With 26,000 employees and annual revenues of 6.2 billion euros, the Bamberg-headquartered Brose Group ranks among the world’s top 40 automotive suppliers. Every second new vehicle that rolls off the production line worldwide is equipped with at least one Brose product to increase safety, comfort and efficiency. The core competence of the company, whose success story began with a crank drive for retracting car windows, is the synthesis of mechanical, electrical, electronic and sensor systems. The product range includes door systems, liftgates, adjustment systems for front and rear seats as well as electric motors and drives for a number of different of uses in vehicles.
The (autonomous) driving experience of the future begins as soon as you get in a vehicle – with doors that open automatically, provided that there is nothing in way, seats that adjust automatically to whoever is driving and a preheated vehicle interior. Door, closure and seating systems are thus becoming complex, mechatronic or even cyberphysical systems whose development not only requires new tools, methods and processes but also a more efficient use of existing information. "Far too much information is still contained in TIFF and PDF/A documents and is therefore not available in digital form to downstream processes," says Walter Redinger, head of Development and Production Systems/Information Systems at Brose.
The IT department has therefore defined a clear digitalization strategy together with the company's business operations. In addition to the automation of design processes using assistance systems and the virtual validation of prototypes, it also involves an approach to OEM collaboration that is oriented to a greater extent towards, for example, systems/model-based systems engineering (MBSE) and the use of new technologies such as augmented reality (AR). The objective is to have a digital master that not only includes the 3D models but also the electrics/electronics (E/E) information and software versions and makes all this information digitally available.
Multi-layer PLM landscape
Redinger goes on to say that the key to digitalization is an end-to-end PLM tool chain that covers everything from requirements management to designing the software, printed circuit boards and mechanical components through to test procedures and simulation, including digital production planning and control. "The aim behind this end-to-end digitalization is to integrate the individual disciplines more tightly and enhance the core efficiencies in the processes. This not only requires cultural change in the organization but also places new demands on our PLM landscape."
The PLM landscape at Brose comprises multiple layers. The PLM backbone is a SAP system that is used to create parts, materials and BOMs, approve drawings and manage changes. It is closely integrated with MS SharePoint, which 5,000 Brose employees worldwide use to handle their customer projects. ENOVIA VPM, the team data management (TDM) system used for mechanical and E/E development to date, is currently being replaced by the 3DEXPERIENCE (3DX) platform. The software developers are currently still using Virtual DOORS software and the Rational Suite set of tools for application lifecycle management (ALM) but will gradually be switching to codeBeamer ALM software solution.
As Redinger says, OpenPDM assumes the role of a hub for connecting the different environments within the PLM landscape. This applies in particular to the successfully implemented project for ENOVIA/3DX-SAP integration, which allows CATIA data to be converted into JT format and made available worldwide. Brose has used the integration platform and PROSTEP's services in the past, for example to provide joint venture partners with selected data and synchronize it at regular intervals. The solution was also used when the company took over Continental's electric motor division and the division's PLM data had to be extracted from Continental's environment. "PROSTEP is a long-standing and reliable partner with well-functioning tools and very experienced staff," says Redinger.
3D data for downstream processes
Unlike other automotive suppliers, Brose uses its own CATIA environment for mechanical development rather than the system used by the respective customer. All the engineers at the 25 development sites – i.e. approximately 1,000 employees – use a uniform methodology and apply the same standards, thus making it easier to collaborate on cross-site development projects. "Working in the customer’s environment would be easier for the departments, but would make it more difficult to exploit the synergies offered by standardization and data reuse," says Redinger. The IT department nevertheless maintains about 30 different customer environments in order to prepare the CAD data and convert it into the respective customer formats. PROSTEP’s OpenDXM GlobalX data exchange platform has been managing data conversion and exchange for a number of years.