issue: April 2009 APPLIANCE Magazine
Case Study: Product Lifecycle Management
Speeding the Pace of Innovation
Email this Article
Haier uses a product lifecycle management (PLM) system to manage information for 8 product departments and help shrink time-to-market.
Speeding the pace of new product development is one of the main objectives for global manufacturer Haier. Eight of Haier Group’s product lines are using product lifecycle management (PLM) technology from Siemens PLM Software, a global division of Siemens Automation and Drives, to support innovation and speed time-to-market. Haier chose the solution based on the software supplier's reputation and the software functionality. PLM implementation was handled by members of Haier’s R&D and IT departments along with 60 key users from eight product lines, with support from Siemens PLM.
PLM Reinforces R&D
Haier products include more than 15,100 different specifications and 96 product categories. As this business grows globally, the number of parts and technical documents multiply at a rate up to 40% annually. Before the introduction of PLM solutions, product drawings, documents, and part information were isolated in various systems and existed in different versions. Because the group was unable to standardize information there were consequently problems in quality control, manufacturing, and purchasing. These issues were addressed using Siemens PLM Software’s Teamcenter.
The software enabled Haier to establish a centralized part and document library. Today 100% of all technical drawings are in digital format (versus 80% previously) and stored in the Teamcenter vault. Documents have been standardized, and with the PLM system managing the approval/release process and version control, a much-higher level of accuracy and consistency in product information was achieved. This eliminated the inaccurate documentation issues that previously resulted in costs arising from mistakes in ordering and manufacturing.
All parts are also now classified and managed in Teamcenter, which promotes knowledge re-use and has helped Haier reduce the number of parts by 29%. It also helped accelerate the process of part verification and validation by 50%. The company saves money in purchasing because it can buy parts in higher volumes.
Collaboration Shrinks a Refrigerator Design Cycle
Haier is also using the PLM system to improve new product development process efficiency and to support global design collaboration and supply chain operations. Before PLM, too many project delays and inefficiencies arose from a lack of easily referenced product documentation. Now that all new products from the eight product lines are managed using the one PLM system, their status is more visible to management. In addition, the amount of non-value added activities related to collaboration has dropped by 80%, enabling a 15% reduction in time-to-market.
The PLM fosters an environment and an effective means for collaboration among different departments—a must for an effective end product design. During different stages of the actual development process of the refrigerator, the design team engaged people from different departments.
The project team for the refrigerator consisted of members from multiple departments. These included marketing (subdivided into two roles: market and planning), as well as personnel form purchasing, manufacturing (subdivided into module developers and production process developers), standardization, etc.
At the initial stage of development, marketing personnel and product R&D personnel worked together, conducting specific analysis of customer requirements to pin down product specifications and defined a detailed development plan. During some detailed development stages, personnel from purchasing, tooling, production, and other relevant departments participated in the development of the product itself and its parts. At each stage of design, Haier conducted the corresponding review and completed the corresponding approval process—no product design or part design would move ahead to the next stage before it was reviewed and approved. This requirement was implemented from the beginning to the end of the product design.
A product that was recently developed using the PLM system is a multi-door refrigerator. During development, Haier design teams used software products such as as NX (for computer-aided design and analysis) and Teamcenter for product, project, and process management. According to Haier staff who worked on the refrigerator design, PLM-powered development offered significant advantages. Much of the design data for parts was now represented by 3D models, facilitating back-end activities such as die/mould development and digital verification. Because the product development process is more effectively managed, with optimized project management templates, users can more effectively organize various project tasks. Finally, deliverables from product research and development activities are under more control. Design documents and BOMs (bill of materials) are directly managed in the Teamcenter system, and every deliverable has its own approval process. The system notifies every team member who needs to examine and countersign the deliverable. The system also provides markup and browsing tools, so it is easier for personnel to provide comments on the deliverable. During product development, back-end departments are encouraged to engage in the work of front-end departments earlier, thus reducing the number of changes and speeding up the design process.
The Nuts and Bolts of Part Reduction
The PLM system's part library and file library is organized in the form of a classification tree. Each leaf node on the classification tree has its own defined feature attributes; e.g. standard part -> fastener -> bolt -> hexagonal bolt. The feature attributes of a hexagonal bolt include diameter, length, material, etc.
Based on sorting, analysis, and cleanup of historical data, Haier established in Teamcenter a part library architecture that meets its research and development needs and created a library of preferred parts. This library enables designers to quickly position a part by part type, main part parameters, etc. By easily viewing drawings related to a part, designers are able to determine whether or not it will fit the applications.
One of the main reasons the company used a larger number of parts in the past was because designers could not easily search the currently used parts for one that fit the new design. PLM makes accessing currently used parts an easy process, which facilitates the use of the same part in multiple product applications. In addition, Haier established a PLM-based part approval process. At each node of every process a dedicated staffer will evaluate the part to determine if it is already included in the part library and what are the differences between its parameters and the feature values of existing library parts.
The confirmation process for structural parts requiring drawings includes steps for examination, processing, standardization, and approval. Part drawings are being gradually replaced by 3D models. Designers once printed drawing and then shuttled them from one office to another for approval; now the approval process is electronic and handled through Teamcenter. The paper-based markup and browsing tools of the past have been replaced by electronic examination and sign-off steps in the PLM system.
In addition, the “Do you really need to create this part?” examination step is added to the process to promote the reuse of parts.
For parts that do not need drawings, the examination process focuses on their attributes.
Part confirmation and verification ensures that the drawings and attributes of parts pass approval and ensure that the product composed of those parts is able to meet the product specification determined earlier in the process. Structural parts must be normally assembled; electrical parts must be able to meet energy use targets, and so on. In the past such verification required physical prototypes. Now Haier is able to use the PLM system in combination with 3D digital models from NX to conduct virtual assembly analysis, finite element analysis, and other steps to reduce the use of physical prototypes.
Haier’s PLM implementation continues to expand. The company’s future plans include bringing engineering change and bills of materials under the system, as well as setting up a special process management approach based on Teamcenter to help meet regulatory requirements. The company also plans to extend the PLM system to all divisions and integrate it with with other applications such as ERP, QIS, MES, logistics, and after-sales service to form an enterprise-level business platform covering the entire product lifecycle.
Haier’s strength in innovation is evidenced by the company’s more than 7,000 patents. Among those, 1234 were awarded for Haier inventions and 589 relate to software intellectual property rights. The company views its PLM implementation as a sound foundation to support innovation and all of its business strategies, including global brand building, diversification and worldwide market penetration.
Haier Group has more than 240 subsidiaries, more than 30 design centers, manufacturing bases and trading companies and more than 50,000 employees around the world. PLM makes designing products—such as this Haier Convertible Bottom Drawer Refrigerator—a more efficient process.