually starts off with guys on the shop floor, then procurement will visualize the parts in a program like Teamcenter Visualization, then they’ll know what shop to send it to. ModelBasedEnterprise.org has an evaluation tool to see where your organization ranks in comparison.

For NX users, are there any unique advantages when it comes to PMI?

If you know how to do drafting, you’re 90% of the road on the way to doing PMIThe transition from doing 2D drafting to 3D PMI is a small learning curve.

Is there anything unique to the PNW and the west coast when it comes to PMI?

There’s a resource here at Applied CAx to train you and your supply chain to make the transition. We can help grease the skids and smooth the waters. The old force is retiring and the new force is coming, and how do you bridge that? How do you get to the person two years from retirement? They’re not going to accept that. You have to learn how to manage cultural change. I fear the day I have to hand my phone to my kid to program it, I want to stay up to date on technology and keep moving forward. And I want my flying car!

It’s time to unleash your potential

Reach out to the team at Applied CAx to learn how our aerospace solutions can make your company’s goals achievable.