Leading spindle manufacturer streamlines processes by reducing the variety of component parts
PLM Component’s Geolus Search and BCT aClass provide powerful part search and classification capabilities, enabling Weiss Spindletechnologie to reduce its costs and inventory
Customized requirements, intensive pricing pressures
Weiss Spindeltechnologie GmbH (Weiss), headquartered in Schweinfurt, Germany, develops and produces high-precision mechatronic machine tool spindles. Founded in 1993, the company has been a subsidiary of Siemens since 2001, and currently employs approximately 300 employees.
Weiss supplies renowned machine manufacturers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and automotive industry customers throughout the world with its leading products. These include innovative solutions and approaches to individual, customized client requirements, as well as full-service consulting and worldwide maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO). Numerous patents bear testimony to the pioneering spirit and passion of Weiss engineers. Weiss’ intellectual capital lays the foundation for the organization’s economic success.
Management considers flexibility and adaptability to be the “be all and end all” to strengthen and further improve the company’s market position. That’s because virtually every major machine tool manufacturer uses customized spindles and there are few standardized products in this industry segment.
Each spindle is a one-off item in the customized construction process. Most orders comprise a maximum of 20 spindles. A 100-item order is considered a major production run. At the same time, Weiss is subject to enormous pricing pressure. “It is hard to believe the intensity is similar to that experienced in the consumer electronics industry, but it is,” says Michael Schneider, designer at Weiss. “To ensure our survival, it is vital that we keep reducing costs.”
Realizing standardization while retaining individualization
Even though each spindle is a custom design, standardization as well as best practices have been implemented to maintain quality and control costs. Weiss employs an internal standardization strategy that uses multiple solutions synergistically. Weiss logically starts at the beginning of the process chain, the design stage, by employing a classification of the component parts. Direct support for classification is provided by the 3D computer-aided design (CAD) search engine, Geolus® Search™ software, part of Siemens PLM Software’s PLM Components suite, and the classification solution, BCT aClass from BCT Technology, a Siemens PLM Software partner. The decision to go with Geolus Search and BCT aClass marks a continuation of the longstanding cooperative arrangement between Weiss and Siemens PLM Software. Both products complement the company’s existing information technology (IT) architecture, which consists of Teamcenter® software for product data management (PDM) and NX™ software for product development. Teamcenter and NX are from Siemens PLM Software and have been in use at Weiss since 1986.
Weiss management notes that Geolus Search and BCT aClass are intuitive, best-in-class technologies that enable exceptional benefits. That’s because a clearly structured construction database makes it easier to retrieve and re-use existing solutions. Enormous product variety – the typical problem of machine constructors – can be substantially reduced. The knowledge and experience of the individual constructors can be stored and made easily accessible to everyone.
For example, Weiss’ purchasing department wanted to reduce expenses by bundling orders, but it had no way of recognizing similarities between the parts until Geolus Search and BCT aClass were implemented. “Classification helps reduce duplicate parts and aids our repair service operation, which accounts for a large portion of turnover,” explains Andreas Müller, manager of IT at Weiss. “Part knowledge must be accessible throughout all company processes; Geolus Search and BCT aClass form the key to this end. Now our process knowledge is rapidly accessible throughout all our processes company-wide.”
Improving processes throughout the organization
Before the use of Geolus Search and BCT aClass, knowledge was held by each respective constructor and stored according to the individual’s own methods. Valuable experiences were only shared in limited fashion among the company’s 16 constructors. A standardized naming convention did not exist until Teamcenter was implemented in 1999. However, many parts were not re-used, because the parts could be constructed more quickly than they could be found in the database. Product variations increased substantially over time to a figure of 60,000 elements, not surprisingly as a single spindle contains 20 to 50 manufacturing parts. “Certain parts, such as rings, can be constructed in just ten minutes,” notes Matthias Pfrang, constructor at Weiss. “While this process may be efficient for the individual constructor, the followup costs are much higher. Each time a new part is created it has to be documented, possibly tested and certified, and a stock of that part maintained. All resources used to introduce any part that has a duplicate are a waste of time and money, and increase inventory or purchasing complexity.”
Using Geolus Search and BCT aClass, Weiss established a new process that ensures internal standards. “When we receive a new customer query within certain parameters – despite all the customized details – the constructors determine whether there are similar parts present that can be re-used and that require little modification. This research is now performed in a matter of seconds.”
Here is how it works.
Geolus Search inspects the 3D CAD models within, in this case, Teamcenter for other models with an identical or similar shape. The search can be launched within a standard web browser and the search part can be local or already in Teamcenter. Various filter options are available to the user to control the scope of the search. The constructor can easily select a part from the resulting search records. Each record contains a 3D preview image, identification information and percentage degree of similarity.
BCT aClass comes into play for more complex searches, such as for functional classes, nongeometric information, and 2D diagrams, which play an important role at Weiss when preparing an offer. BCT aClass serves as a classification system for PDM capabilities of Teamcenter, whereby construction data can be selected and searched based on characteristic product properties.
In addition, the solution (Geolus Search/BCT aClass) considers the product lifecycle of a component with process-assisted access options. The classes include fields that support the progress of the process, not just numbers that describe the geometry. The integration is intelligent enough to automate the population of some fields. Individuals now classify newly constructed products at the press of a button due to the direct integration within the NX CAD software.
The new search/classification process is a success at Weiss. A smooth implementation, with minimal administrative requirements, resulted in a high level of user acceptance and ensured the new processes were engaged from the start. “The days when various employees supply different solutions for the same tasks are now very much a thing of the past,” notes Schneider.
A significant reduction in costs using classification technology
Pfrang points out that the intuitive nature of Geolus Search helped accelerate decision-making during the development of the class structure. The parties responsible at Weiss obtained an overview of the spectrum of parts and useful tips as to which classes are required in the future structure by means of the first geometric search of the 3D parts inventory. Based on this, the individual departments discussed which characteristics should be used to identify the component parts for future use. The clear structure in which the desired item can be found in just a few steps is now in place in BCT aClass.
The classification achieved with Geolus Search and BCT aClass already provides the desired results. The constructors have a tool at their disposal that provides them with orientation and with which they are fluidly pressing ahead with the re-use of their constructions. “We have made the first step towards achieving internal standards with Geolus Search and BCT aClass,” confirms Pfrang.
Weiss has rid the parts spectrum of double entries and the individual users now operate with the same knowledge base throughout the company. The streamlined web-interface of Geolus Search offers excellent process consistency. The purchasing department gained the first price benefits and discounts as identical parts were put together for different orders and ordered as a group. “With our Geolus Search and BCT aClasss solution, the purchasing department achieves considerable bulk discounts due to the option of easily identifying identical parts,” says Müller.
The repair service group also benefits from the more streamlined database, as well as the improved search options, because individual parts can clearly be identified more quickly.
In overall terms, Weiss achieves tangible cost reductions due to the classification, consolidated database and improved re-use of parts. “It’s quite simple: Fewer parts mean lower procurement costs and less material masters, resulting in lower inventory costs,” summarizes Müller.