Mechanical Technology Archive

PTC is currently demonstrating solutions for closing the loop between the real and digital worlds, not only for the design phase, but also right through a product’s service lifecycle. MechTech talks to Charles Anderson, MD of productONE.

Charles Anderson AMD vuforia productoneParametric and feature-based CAD software pioneer, PTC, recently moved its lifecycle management solution, Windchill, onto the web; and is now extending its closed-loop lifecycle management idea to embrace much more of the operating life of the products created using its software.

“Rather than explaining what we mean, let me show you something,” Anderson begins, pointing towards a simple plastic model. “Here we have a physical model of the base unit of a tank, without its turret. In the centre of the model, is a proprietary identifier, called a ‘thing mark’, an advancement on the QR code idea but with physical orientation information included.

“This model represents a ‘real thing’ that can be interrogated via the Internet and the ‘thing mark’ is its unique identifier,” Anderson says.

Holding up his iPAD, he positions the camera so that the hexagonal ‘thing mark’ fits into a matching shape on the screen. “Using a new PTC web-based applications called Vuforia, as soon as the mark is recognised, a menu of related experiences comes up, which can be downloaded from the private cloud,” he explains, making a selection on a short menu.

A 3D model of the tank appears on the screen with its turret fitted. “What you are seeing now is the augmented reality experience associated with that model. A specific turret has been fitted, along with some background terrain. “We can now move around the terrain, mimicking the real tank’s performance and we can change the turret to demonstrate to customers all of the different configurations incorporated into the design,” Anderson tells MechTech.

“All the detail is embedded in the 3D digital model, developed in CAD, managed in PLM and now incorporated into the Vuforia environment to enable us to show customers exactly what this product can do,” he adds.

For the African Aerospace and Defence (AAD) expo, productONE was able to demonstrate a plane, ship and a tank model. “The Vuforia environment enabled us to fit and fire different missiles and manoeuvre vehicles according to their specifications,” he says.

The shift towards service lifecycle management (SLM)

Turning to a component level model, Anderson says: “imaging this is a pump or motor sitting in a ship, tank, aircraft or in a processing plant. Via the Internet, the unique ‘thing mark’ identifier can be used to directly access all of this specific pump’s data and history. PTC calls this ‘smart connectedness’ – all of a smart connected component’s information can be accessed and used in a host of different ways.”

Referring to the pump model, Anderson says, “as a smart connected pump, this has embedded sensors that are continuously collecting important data such as temperature, oil pressure and speed, and sending it via a wireless or Ethernet connection to the OEM. An immediate diagnosis with respect to the condition of that pump can be made directly, and made visible as soon as its ‘thing mark’ has been scanned. Warranty information, spares holding capacity and service history are also immediately accessible.

“Imagine the scenario that this pump is on a ship and it breaks down. If the OEM is monitoring these conditions all the time, it can see if how it is being used and whether there are any abnormalities in the data. Via trending and associated performance analytics, it is possible to predict when this pump is likely to fail and inform the ship operators so that it can be replaced in time, avoiding expensive delays at sea or in a distant harbour.

“The ship operator will get a message that this pump is about to fail and, without human intervention, the pump arrives – perhaps delivered by a drone,” Anderson continues. “The ship’s technicians can then scan the code and the step-by-step animation of exactly how to replace the pump is immediately accessible,” he says.

“This not only avoids the ‘breakdown’ scenario, but also, the visit by an OEM specialist to diagnose the problem, the delay in sourcing the exact replacement part and the need for specifically skilled service specialists are all obviated,” Anderson argues, adding: “By closing the loop between the digital data incorporated in the design and the real product operating in the field, a whole new approach to maintenance becomes possible.”

The virtual reality experience, which relates to the specific installation, shows what tools to use and exactly what steps to follow to remove and replace the component. “So the maintenance experience no longer sits in the mind of the ‘old-hand’. It now resides in the cloud and can be made available to technicians with general skills for multiple roles, giving local operators direct access to the knowledge and support they need,” Anderson explains.

A typical industrial product can spend up to a year or more in the design phase and anywhere from two months (for a pump) to two years (for a ship) in manufacture. “But once these products go into operation, they need to be serviced and supported for a further 20 to 40 years. It is this substantially longer opportunity that is now exciting PTC,” Anderson reveals.

“Already, company’s such as Rolls-Royce are selling their engines based on hours of operation. This involves a whole different business model, one that depends on the long-term reliability of the product and service reaction times. A product’s value is now seen in terms of total costs of ownership,” he adds.

Vuforia now falls under the PTC Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) offering, which also includes a full suite of analysis and reliability tools. “Air and armed forces are typically flying Hercules aircraft and driving armoured vehicles that are 30 to 50 years old. Through SLM, managing the support, servicing and uptime of such high-value equipment becomes more systematic, efficient and cost effective,” he says.

Closing the lifecycle loop

Describing the flat-bottom V of a typical design process loop, Anderson says that, following the identification of an idea or need, product development generally starts with a system-level analysis, where information such as specifications and requirements are captured and managed. “This involves planning and is based on numerous assumptions relating to the use of the conceptualised product,” says Anderson.

This stage is followed by the formal design detailing process, from which a digital CAD model will emerge. On the right of the V are the verification and validation activities, where the design is compared and verified for suitability against its specification and the assumed conditions of service.

At this point, the digital engineering data has been finalised and the product lifecycle moves into the physical half of the loop, starting with manufacture. “The digital data is then used to work out how this product will be manufactured – and the techniques used might be different in different countries,” suggests Anderson, adding: “These manufacturing processes, factories or production lines also need to be designed and PTC is taking this technology further. During manufacture, for example, every process performed by every person involved can be monitored and stored as part of the product’s history. It is now possible to track and trace every rivet inserted on an Airbus, for example,” he points out.

Following manufacture, the product goes into service. If it is a smart connected product, the real condition of service can be continually measured and fed back into the digital development side of the process for comparison against the initial assumptions made. This enables product designs to be continually improved to better match actual operating conditions.

Also closing the loop is the service and support arm of the process, with the use of SLM and Vuforia to minimise the TCOs and maximise uptime and product life.

“It is now possible to do design analysis based on data from every aspect of a product’s lifecycle. And this can be done for individual products, whether they are in manufacture or nearing the end of their life. This is what we call closed loop lifecycle management. It enables continuous product improvements to be ‘live’ and online,” Anderson concludes.

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