Customers Benefit from Supplier’s Adoption of PLM

Industrial Control Associates, Inc. (ICA) is a systems integrator and machine builder specializing in programmable logic control (PLC) system machines. Located in Georgia, USA, the company provides custom fabricated machinery and control panels, complete electrical/mechanical installation and turn-key integration, custom robotics, motion applications, machine modifications and enhancements and nondestructive testing systems for companies in a wide range of industries. Its services include engineering, design, construction and start-up support.

ICA is an eight-person shop that competes successfully in a tight market against much larger organizations. When asked how such a lean operation can win orders from companies such as Magna, Voight Aircraft, Citation, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., DuPont Chemical, Procter & Gamble Paper Products and Tyson Foods, ICA’s CEO Brian Hare responds, “In part, it’s because we have some top-notch machine and systems designers. It also helps that while we may be small in size, we present a large-company image.”

Hare notes that a key element of the large-company image is their use of product lifecycle management (PLM) technology. “When prospective customers come here to visit, particularly if they’re from large companies, they are surprised to see that we have the same type of technology they’re using,” says Hare. “It inspires confidence right from the start.”

PLM is the differentiator

When it comes to satisfying existing customers and impressing prospects, solid modeling only goes so far, according to Hare. “Everyone who does this type of work has some type of solid modeling software,” he explains. “Having modeling alone doesn’t bring enough to the table for new customers. To my knowledge we’re the only company of those we compete with to implement PLM,” Hare continues. “The larger automotive companies and government organizations understand the implications this holds for them as a customer.”

ICA’s PLM system is based on the Solid Edge® design solution and Teamcenter® Express collaborative product data management (cPDM) system, both from Siemens PLM Software.

Solid modeling is only a start

ICA has been using Solid Edge for nearly 10 years. The company chose Solid Edge following a three-way trial that also included SolidWorks and Autodesk Inventor. Each program was timed in the creation of a 10-part assembly. “Inventor couldn’t do it, SolidWorks never completed it, but Solid Edge did and was the clear winner,” explains Hare. “In addition, the Solid Edge draft environment is far superior to SolidWorks.”

Solid Edge has enhanced operations at ICA in a number of ways. By improving the accuracy of machine designs, it has reduced the amount of rework the company performs. “Prior to Solid Edge, our remanufacturing rate was 20 percent,” Hare says. “Now it’s only two percent.” That represents a significant cost savings, which is particularly important now, during difficult economic times. Solid Edge has also helped the company reduce by one-third the time it takes to complete a job. This has been important in meeting customers’ requirements for ever-faster delivery.

Hare expects to save even more time as ICA increases its use of Synchronous Technology in Solid Edge. “When we design testing machinery, we need to use the customer’s assembly data no matter what system it was designed in,” he says. “By allowing us to bring in and work on data from any CAD system, Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology will save us the time it takes to redraw that geometry. By doing small design tests through parallel work in Synchronous Technology and traditional modeling, we have seen as much as a 30 percent reduction in the design phase. We expect that number to increase as the company gets farther along the learning curve.”

Dr. Ken Versprille, PLM Research Director at Collaborative Product Development Associates, a leading PLM industry analyst firm in the US, concurs. “Imagine the performance impact and design flexibility of making an edit without the need to regenerate the entire model as you would in a traditional history-based CAD application. The performance impact alone from synchronous technology will result in dramatic development process gains.”

PLM helps meet customer needs

Brian Hare says, “Closing the loop with Teamcenter Express rapidly brings us closer to being a true partner in the customer’s future. By implementing Teamcenter Express, we’re showing that we can understand and meet their needs.”

Teamcenter Express improves ICA’s ability to satisfy customers’ needs in a variety of ways. For example, by using the software to manage revisions, releases and data (Solid Edge data, customers’ AutoCAD drawings, PDFs, quote documents, conceptual drawings, pictures and other background material), ICA is more organized – something that customers see immediately in the improved quality of drawings and bills of material. And now that there is just one repository for all product data, searches for specific information are very fast; 30 seconds versus 10 minutes in the past. ICA can answer a customer’s question, even about a system that was designed years earlier, while the customer is still on the phone. Also, ICA has begun automating paper-based processes such as design release (using the workflow functionality of Teamcenter Express), helping ensure compliance with best practices and regulatory requirements.

The most important benefit of Teamcenter Express and PLM, however, is the collaboration aspect. “The Teamcenter Express visualization capabilities make it a lot easier for customers to view an assembly,” says Hare. “This can be done in 30 seconds instead of 30 minutes using the CAD system.” Hare envisions holding frequent “mini design reviews” with customers throughout the design process. “We’re looking forward to letting our customers look at designs at key times so that they understand what they’re getting early on,” he explains. “They’ve never had that ability to look at something before seeing the approval drawings, and it has caused substantial waste. Using Teamcenter Express, they can see early on if we’re going in a wrong direction and raise a flag.” The web-based collaboration tools in Teamcenter Express make this scenario possible no matter where the customer is located.

ICA will be using Teamcenter Express as part of its preparation for ISO certification. Throughout the company’s PLM implementation, it has appreciated the support from Siemens. “We’re doing all of this without an IT person on staff, and we’ve had great support from Siemens and its channel partner Saratec