Moving toward digital manufacturing
Tecnomatix reduces development time for new models
An auto industry David fights Goliath
With its headquarters in Spain and operations in more than 70 countries, SEAT is a car manufacturer that places special emphasis on design and the sporting spirit. The company has a prestigious technical center, an engineering staff of the highest quality, test centers and the latest automobile technology.
In the automotive industry, the relatively small size of a company like SEAT can be both a weakness and an opportunity: a weakness because its capacity and resources are easily surpassed by the large international manufacturers; an opportunity because a small company in an industry dominated by global players has an obvious advantage in terms of reactivity and flexibility. It is David against Goliath.
In today’s complex industrial environment, where new superpowers are emerging and changing the rules of the game, it is necessary to move quickly in order to survive. “When it comes to producing a new car, response times and delivery deadlines are much more important to SEAT than they would be to a large company, so we have to move quickly,” explains Manfredo Keuthe, SEAT’s Assembly and Paint Processes manger. “We achieve this by using digital manufacturing computer-based simulation, which results in development time reduction.”
Aware of the need to innovate, in 2004 the Spanish manufacturer decided to accelerate the path toward digitalization of its manufacturing processes. Looking at getting the equipment, motivation and results in the short term, they decided to dive right in and start the project with the new SEAT Leon, a model that was right in the middle of the development stage. This meant that one of the first challenges was to introduce digital manufacturing tools while simultaneously working on the development of the new model.
Farewell to the first prototype
When it came to choosing the umbrella tool that would be the basis of the project, the company chose Siemens PLM Software’s Tecnomatix® digital manufacturing software solution, after confirming that it was the best for SEAT’s approach.
“Although digital manufacturing is at an initial stage consisting of a first draft of integration, the transparency that has been achieved in terms of processes has allowed us to achieve major gains,” states Keuthe. “To start with,” he adds, “we've managed to eliminate a whole prototype stage with the Virtual Product. Although the plan for each piece doesn't exist yet, we can already carry out digital modeling sessions with the technical center so that the car design can evolve. This means we can test everything required virtually, such as interferences, crashes, aerodynamics, etc.”
The accuracy and reliability of a now completely digital first stage has allowed the company to move to the second stage faster than ever before. Keuthe says, “This means creating only one stage of physical prototype, which means saving on many manufacturing costs. You eliminate a prototype stage that costs a lot of time and money, because the pieces are handmade.”
Keuthe also points out that the second state also becomes cheaper because it can be worked so that some of the pieces or installations are finished. Incentive is a factor as well. “We've also managed to motivate people by providing faster and more powerful tools,” says Keuthe. “At the beginning, workers were reluctant to accept change, but when they saw everything they could do with the new tools, they became enthusiastic.”
Through all of this, SEAT estimates that virtual fabrication and product development has allowed the company to reduce time-to-market by 20 percent. And they say that with the new Leon, they have probably achieved “one of the shortest development times among European automobile companies.” The project will continue to grow with the new SEAT Ibiza, which is expected to be launched in 2008, while for models coming up in 2010 and 2011, SEAT hopes to have the digital factory at 75 to 80 percent. This means that the system must continue to grow and evolve with new developments over the next three or four years.
The Volkswagen Group is paying attention
The Volkswagen Group, which owns SEAT, is closely following SEAT’s digital factory project. The Volkswagen Group’s plan is to ultimately leverage the experiences of SEAT to standardize processes and optimize synergies across its various brands and factories.
SEAT’s digital factory is delivering immediate results, but the vision for the system always remains within the context of making an even stronger business operation. “In relation to the future, we have an internal project called ‘The New SEAT,’” explains Keuthe. “It aims to make us more profitable and to continue to be the only car manufacturer in Spain with our own development center and a major investment in R&D, which we’re very proud of.” The aim of the new system is to make development more efficient by providing a smoother and more transparent flow of information. This also allows the company to break with the current organizational system, which is made up of departments grouped according to function, and to adopt a process-based system. This new way of working, which will gradually be implemented in the company, will see development “milestones” replaced by the concept of gradual progress. That is, when a new project is kicked off, there will be a continuous evolution of the manufacturing planning process.
Integrated system; visible returns
“Many automotive companies have started to apply digital manufacturing in a specific area such as press stamping; another one is panel welding; a third is assembly and so on,” says Keuthe. “We've started to implement an integrated manufacturing planning management system.”
This makes it quite an exceptional case within the automotive industry, far from the ambitious digital manufacturing projects of the major manufacturers. SEAT is using modern IT tools, but always with a very Spartan approach that allows for investments to be translated into tangible improvements. “We can’t allow ourselves the luxury of paying for showy digital manufacturing IT solutions,” Keuthe adds. “Instead we looked for digital manufacturing tools that would give us visible returns.” And those returns are improved time-to-market (the lead time for developing new model until its market launch), as well as transparency and speed in obtaining data, which lead to important cost reductions.
“Another important factor is for tools to be as standard and pretested as possible, which is something that many large automobile companies don’t take into account because they have the capacity to create a tool tailor-made to their needs,” adds Keuthe. “We don’t have a large development capability so the use of packages with customizable user interfaces and that are interoperable with other IT packages is an ideal solution for SEAT. They allow us to combine the flexibility of the latest systems with the experience of a company that has a great deal of knowledge of the industry’s needs.”
A study also showed that Siemens is very strong in the panel-welding area, giving it a substantial advantage when it comes to deploying digital manufacturing in all other areas.
Keuthe speaks favorably of the service SEAT has received, saying, “We’re happy. They (Siemens) provided support and we received a lot of help. We really appreciated it because when you take on something as important as this, you can’t be on your own.” The Gedas consultants, who are integrating the Siemens tools at SEAT, are also playing a fundamental role in their implementation. “Gedas has helped us a great deal because they know all about our system, they have the solutions and they know how to customize them,” Keuthe adds.
A number of Tecnomatix tools have been contributing to SEAT’s success, including Process Designer, the manufacturing process management and analysis tool, which serves as the project’s platform and database. The company also uses Robcad and Plant Simulation. And there are future plans to implement other tools such as human modeling functionality for ergonomic analysis.