A well-known Brisbane-based automotive plastics manufacturer, EGR Plastics, is using Siemens PLM (product lifecycle management) technology to automate and streamline its design and production processes, making them more productive and efficient.
EGR Plastics is a privately-owned company run by two brothers who are actively involved in the business. With 35 years experience in the plastic-making market, EGR Plastics’ Australian headquarters develops and manufactures plastics for companies around the world. The company also hosts product development resources and warehousing distribution facilities in Sydney, Melbourne, Las Angeles, Detroit and London, and has subsidiaries in Taiwan, South Africa and South America.
According to EGR Plastics assistant general manager, Angus McIntyre, the plastics industry for automotive parts is very competitive. However, McIntyre believes that EGR Plastics has found a niche in the market through its ‘black-box’ manufacturing, which creates products for original equipment manufacturer (OEM) needs.
“We hold about 99 per cent of the Australian market, with customers such as Holden, Ford and Toyota, along with importers including Kia, Hyundai and Volkswagen,” he told PACE.
Managing product lifecycles
Working in such a competitive market as automotive plastics manufacturing, EGR Plastics quickly realised that it required a fool-proof system to manage the lifecycle of its product development, streamlining its processes and protecting the company from costly production mistakes.
PLM is the process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from conception, through design and manufacture, to service and disposal. PLM integrates people, data, processes and business systems and provides a product information backbone.
According to Siemens, PLM works to speed-up manufacturing product development processes to form competition in the marketplace. Faster product development comes from incorporated computer-aided design (CAD) software that makes engineers more productive.
PLM offers a new communication system that allows conflicts to be resolved faster, as well as reducing costly engineering changes because all drawings and documents are in a central database. Siemens’ quest is about linking data management and product development with knowledge and rules-based design.
EGR Plastics has been using Siemens’ PLM application for 15 years now. It uses the Siemens PLM Unigraphics module for automotive products’ CAD design, along with associated tooling and check fixtures, which can include CAD concepts for submission to automotive OEMs. The computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) side of Unigraphics is then used to verify programs before physical machining begins on CNC 5-axis machines.
EGR Plastics is currently using the NX 5.0 software release of the Siemens PLM application, and has access to NX 6.0, however NX 7.0 is now available to Industry. With NX 7.0, Siemens PLM Software introduces HD3D, an open and intuitive visual environment to help global product development teams unlock the value of PLM information and enhance their ability to make efficient and effective product decisions, according to Siemens.
The Siemens PLM suite is made up of a number of modules which integrate seamlessly. Depending on the customers’ need or industry, they purchase modules to suit their requirements. According to a Siemens representative, this modular strategy allows customers the flexibility to add capability over time as required.
According to a Siemens representative, its PLM product is better-suited to industrial climates than offerings from competitors Oracle and SAP because Siemens is a ‘pure-breed PLM player’.
“Many of the new players like Oracle, and SAP come from an enterprise resource planning background and really do not understand PLM. The SPLM [Siemens PLM] heritage spans back over 30 years, while many other players are just entering the market, so they do not have the depth or understanding or capability [that we do],” said the representative.
Traditionally focusing on the automotive, aerospace and heavy engineering industries, Siemens PLM will be entering a new market in 2010: the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry.
According to EGR Plastics CAD operator, Glenn Wiseman, it is imperative for the manufacturer to use a trusted PLM software supplier because of the trust its customers place in its products.
“The majority of customers treat EGR Plastics as a ‘black-box developer’, so we in essence have design responsibility over the products that we create for our customers. I believe that the Siemens PLM application was our first choice for PLM technology,” Wiseman said.
“We capture data from our customer and import it into the Siemens PLM application. The data is then used to develop tooling to manufacture the end product. The tooling is not a finished item that we can use straight-away for product purposes: there is a lot of assembly work that goes into developing the tooling.”
According to ERG Plastics’ McIntyre, CAD/CAM is an important part of the company’s manufacturing process, and Siemens’ PLM offering has proven successful over its 15 years within the business.
“We have found Siemens to be a supportive supplier and the Unigraphics software they supply is very suitable to EGR’s needs. PLM also offers free information sessions when new products are released,” he said.
“Benefits we find are that we have an integrated design and CAM package that interfaces with our CNC machinery very well. The machine simulation package is also very good and it allows us to verify the machining path and results before actually machining any material.”
McIntyre says that, moving forward, the EGR Plastics business will grow and Siemens’ PLM will be able to grow with it.
“We’ve seen manufacturing pick up from [the 2009] financial year. The first half of the calendar year was tough, but July onwards we saw increases, especially from the strong automotive companies – Toyota in particular – but Holden and Ford are starting to gather some momentum too,” he said.
“Next year, the challenge really is going to be dealing with local sourcing techniques that companies are now putting in place. This is especially for the Asian manufacturers. A lot of the sourcing is being completed globally, and we’re starting to see on a global sense that the sale revenues are being opened-up to our competitors.
“It’ll be a challenge that we’ll overcome. We over-service customers. We give them all the engineering and the technical support they need. We give them the CAD input and interface they need.”
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