Single data source drives efficiency for marque bus and coach line
Alexander Dennis uses Solid Edge and Teamcenter to fuse design and engineering with manufacturing; company improves product quality and time to market while reducing costs
Pioneering chassis and body design
There’s a popular saying, “You wait ages for a bus, then three come along together.” Preferably when your bus comes along, it will be made by Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL), which produces the famous brand names of Alexander, Dennis and Plaxton.
The sole manufacturer of fullsize bus and coach chassis in the United Kingdom (UK), ADL produces innovative and fuel efficient, low floor single and double deck buses in the UK, continental Asia and North America.
ADL pioneered both “low floor double deck” and “midibus” technology; the company was first to market with a revolutionary hybrid drive system for single and double deck buses; and it launched the world’s first high capacity hybrid double deck.
ADL uses Solid Edge® software and Teamcenter® software, both from Siemens, to design and manage its products, which are renowned for delivering fuel and CO2 savings, durability, styling, comfort and space.
Quick win with Teamcenter
Alexander Dennis first began using Solid Edge CAD technology in 1997 and adopted it across all sites in 2002. According to ADL management, this opened up new possibilities as well as potential difficulties: “People wanted to access drawings electronically yet it would take two to three days to locate a drawing, print it off and deliver it to a supplier, and in some cases the distribution of electronic drawing files could take up to two weeks. We recognized that we were having problems managing the 100,000 CAD files generated by 60 engineers across the group. The worst incident was when one team overwrote the work of another on a shared axle component. It took three engineers a week to piece the overwritten design together again. We’ve always enjoyed the benefits of Solid Edge. So the decision to implement Teamcenter at the Guildford site was not difficult.”
ADL began by keeping release drawings in the Teamcenter digital lifecycle management system, retaining separately stored images of the drawings open for viewing. ADL management points out, “Teamcenter was a quick win, because it gave our suppliers instant access to drawing information via the web. It immediately cut the reprographic costs of distributing design information, which was more than £10,000 per year for the consumables alone. Design information was available for the first time to anyone who needed it within a couple of minutes. This proved to be so useful we decided to go further. In particular, we wanted to ensure that only one person at a time could check out a design so that we could control revisions. The aim was to pull together isolated electronic or paper-based systems, avoid re-entry of data, improve network performance, increase our use of duplicate parts, and manage data exchange between sites and with suppliers.”
Creating a single source of reliable data
It was clear that the Guildford site would need to rebuild its CAD database in order to create a CAD data vault, which the company considered its foundation for controlled access to CAD data. To do this, ADL used the Solid Edge embedded client as an interface with Teamcenter. “This is a comprehensive set of powerful tools, and we had excellent support from our technical account managers at Siemens who guided us through the implementation process,” notes ADL management.
This involved making a copy of ADL’s existing database and creating a new empty database on a separate server. ADL management explains, “One of the Teamcenter guys wrote an SQL server query to strip out all the data we needed from the copied database, which sat in a Windows operating system folder on a workstation. As we were handling 100,000 files it took three months to copy the files, run all the tools, cleanse the data and transfer it into the new database. We then did a three-month catchup, which took two weeks, followed by incrementally smaller amounts until there was only one Friday morning’s worth of changes to upload over the launch weekend. We had a day of user training, and then we spent the launch weekend loading new interface software for all engineers.”
ADL began that process in November 2007 and the system went live in May 2008. “We received very good support from the UK and the US, both here on site and remotely,” explains ADL management. “We worked very closely with our technical account managers who were always there at the end of a phone line, especially on launch weekend. We were not the first people to implement this interface, but we were uploading a huge number of files; at the time it was the largest number for any Siemens client. Those Siemens guys were determined to make it work.”
ADL now has 20 full Teamcenter licenses at Guildford and 15 view licenses for 35 suppliers who are connected into the CAD data vault as well as 30 internal users within accounts, purchasing, manufacturing engineering, manufacturing, technical publications, and customer services. Users have a set of tools and processes for the ongoing uploading of data into Teamcenter. “We always believed that Teamcenter was the right solution for us,” says ADL management. “Its performance proves we were correct.”
Certainty supports collaboration
ADL’s data vault is a single source for CAD data, a single point of inquiry across the company. It provides automatic revision control. ADL management notes, “This certainty supports collaboration across sites. People are sure they are accessing the correct data and by flagging designs as ‘released’ and ‘in work,’ we prevent accidental overwriting of others’ data, so there is no potential for any costly mistakes where different buses share elements of design. We also have easy access to old revisions, whereas previously it was too complicated to go back and store an old revision. In addition, we have been able to add a layer of security over and above our Windows structure.”
Philip Wentworth, plant director at ADL Guildford, cites additional advantages: “Since the implementation of Teamcenter along with the Solid Edge Embedded Client, we have greatly benefited from improved efficiencies and a reduction in time spent on data management. The ability to allow suppliers ‘managed view-only access’ to revision-controlled design data has also helped improve product quality, cut lead times and increase efficiencies. We look forward to further exploiting our use of Teamcenter at Guildford and throughout the group.”
ADL is considering the next phase. According to ADL management, “This may be a group-wide implementation of the CAD data vault or it may be looking at processes on the Guildford site. For example, we may begin to incorporate engineering change and sales inquiries into Teamcenter. The ultimate aim is to manage all engineering data for Guildford in Teamcenter. Meanwhile, there are plans to roll out Teamcenter at our sites in Falkirk and Scarborough.”