Greater business success directly linked to PLM
BKL uses Teamcenter and NX to implement secure supply chain approach, significantly improving certification process – from development all the way to inspection
The important role and high demands of tooling
The development and production of tools for the assembly of large machines is a special area within mechanical engineering. Even though this is not a core activity for machine manufacturers, without tooling the machine cannot be tested or installed. At the same time, strict requirements are demanded from tooling, especially in the case of hoisting and lifting gear.
Tooling is the specialty of BKL Engineering BV. Established 25 years ago in Nuenen, within the Dutch province of North Brabant, the family business started as a mechanical engineering design office. Over the years, BKL has grown to become a developer and producer of customized machines and tooling – with tooling now forming its main activity.
“Tooling is actually nothing more than a type of tailor-made special machine engineering,” explains Albert van Bakel, general manager, BKL Engineering. “Our emphasis on tooling stemmed from what used to be a secondary activity of mechanical engineering for the semiconductor and electronics industry. We saw that the development, production and maintenance of tooling were not core activities for our customers. So, we offer it to our customers as a supply chain activity. This includes managing the technical engineering file, as well as performing CE compliance, annual inspections, servicing and maintenance. BKL ‘takes care’ of the customer. We are the only one to offer this supply-chain approach.” (Note: CE, an acronym for the French “Conformité Européenne,” certifies that a product has met European Union health, safety and environmental requirements to ensure consumer safety.) To carry out inspections at a qualitatively high level, BKL is supervised by the Council for Accreditation (Raad voor Accreditatie), an independent institution. BKL works for customers whose headquarters are situated within roughly a 100-kilometer radius around Eindhoven, as well as for subsidiaries of these customers, which are located around the world.
Closed-loop process – Teamcenter
At any time, BKL must be able to show that its machines and tooling comply with the applicable machine requirements. This means that its development, production, inspection and maintenance activities must be part of a closed-loop process.
Here, Siemens’ Teamcenter® software, preconfigured for rapid deployment and fast return on investment, plays a key role. “The whole process must be safeguarded in a clear manner,” says Van Bakel. He explains, “Every stage must be documented and appointed – from the initial package of specifications up to the maintenance that’s carried out and the inspection reports. This is the basis of our business. To achieve that, we decided to invest in an in-house product lifecycle management (PLM) application: Teamcenter.”
Even though BKL already had Teamcenter capabilities installed, it was looking to extend and standardize its PLM environment. It wanted a new installation with additional functions, such as workflow support for its release process and Microsoft Office® integration capabilities to store all of its most important documents with ease.
The right technology for BKL’s special needs – NX
Van Bakel enumerates the capabilities for which BKL was looking: “Process management starts with the very first project specifications. Within BKL we have developed our own methodology to rapidly and clearly define all necessary customer information. This documentation is also the basis for the order and is naturally managed just like the definition of the interfaces between the machine and its tooling. Moreover, these interfaces remain the responsibility of the customer who must inform BKL of any modifications.”
With respect to its design process, BKL has standardized on Siemens’ NX™ software, the product development solution adopted by a significant number of OEMs in the industrial region of Eindhoven. According to Van Bakel, “We did not opt for this just to have another customer-related CAD application in-house. Rather, we consider NX to be our preferred system. In addition, we wanted to integrate several CAD applications with Teamcenter, so we could manage all of our designs.”
This integration also had to work with the special machines developed by BKL. Moreover, integrated management was a key requirement for BKL’s success. “For the most part, our special machine engineering work is aimed at improving production,” says Van Bakel. “In this respect, existing lines are adapted where their CE marking is no longer valid locally. We provide a comprehensive technical engineering file and the necessary declarations of CE conformity. The machine can then be put in service after inspection.”
BKL Engineering performs these activities for customers in different markets. As Van Bakel indicates, “We use the modular working method when we develop machines in NX. Designs are subdivided into modules, where functions, weight and maintenance play a part. NX offers a variety of functions to create and manage these divisions so that the application does not impose any limits on us when we design.”
In addition to managing mechanical design and documentation, BKL Engineering uses Teamcenter to manage electrical engineering designs, programmable logic controller (PLC) software and computation results for CE, particularly finite element analysis. “The electrical engineering diagrams and the PLC software are both managed as a document,” explains John de Smit, technical manager, BKL Engineering. “Once the project has been completed, the output from the applications is placed under the control of Teamcenter. The basis of the computation itself, as well as the load case, the results and the analysis of the results are managed via Teamcenter, with the analysis of the results particularly important to an inspection body.”
When discussing designs with its customers, BKL primarily uses visual presentations, including screen images and the NX design itself. While BKL’s customer base is not quite fully ready for discussing designs online, De Smit notes, “The penetration rate of PLM in our industrial environment is growing rapidly, which makes it possible to intensify cooperation. Online discussions will automatically be in the picture as a result.”
Since the starting points are clearly set out by BKL at the beginning of a project and are consistently managed by its PLM environment, customer approval is also a well-delineated activity. De Smit notes, “Both the customer and BKL know exactly what their mutual obligations are. This promotes clarity and forms the basis for long-standing cooperation.”
BKL production is driven by the parts list. “At the moment, we are still intentionally opting for a parts list as a separate document derived from the NX design,” De Smit explains. “Internal production, purchasing and subcontracting stem from it. We are selective in what we produce in-house and we put out to contract when it makes sense. In this respect, capacity and flexibility are the criteria on which we base our decision. We have a set network of suppliers in the region who have the capacity to produce directly from our 3D designs.”
Addressing SMEs – Parasolid
The company’s own 3-axis milling machine is driven by a computer numerical control (CNC) software package, specially developed for small- and medium-sized enterprises or SMEs. The CNC software works directly with Siemens’ Parasolid® software part models to develop programs that drive the milling machines. (Note: Parasolid is the world’s leading production-proven 3D geometric modeling component software, providing core functionality that enables users of products based on Parasolid to rapidly and robustly model the industry’s most complex products.) All assembly work is carried out in-house.
BKL’s documentation for assembly and adjustment instructions consists of drawings, screen shots, the parts list and Microsoft Office® documents. “These documents are also kept under the control of Teamcenter,” De Smit says. “When a design is modified, the documentation is checked for the required adjustments as part of our workflows. This is a good workable solution for us.”
Key safeguards and the results they deliver
In the past several years, BKL has gained a great deal of experience with PLM by using Teamcenter for activities ranging from the very first customer meetings all the way to the inspection and maintenance stages. “Without doubt, PLM has played a positive role in our business success,” concludes Van Bakel. “Better than ever before, we can safeguard our processes and that is acknowledged and rewarded by both the customer and the accrediting body. In other words, we have become more successful. In-house, we notice a clear reduction in the lead time and a fall in costs simply because everything is done right the first time and can be retrieved and re-used immediately. This approach pays us back at the maintenance and inspection stages and, in our opinion, it constitutes a very strong point for PLM.”