Integrating enterprise resource planning (ERP) to computer-aided design (CAD) is complex. There’s something about the disparity of data and the incompatibility of data models, the one-to-one correspondence--or sometimes lack thereof--between an item and its corresponding data objects. For instance, a part in CAD can translate as different objects in ERP; a manufactured product can be both an item and a bill of material (BOM) in ERP while a resale product, only an item. Different business rules apply, and these can be difficult to master for those IT professionals who rarely integrate such manufacturing systems.
Agni Link from Elmo Solutions, Inc. (elmosolutions.com) is a turnkey product (or as close to turnkey as possible; a.k.a., commercial-off-the-shelf product) that simplifies this integration. It’s software that creates a direct, on-line, bidirectional connection between ERP and the associated CAD product data. An update to product data within ERP or CAD causes Agni Link to analyze the data, resolve discrepancies, prompt the user to edit the data, and once the data are approved, simultaneously updates ERP and CAD product data, including parts, assemblies, BOMs, and routing instructions.
Data are synchronized; redundant, manual data entry is eliminated; and production errors from obsolete documentation, such as outdated BOMs and routing instructions, are minimized.
Cool features in 2012
Agni Link uses a variety of technologies to integrate ERP to CAD, including SQL queries, SQL stored procedures, XML export, and plain text export. The latest version, Agni Link 2012, adds the native web services of the applications, typically ERP, to support cloud-based operations. This approach ensures that data updates in Agni Link go through the ERP business logic.
The fact is, ERP rules in Agni Link. That is, when entering data in CAD, such as raw materials and component types, Agni Link only allows valid entries as defined in ERP. Agni Link’s lookup feature will directly query the live ERP data and populate the CAD system with only that live data. Because the lookup feature uses multithreaded programming technology, new in version 2012, Agni Link can easily and quickly query, sort, and display those data from the ERP item master database. That can involve hundreds of thousands of entries. (This used to take minutes. With multithreading, lookups are essentially immediate. Incidentally, lookups can contain wildcards.) As required, Agni Link can automatically create CAD BOMs from ERP BOMs. All BOM levels in ERP can be synchronized in a single operation.
On the CAD side, editing a component or assembly on a CAD drawing automatically prompts a scrolling list showing the manufacturing steps to make that item. People can add or remove steps, as well as change the sequence of steps. When complete, Agni Link automatically inserts routing instructions in a drawing and sends the updated routing table to ERP. Agni Link will also notify CAD users when ERP BOMs have changed. Plus, up to two printers can be defined for each drawing so that, for instance, a hard copy and an electronic version (PDF, DWF, etc.) of the drawing will be automatically generated when needed.
Agni Link 2012 includes a Configuration Wizard that does more than map the data between the respective data dictionaries in ERP and CAD, says Ricardo Talbot, science officer for Elmo Solutions. (Science officer? Actually, he’s founder and, up to about a decade ago, president, CEO, and general manager. Then he brought somebody on board for operations, which let him “build my own sandbox and have fun doing” software R&D, which is really what he prefers to do. Plus, “I’ve always been an admirer of Mr. Spock.”)
The Configuration Wizard establishes “correspondences,” says Talbot—“basically a mapping plus a complete and exhaustive description of all the behaviors that we want that data to adopt.” For example, should data be updated in CAD, in ERP, or both? Should end users see the synchronization between CAD and ERP? And what data prevail when a discrepancy exists between data objects? Most of the time, Talbot says, “it’s the same decision. If a discrepancy exists between the description in ERP and in CAD, ERP usually prevails. We try to make these synchronizations as transparent as possible.”
Some additional details
Agni Link is a client/server product. The client runs as an add-in to the client application (currently AutoCAD, Inventor, and Vault from Autodesk, and SolidWorks 3D CAD and SolidWorks Enterprise PDM from Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corp.); the server component runs on or near the SQL or ERP server (all flavors of Microsoft Dynamics, Consona Intuitive ERP, and Orchestra pour PME). Actually, Agni Link can synchronize a wide range of data from almost any system to another—PLM, ERP, CAD, PDM, BPM (business process management), and so on. “It’s more like a product data integrator,” points out Talbot.
The cost of the software depends on the number of users, but that discussion quickly leads to return on investment (ROI). Talbot says the ROI is typically less than 90 days. For larger installations, he’s never seen ROI exceed 12 months. For $5,000, the company’s JumpStart program provides implementation support, including implementation planning, design of initial configuration (hardware, software, and both data and network infrastructure), training, and technical support throughout implementation. “We even do an after-the-fact ROI assessment to reassure the person who has signed the check,” adds Talbot.
Talbot admits that transcription time is the only reliable factor in figuring ROI. But, he adds, when using Agni Link to communicate changes from the engineering department to the shop floor, “the bigger payoff is really in eliminating costly errors on the shop floor and in optimizing product yield.” That payoff includes making ERP data available to engineering, making updated BOM and routing instructions available to production, making current BOMs available to accounting, and making “a wealth of product data available in a more timely fashion” to executive management.
PLM for Designing Seats?
Futuris Automotive, a global seating supplier based in Australia but with operations globally and global customers including General Motors, Ford, Tesla, Chery, and Jianghuai Automotive, is using product lifecycle management (PLM) for the development and design of its seats.
OK. That’s not precisely the case.
But the software portfolio that Futuris is using, Seat Design Environment (SDE), is part of the Siemens PLM Software (siemens.com/plm) offerings. Essentially, SDE, which is claimed to be “the first-ever seat design software application that addresses the entire seat engineering process,” will allow Futuris to create flat patterns, as well as various documents germane to seating system development. The SDE will provide a complete digital product definition of a seat system, which not only facilitates sharing of design detail, but also reduces the need for physical prototypes.
Explained Brian Thiele, executive manager, Engineering & Development, Futuris, about the selection, “Time is of the essence in the automotive business, wither you’re talking about preparing bids or delivering new products. Based on our evaluation, we believe that SDE will enable us to save a significant amount of time, perhaps as much as two weeks in the development of initial flat patterns. The addition of this technology will complement our existing processes and add to our competitive advantage.”
Specific capabilities of SDE are:
• Digitally define styling and material requirements, and share details across seat engineering teams
• Assess producibility—as in assuring that there will be no wrinkles or deformation
• Generate flat patterns (2D) and then capture any downstream alterations or design modifications for inclusion back in the 3D master model
• Generate engineering drawings and data for design documentation, process planning and manufacturing
• Analyze cost (material and labor) early in the process
• Access material and part databases
• Maintain compatibility with existing systems, such as the nesting and cutting systems used.
Commenting on the functionality of the product, Ed Bernardon, vp, Strategic Automotive Initiatives, Specialized Engineering Software, Siemens PLM Software, said, “Seat cover manufacturers need to get to market quickly and on budget. SDE empowers manufacturers to meet this goal by enabling them to efficiently create the engineering and manufacturing documents and data needed to fully define seat trim covers. This is done through the user interface that matches the processes and approach used by engineers to produce seat trim covers. We’re particularly pleased to have the opportunity to work with Futuris, one of the leading suppliers for seating systems, to help them meet their targets in an increasingly competitive market.”