September 13, 2011      

As head of Worldwide Automotive Industry Solutions Operations for DELMIA, Digital Manufacturing & Production, a unit of Dassault Systems, Shree Harsha has a front-row seat on an industry that’s rapidly evolving. “How many cars have you owned over the past decade?” he asks, in order to illustrate the vast number of choices consumers possess and the challenges automakers face in meeting them. With Dassault Systems, he has worked with many automotive OEMs around the world in implementation of product lifecycle management (PLM) and digital manufacturing solutions, including: General Motors, USA; Toyota Motor Company; Nissan and Honda, Japan; TATA Motors; Ashok Leyland, India; Chevy Auto, China; Bentley Motors; Nissan, UK; and JLR.

The challenges those companies face in the global market place are shared by other industries as well, he notes. From mobile phones to ships and even aircraft, new designs and improvements, coupled with increased consumer choices, have forced companies to be flexible and make rapid adjustments to their manufacturing processes in order to remain competitive, he says.

Indeed, as Harsha explains, the constantly changing global marketplace is driving companies to maximize productivity and quality at the lowest cost, and they must do it faster than the competition. “They are asking themselves how fast can we deliver and how fast can we design the next generation of product with less changes to my existing factory and tools and reduce my factory downtime for re-programming of the Robots?”

Speed is today’s new competitive advantage, Harsha believes, and DELMIA’s solution is a next generation robotic offline programming tool called V6R2012, or V6, for short, which the company describes as “a breakthrough solution for digitizing all manufacturing capabilities across the physical supply chain and linking plants in a coordinated network of global manufacturing operations in a single data repository.”

In the interview below, Harsha, who presented at Robotics Trends free September 14 virtual event, “New Applications for Industrial Robotics” (view session), discusses V6 and its capabilities.

RBR: You’ve developed a platform for end-to-end robotic manufacturing, from design on through to execution on the factory floor. Can you explain the platform’s basic attributes and how it differs from less-advanced simulation systems?

Harsha: The key constant in today’s world is change. We all know that consumers want newer products with more advanced features at lower prices. To meet the demands of the market, the engineering department of any company is constantly evolving their product portfolio, which puts pressure on the manufacturing department to keep pace with the changes.

Traditional offline robotic programming software cannot directly access engineering data, which is often stored in product data management (PDM) systems. If a part design is modified or a weld location is changed, a traditional robot programming solution would force the end user to reprogram the robot, using the latest engineering data. To reduce manufacturing costs and increase product quality, the manufacturing department needs direct access to the latest product and design data. The Dassault Systems V6 solution provides a single database for all product-related information–from concept to end-of-life. Using powerful V6 software from ENOVIA, CATIA, SIMULIA, DELMIA and third-party companies, design and manufacturing departments can access the same product design information, thereby providing a “single source of truth.” When a part design or weld location is changed, DELMIA V6 Robotics allows the end-user to quickly update the robot program and re-validate its operation.

Another drawback of traditional robotic programming software is that it often provides a robot vendor-specific user interface, which is tailored to expert programmers. All V6 products have been designed with simplicity and consistency in mind. Specifically, DELMIA V6 Robotics allows non-specialists to easily create sophisticated programs for any industrial robot. The robotic programs may include sequential motion and input/output instructions, along with advanced logic statements (if-then-else, for loops, variable expressions, etc.). The intuitive user interface reduces programming errors and increases user productivity.

Finally, DELMIA V6 Robotics and DELMIA V6 Automation provide a complete virtual commissioning solution. Using the same user interface and data model, controls engineers can “close the loop,” by validating robot programs and programmable logic controller (PLC) programs in a virtual 3D environment. This allows programming errors to be detected early in the manufacturing process, before the programs are deployed on the shop-floor.

RBR: Does the platform incorporate the characteristics of all available industrial robots an OEM might already possess in its factory the way a universal remote control for an entertainment system incorporates instruction sets for a wide variety of home electronic devices?

Harsha: Absolutely. DELMIA V6 Robotics supports all industrial robot vendors. Out of the box, over 1,200 robot models are provided, each of which includes accurate 3D geometry and robot-specific inverse kinematics. As new robots are released on the market, DELMIA will create the corresponding robot models and deliver them in the next software release. Optionally, the user can create new robot models directly in V6.

All robots can be programmed with one standard Virtual Teach Pendant, which provides table and graphical views of the robot program. The user can simulate the robot program using a default motion planner. If additional accuracy is required, Realistic Robot Simulation I and II (RRS-I and RRS-II) interfaces can be used. These solutions incorporate actual robot control software in the V6 3D simulation environment. After the robot programs are validated, they are converted to native language programs using offline programming translators. The translators are developed in Visual Basic .NET and can be easily customized by the end user, in order to support internal programming conventions. To eliminate any “touch-ups” of the native language programs, the user should calibrate the virtual factory cell with the real resources in the factory. 

Finally, the native language programs are downloaded to the physical robot controller, where they are executed in production.

RBR: What sorts of “what if” exercises can an OEM perform using the platform?

Harsha: DELMIA V6 Robotics allows users to study multiple manufacturing scenarios well before the start of production. Mistakes in factory cell layout and programming can be detected and corrected early in the development process. Using V6, the end user creates a 3D model of the factory cell that includes all relevant resources and products. This model can be used to verify resource and product positioning, end-of-arm tooling positions, robot reachability, robot configuration, and collision-free robot motion. For example, the software can easily detect faulty end-effecting mounts–such as a weld gun that is mounted 90 degrees off. By simulating the robotic program, the user can correct inadvertent motion, such as the robot flipping the weld gun 180 degrees during a move. For ultimate realism, the robot program can include control flow statements (if-then-else, for/while loops, goto, etc) and arithmetic expressions, which are executed during the simulation. The robot programmer can safely detect and correct these issues in a 3D virtual environment, without impacting factory production.

DELMIA V6 Robotics can also be used to optimize robotic programs. By simulating the complete factory cell, the user can determine the overall cycle-time and detect under-utilized robots.  Using the Virtual Teach Pendant, the user can change the speeds of robot motion instructions and even alter input/output signaling to increase resource utilization. Each change can be validated to reduce cycle-time without introducing any collisions. Using the RRS-I and RRS-II solutions, the robot’s motion and cycle-time can be simulated with over 98 percent accuracy. This provides additional optimization opportunities. For ultimate realism and accuracy, V6 supports “hardware-in-the-loop” cell simulation through the integration of actual hardware components (PLC and robot controllers) via industry standard interfaces (OPC and RRS-II).

System integrators can also use DELMIA V6 Robotics to perform reach studies and cycle-time analysis, as well as verify that the robotic system will perform the OEM’s specified functions.  The cycle-time analysis will show how many parts per hour the factory cell can produce, before any hardware is actually ordered.

In summary, DELMIA V6 Robotics provides a powerful offline programming and simulation solution with a state-of-the-art user interface. The solution allows early validation of tooling design and robot behavior in the context of product geometry and factory layout. This significantly reduces the cost of robot programming associated with product changes.

RBR: What industries are most suited to using the platform?

Harsha: DELMIA V6 Robotics can be used in all industries that use industrial robots for material handling, spot welding, arc welding, assembly and disassembly, and machine tending. For example, the V6 solution can benefit the following industries: automotive (spot welding and material handling), aerospace (riveting, composites), nuclear (remote handling), industrial equipment and consumer goods (arc welding), and high-tech (material handling, assembly and disassembly). V6 development partners are currently developing applications for other robotics processes.

RBR: What are some ways the platform might improve collaboration among the engineering and manufacturing departments, as well as suppliers?

Harsha: The new theme today is “manufacturing driven design,” where the engineering department wants to accommodate the constraints of the existing manufacturing setup while they start designing new products. The issue resolution process between the engineering and manufacturing departments will be highly efficient using V6, because everyone is able to collaborate using a single database instance. Also, an OEM can engage suppliers in the early phase of the design process, which enables errors to be identified and corrected well before production starts. This will significantly reduce manufacturing costs, improve product quality, reduce time to market, and support “green manufacturing.”

RBR: Can a design be optimized for an OEM’s existing inventory of robots and fixtures?

Harsha: You raised a very interesting point here. Japanese manufacturers are the pioneers in the domain of reusability. For any new car program, a senior plant manager would start by asking his subordinates to check how many existing robots, guns, and associated fixtures could be reused to accommodate the new model on the same vehicle platform or a variant of an existing line. The DELMIA V6 solution fully addresses this scenario by providing a platform to perform virtual manufacturing analysis and make informed decisions on any new investments in the factory.

RBR: When the platform creates a plan for actually manufacturing the product it has designed, does that plan take into account varying speeds with which different robotic cells used by the OEM are able to perform their assigned functions?

Harsha: The DELMIA V6 integrated solution allows full definition of mechanical devices, including kinematics and motion constraints, for fixtures, conveyors, grippers, guns, and robots.  Users can create reusable controller profiles (motion, accuracy, tool, object, etc.) and define inverse kinematics strategies. During simulation, joint and tool center point (TCP) values are constantly monitored to make sure they are within specified travel limits. Further, analysis tools such as collision detection, spatial measurements, and resource cycle-times are available to validate resource tasks. A graphical sequence editor is provided to sequence multiple devices in the factory. The user can simulate the complete factory behavior, in order to validate and optimize the robot programs and input/output connections. All this is done in a virtual 3D environment, without incurring production downtime.

RBR: If digital manufacturing has reduced the development time for a car from years to months, how much shorter is the time-to-market likely to get in the years ahead, given that there will continue to be innovations in your platform and those of your competitors?

Harsha: In order to respond to projected short model runs and already abbreviated production lifecycles, the production lines that are comprised of control systems, conveyors, robots, welding and fastening systems, paint systems, metal forming and stamping machines, and factory networking infrastructure must be designed, installed, and commissioned in a very optimized and efficient manner.

With recent advancements in technology, we see that more focus is shifting towards so-called virtual commissioning or virtual controls validation, which allows a company to validate and optimize their controls logic early in the system-planning stages, as opposed to performing physical shop-floor validation. In the latter case, implementing changes is both restrictive and expensive, and this is one of the primary contributors to production delays.

The DELMIA V6 platform allows users to connect any PLC to the 3D simulation of the factory cell, and use the actual PLC logic to control the simulation of the manufacturing processes. All possible “what if” scenarios can be tested with the virtual equipment connected to the real PLC and human machine interface (HMI). Streamlining the design, validation and commissioning of production systems will be a key factor for manufacturers to realize cost-effective and efficient product launches.