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Keeping in Touch PUBLIC ACCESS

A Product Doesn't Just Disappear into the Ether After Design; It Leaves Tracks to Follow in the Real World.

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Associate Editor

Mechanical Engineering 124(09), 50-52 (Sep 01, 2002) (3 pages) doi:10.1115/1.2002-SEP-3

This article reviews product life cycle management (PLM) software. The PLM technology used in product creation can be reactivated farther down a product’s life. Some companies couple PLM—which allows engineers and manufacturers to exchange design files and communicate about product development—with a mix of other technologies to forecast a product’s life and to come up with more environmentally friendly products. Because mechanical and manufacturing engineers, designers, marketers, and many others are involved in creating a product, a PLM system helps these people exchange plans and ideas via the Internet, whatever their location, to brainstorm design and manufacturing. PLM technology, often thought of as a tool that is useful in the first stages of product design and manufacture, is now being used to project a product’s life, to follow a product even after it is sold, and to ensure an environmentally sound product in the first place. This article reviews product life cycle management (PLM) software. The PLM technology used in product creation can be reactivated farther down a product’s life. Some companies couple PLM—which allows engineers and manufacturers to exchange design files and communicate about product development—with a mix of other technologies to forecast a product’s life and to come up with more environmentally friendly products. Because mechanical and manufacturing engineers, designers, marketers, and many others are involved in creating a product, a PLM system helps these people exchange plans and ideas via the Internet, whatever their location, to brainstorm design and manufacturing. PLM technology, often thought of as a tool that is useful in the first stages of product design and manufacture, is now being used to project a product’s life, to follow a product even after it is sold, and to ensure an environmentally sound product in the first place.

Technology that helps engineers pass design ideas back and forth and brainstorm with others involved in a project can be harnessed down the line in a product's life to provide much-needed information about those early days. Equally important, it can encourage engineers involved at the beginning of a product—during its design-to think about how it will be used during its entire life. It's sort of like making sure that children are inoculated against diseases they might encounter later in life.

By using technology to forecast and plan for the uses of products such as computers and automobiles before they're even created, engineers and manufacturers can minimize the environmental impact the products will have at the end of their useful lives. And the same technology used in product creation, called product life cycle management, or PLM, software, can be reactivated farther down a product's life-for instance, when the owner of a Peugeot wants to find out what's causing that billowing smoke from the exhaust.

PLM isn't always thought of as forward-thinking technology because it's used mainly at the front end of product creation. But it leaves a rich trail of information about original design and marketing intent that can be called upon later.

Some companies couple PLM-which allows engineers and manufacturers to exchange design files and Communicate about product development-with a mix of other technologies to forecast a product's life and to come up with more environmentally friendly products. Companies, such as the French automaker Peugeot, use a blend of technologies, including PLM, to give them contact with products long after they've been driven off the lot. Peugeot's technology, from IBM, uses a vehicle's original engineering and bill of materials information to troubleshoot problems that crop up for owners anywhere down the road.

PSA Peugeot Citroen uses a technology called Tele-Assistance, from IBM, that ties together a blend of software and hardware applications, including the PLM system, to remotely diagnose problems with cars that might have been sold years ago.

Grahic Jump LocationPSA Peugeot Citroen uses a technology called Tele-Assistance, from IBM, that ties together a blend of software and hardware applications, including the PLM system, to remotely diagnose problems with cars that might have been sold years ago.

PLM also comes into play in a method of envirom11entally friendly product design called design for the environment. Government agencies and some manufacturers have found economic value in designing and manufacturing products with parts that can be recycled after the product is at the end of its service life. Recycled parts might take their place as material in a new product, rather than be tossed into a landfill, according to the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance.

Ironically, it's the quickly changing technology landscape, in which new software applications and computer upgrades are introduced at ever-faster rates, that takes a heavy toll on the environment. It does so by introducing heavy and toxic metals into the waste stream, according to several studies, which say that the need to design products made partly of reused material is crucial to America's current technological state. Each computer or television display contains an average of 4 to 8 pounds of lead. Cathode ray tubes used in computer monitors and TV sets are hazardous waste, which is banned from California landfills, according to a March 2001 letter from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Computers are discarded fairly rapidly these days, what with constant innovation and greater affordability. About 315 million computers will have become obsolete between 1997 and 2004, and together they'll contain more than 1.2 billion pounds of lead, according to the letter.

The Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance urges manufacturers to harness product lifecycle management technology to help reduce this technological waste. In design for environment, PLM is helpful in the very early design stages by cuing engineers as they track design changes and exchange information to consider the environmental impacts of a product throughout its lifecycle.

Potential environmental impacts range from the release of toxic chemicals into the waste stream to consumption of nonrenewable resources and excessive energy use, according to the Minnesota OEA. So, product life cycle management might be used to link engineers and manufacturers while they design and produce a computer made with less lead, or one that runs on less energy than past models. Used this way, a PLM software application ties together all stages of design and manufacturing in determining the most envirom1Lentally sound method of production and the most suitable materials, both for the product and for the environment.

Because mechanical and manufacturing engineers, designers, marketers, and many others are involved in creating a product, a PLM system helps these people exchange plans and ideas via the Internet, whatever their location, to brainstorm design and manufacturing.

The Minnesota environmental office defines five stages of a product's life. In each stage, the PLM system can be used to consider the product's environmental impact.

During the design stage, for example, engineers determine the raw materials that will make up the product. They can choose low-impact materials that can be more readily recycled than other materials. At manufacture, engineers can find methods of making products that use less energy than other production methods.

The packaging and distribution stage is the point at which the product can be minimally packaged and sent on an efficiently planned delivery route.

The Minnesota OEA defines the use and maintenance stage as the time after the customer buys the product until the customer is ready to dispose of it. Here, technologies tied to the PLM system, like the one used at Peugeot, come into play.

At the end of its life, the product, of course, is recycled, remanufactured, or sent to a dump or incinerator. If engineers chose to use easily recyclable products during product creation, fewer materials wind up in a landfill.

Other nations have already passed laws that stipulate design for environment, such as Japan's Electric Home Appliance Recycling Law that took effect last year. Under the law, manufacturers must ensure that their product is recycled when it can't be used anymore. A take-back scheme has to be in place, too, so the product can be easily dropped off for recycling.

Since 1991, Germany, the first nation to pass packaging laws, has required manufacturers to assume the costs of collecting and recycling used packaging.

The French automaker PSA Peugeot Citroen has found a way to incorporate its PLM system during the us e and maintenance stage of its vehicles' lives. At that stage, when a customer is using the product on a regular basis, it might become easy for the manufacturer to be out of the loop.

But Peugeot is using a technology system called Tele-Assistance that ties together a blend of software and hardware applications, including the PLM system, to remotely diagnose vehicles that might have been sold years ago. The system, which is hooked up to the car while it's in the garage for repair, uses the vehicle's original bill of materials and information about its current operating state to help find and fix problems. In some particularly hard-to-diagnose cases, the engineer who helped design the vehicle might even be consulted via the Internet.

"We give the service technician everything that he needs to do a particular repair job," said Alan Chakra, the director of IBM's Service After Sales Solutions division, which provides the technology to Peugeot. IBM's PLM team, which makes Enovia software, also helped to develop the system.

Chakra's division makes software that focuses on a product during what he calls its service lifecycle; that is, during its use by consumers. Such technology helps cut warranty expenses for manufacturers, reduces labor costs, increases parts and service business after the warranty expires, and saves time needed to solve repair problems, he said.

"Let's say you have a Peugeot of some kind and you go into the dealership to get it fixed," Chakra said. "The technician may not have seen a case like this, so he might try many things to see if they work."

Peugeot's Tele-Assistance system is connected to the car while it's in the garage for repair. It uses the vehicle's bill of materials and information about its operating state to help find and fix problems.

Grahic Jump LocationPeugeot's Tele-Assistance system is connected to the car while it's in the garage for repair. It uses the vehicle's bill of materials and information about its operating state to help find and fix problems.

But using Tele-Assistance, in place at Peugeot since 1999, the technician enters into the computer the vehicle serial number and, like a doctor, also enters a list of symptoms (black smoke billows from the exhaust pipe when the car is moving, for example). The system tells him of any part recalls that might be affecting the vehicle.

If a recalled part isn't the problem, the technician then plugs what's called a diagnostic connector under the dashboard and plugs the other end into a computer attached to the Tele-Assistance server. The connector loads all the codes from the vehicle's many minicomputers into the system. This is like taking an X-ray of the vehicle. All its internal workings are documented and displayed on a screen viewed by an off-site expert who helps with diagnosis.

" If a sensor has failed, it says why it failed, what time it failed, and under what load it failed," Chakra said. "We know everything that's inside this particular vehicle, and we've got the BOM, so we know how it's supposed to run. We know what software components are in the control unit. Based on that, the server builds a profile for this particular vehicle."

The system houses information on thousands of other cars of the same make and model as the one in the garage, Chakra said. It's a veritable database of past problems with similar cars, attendant information on why those problems cropped up, and how they were successfully repaired.

"The reason Peugeot launched this technology in the first place is because its vehicles went from one computer on board, to vehicles with a local area network on board, to what they call a canbus—a controller area network," Chakra said. "In these cars you can get up to 30 computers connected on a network. One computer operates the security system, one the dashboard, one the radio, another the windows, another the engine.

"Peugeot needed some kind of software to support this population of highly complex vehicles," he said.

Eight thousand Peugeot automobiles are made every day, said Jean-Philippe Fournier, Peugeot's technical director for parts and services. The system has allowed Peugeot technicians to diagnose and repair 80 percent of its cars within one day, rather than the several days it might take without the Tele-Assistance system, he said.

"Let's say a vehicle fails in Sao Paolo," Chakra said. " If the technician can't fix it, he can call a number and speak to someone who speaks his language."

The expert on the other end of the line is certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. He or she requests the dealership identification number, asks about the issue at hand, and then consults a computer that shows-live via the Internet-all the data coming from the vehicle.

"So the expert is doing diagnostics on the vehicle with the technician on the line with him," Chakra said. The expert has easy access to these 10,000 past cases in the system. He can tell the technician, 'Okay, we've seen this before. This is what you do.'"

In some particularly hard-to-diagnose Peugeot cars, the engineer who helped design the vehicle can be consulted via the Internet to help uncover the problem and repair it.

Grahic Jump LocationIn some particularly hard-to-diagnose Peugeot cars, the engineer who helped design the vehicle can be consulted via the Internet to help uncover the problem and repair it.

If the diagnostic expert can't fix the problem, the engineers who originally worked on the vehicle can be consulted. The minute the vehicle is fixed, the system is automatically updated to include the new solution in its database for future reference.

The Tele-Assistance system grew out of similar technology developed at IBM and used for the computers it makes, Chakra said. IBM servers that use the technology send a message—usually via a pager or cellular phone—when one of their parts is about to go bad.

"When you have a server supporting a company that has 10,000 workstations attached to it, you can't afford to have the server go down," Chakra said. "So the server is attached to a diagnostic server. Before the server starts having problems, it can say, 'I'm getting ready to fail. I have a component ready to fail.'

"IBM ships the necessary part to the customer before you have a failure. That's the whole idea that spawned the automaker idea," he added.

The remote monitoring component is the next step in the Tele-Assistance system, Chakra added. IBM officials next envision a wireless link that connects the vehicle, via a cellular telephone, to a customer support center. Computers at the center would monitor the vehicle to see if a part is about to break or a sensor is ready to fail.

If something is about to go wrong, the driver would get a phone call that says, for example, the engine is about ready to overheat or the clutch is starting to slip. Taking advantage of global positioning technology, the system could also tell the driver where the nearest Peugeot service center is and exactly how to get there.

Sales and marketing people are currently using the Tele-Assistance system at Peugeot to profile vehicles. They can figure out how long, on average, a model will run until it needs servicing. Chakra expects the system to be used for more marketing efforts in the future.

PLM technology, often thought of as a tool that's useful in the first stages of product design and manufacture, is now being used to project a product's life, to follow a product even after it's sold, and to ensure an environmentally sound product in the first place.

Copyright © 2002 by ASME
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