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PLM Case Study - US Marine

Published in Document Management Magazine

IMAN Implementation Helps Reduce Development Time by up to 50 Percent, Improves Quality

by Pat Walker

Design Engineering Manager

US Marine

Arlington, Washington

“Implementation of the Information Manager (IMAN) product data management (PDM) system is helping US Marine reduce development time by up to 50 percent while improving product quality,” says Pat Walker, Engineering Technology and Process Manager. “IMAN provides a tool to facilitate that information created early in the design process is captured, enabling US Marine to make more informed decisions resulting in better products. Also, the PDM system is helping users to find parts and other related information quickly and easily through a simple to use, single common interface. This makes it possible to better reuse previously designed parts, reducing costs and improving quality.

As a result, instead of designing boats from scratch as in the past, engineers can use existing components for most of the design and focus their energy on the areas of the boat that are really new. By integrating closely with users throughout the development process, the PDM system also provides an accurate definition of the design intent that is now used to create more accurate CNC programs and manufacturing and quality control documents.”

Based in Arlington, Washington, US Marine is the worldwide leader in the marketing and manufacturing of pleasure boats, including such well-known brands as Bayliner, Maxum and Robalo. The firm is a division of Brunswick Corporation, a multinational company serving the outdoor and indoor active recreation markets with consumer products that include such leading brands as Zebco and Quantum fishing reels; American Camper and Remington camping gear; Igloo coolers and ice chests; Mercury, Mariner and Force outboard engines and many others. US Marine’s Maxum sport boats include features such as insulated ice wells, drainable ski lockers, lockable gloveboxes, flush-mounted compartment lids, a deep freeboard, aggressive non-skid, well-positioned grab rails, clutter-free cockpits, premium upholstery, upgraded sound systems and optimized performance and handling packages. What does it all add up to? A unique sense of ease and elegance that makes Maxum sport boats fun to run.

US Marine first invested in the Unigraphics® CAD/CAM system in the early 1990s and achieved substantial improvements in productivity and accuracy by gaining the ability to define the complex curves that make up a boat’s hull and other components as a mathematically accurate solid model. The plug used to create the mold that produces the hull and other tooling is now machined directly from the solid model. Tooling durations on typical hulls are now only 4 weeks, compared to the 12 weeks that were required in the past using traditional manual methods. Accuracy is greatly improved because the plugs produced by the new approach more accurately reflect the design definition. “We felt we could continue to improve our quality and time to market because each boat still had to be designed from scratch, in spite of the fact that many of the components were very similar to earlier designs,” says Walker. “One problem was that many changes were made to the design during the prototyping process, making it risky to rely on the accuracy of the model. Secondly, engineers found it almost impossible to find files containing earlier designs that might be of use. This meant that improvements could be made if information could be better shared and made available to these users earlier in the process.”

Selection and implementation

“We asked four leading PDM vendors to submit proposals of how their offerings could meet the company’s needs,” says Walker. “Of the four, two demonstrated the ability to meet the company’s essential needs. The final deciding factor was the ability to integrate with the product development environment. It was clear that the information created in design development was key and would need to be shared with users throughout the organization. We selected the IMAN PDM system because IMAN provides such a seamless interface that engineers barely need to be aware that they are using a PDM system. Another advantage was IMAN’s ability to deliver a joint application development methodology that allowed them to guarantee completion of the first phase of implementation including producing an engineering bill of materials (BOM) quickly from the design environment in only 10 weeks. This was especially impressive considering a sister division struggled for 15 months with a PDM implementation before giving up in frustration.”

The maturity and stability of IMAN, evidenced by the fact that it has provided a common architecture and migration path for nearly a decade, was a critical factor in successfully completing the first phase of the implementation on schedule. IMAN® product data management system stores, tracks and manages product and process information in a single logical database, creating links that allow easy access to improve enterprise-wide collaboration. US Marine was also looking for a solution that would enable it to link its development to production. This required a link between IMAN and its enterprise resources planning (ERP) system. The requirement was to share multilevel bills of materials to the ERP system. The resulting electronic transfer of information speeded up the product development process and improved data handling. IMAN provided the tools needed to help US Marine meet its requirements and link together the engineering and production environment.

Design Collaboration

Simultaneously, US Marine knew there were improvements that could be made in the way its engineers worked together. They implemented the master model concept, the ability for multiple engineers to work on a single design simultaneously. This significantly improves their ability to collaborate early in the design process. The master model concept, one enabler for design collaboration, allows multiple users to make changes simultaneously to the product package. All related information is automatically updated when changes are made to the master part file.

If, for example, the engineer forgets a hole in a bulkhead or if the manufacturing engineer needs to break the assembly into smaller pieces for handling purposes, the CNC technician is able to make the change on the master part file. The next time the product package is accessed by the engineer the changes made by the technician are easily seen. The next time the documentor accesses the page describing the assembly, it is automatically updated. The next time the BOM is accessed, the item master and assemblies also have been automatically revised and are correct. Everything is updated in real time from the master data. When the team says the product is ready, the entire master model is formatted and passed to the ERP system.

This eliminates the previously time-consuming job of writing down every item used in the boat and later entering it into the mainframe MRP system. Since this task lay on the critical path, the time savings translate directly into faster time to market. IMAN is focused on providing the infrastructure, the applications and the rules to enable collaboration including the support of the master model concept.

Downstream applications

The information created early in the development process represents the actual boat. This makes it possible to use visualization tools to fully leverage information throughout the product life cycle. “We are planning to use this information, made available graphically, visually, immediately and in a format easily understood by downstream users, to help manufacturing, customer service, dealers and customers make decisions faster based on accurate information,” says Walker. “This will improve the overall quality and time to market for US Marine. For example, shop floor manufacturing personnel will be able to obtain online access to the latest, as well as historical, geometry in 3-D without having to go to paper-based drawings. The need for physical prototypes will be reduced by using a combination of visualization technologies and IMAN. The recent release of a no-installation Web browser interface to the PDM system opens up the opportunity to provide access to a wide range of downstream users, including purchasing, sales support, real-time parts catalogs, services manuals and customer service.”

Dramatic time savings

The 23-foot Maxum Cuddy was the first boat designed using IMAN. As often with new technologies, the challenge was to communicate and train users on the value of learning and adapting to the new systems. The benefits of reduced costs, improved quality and improved time to market were easily seen by management but needed to be communicated to the actual users of IMAN. “Within about a month, nearly all users had exceeded their earlier productivity levels and became comfortable with the master model concept as its advantages started to be realized even by those who initially were doubters,” says Walker. “We knew they had achieved a significant milestone when midway through this project one of the most skeptical users in an unguarded moment said: ‘You know, I think this thing is going to work.’ Significant time savings were achieved on this project, and even greater savings are expected in downstream activities due to the existence of a master model that actually reflects the boat being built.”

With the learning curve behind them, engineers are currently developing a new 23-foot Maxum Bowrider and experiencing dramatic time savings. This design was based on the master model of the Maxum Cuddy, so only the bow of the boat needs to be designed from scratch. The rest of the design simply carried over from the existing master model. With the development process well under way, Walker estimates that 50 percent time savings will be achieved relative to the previous approach and expect to achieve savings of this magnitude or greater on all future new products.

“A good indicator of the time savings can be seen in the fact that 5 gigabytes of product design information were created in typical previous years, while in the last year only 1 gigabyte of new CAD data was needed,” says Walker. IMAN has reduced the number of custom parts being designed and made the information more efficient. Walker expects even substantially greater savings will be achieved in downstream processes since the PDM system touches only 42 engineers but literally hundreds of downstream users.

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