Return on Investment


The lead article in the business section of a recent Los Angels Times issue was on Dassault Aviation. The firm known for its Rafale and Mirage military jets diversified into business jets and is now the fourth largest manufacturer of business jets behind Gulfstream, Bombardier and Cessna. There are over 1,700 Falcon in service in 70 countries since the rollout of the first Falcon 20 in 1963. Dassault Falcon Jet, a subsidiary of the French company, is headquartered near the Teterboro airport in New Jersey. The company has assembly and production plants in both France and the United States and service facilities on both continents. It employs a total workforce of over 12,000. The company is currently developing the Falcon 7X. The first order is expected to be delivered next year and full production rate of about 30 planes per year is expected in 2007 or 2008. The 7X will be the first business jet to be flown with Fly by Wire (FBW) technology. FBW replaces mechanical linkage between the controls in the cockpit and the moving surfaces with electrical wires and circuits, thereby reducing pilot workload and increases safety.

The Falcon will have a range of 5,700 nautical miles non-stop. This is enough to fly from Los Angels to Paris. The plane contains over 50,000 parts and 15 miles of wiring. The first Falcon 7X was assembled in seven months compared with sixteen months for previous business jets. The overall development costs were cut by one-third to around $300 million. Dassault had promised that the jet will be approximately 20% less expensive to operate because of lower maintenance cost.

How has Dassault Falcon archived these dramatic cost reductions and time to market acceleration for so complex a product? The answer is 3D Computer Aided Design (CAD), Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM), Computer Aided Analysis (CAE) - collectively CAX - and Product Data Management (PDM). This combination is generally referred to as Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). The firm uses CATIA software from Dassault Systemes, a French publicly traded company that spun off from the aviation firm years ago. IBM and IBM Business Partners (BPs) have been the exclusive sales and marketing arm for CATIA and CATIA related products since the 1980s. IBM pays Dassault Systems royalties which amounted to nearly $1B in 2004. Current software capabilities highlighted in the Times article include the ability of engineers wearing 3D glasses to “walk through” the aircraft's design. This visualization capability helps designers to discover the best way to route wires and pipes and to fit components.

This demonstrates in an industry parallel to EDA how the ability to visualize, analyze and simulate a design prior to manufacturing, fabrication or even prototype testing can generate tremendous savings in development costs and future product support costs while simultaneously decreasing TTM. It seems somewhat obvious that if one could accurately and timely evaluate designs, discover errors both of omission and commissions and investigate design alternatives before manufacturing, that it would yield considerable benefits. However, it is not always easy to get end users to go on the record especially with quantitative data about the savings from using these tools and methodologies. EDA firms often are prevented from even naming their customers.

PLM and EDA have many parallels and some major differences. Both industries are dominated by a few vendors. The leading PLM vendors (Dassault with CATIA, UGS with Unigraphics and PTC with Pro/Engineer) have annual revenues in the range of $1B each. Most of the sales are by a direct sales force or in the case of Dassault by the IBM sales force. Selling to major new accounts is a long benchmark involved process. Autodesk dominates the 2D low end with its AutoCAD product. While Autodesk's total revenue is higher than the other firms much of it is from products in industries outside of the mechanical world such as AEC, GIS and Media & Entertainment. The PLM industry has had lots of acquisitions over the years. The leading firms have acquired older, slumping CAX firms to gain access to the installed customer base. They have acquired so called midrange players (Dassault acquired SolidWorks and UGS acquired SolidEdge) to protect against lower cost competition. They have acquired PDM firms for their technology (UGS acquired SDRC who had acquired Sherpa, PTC acquired Windchill, Dassault acquired Product Manager from IBM and SmarTeam).

While mechanical CAD systems sold for over $100K a seat (hardware + software) in the eighties, the prices have plummeted. Today PLM products are much less expensive than EDA products. The average price for a basic high end mechanical CAD seat is around $12K. The list price of AutoCad is $3,750 although price competition among dealers is fierce. There are several mid range 3D offerings with seat prices round $4,500.

Electronics design is language based. Early CAM systems, notably Numeric Control (NC) systems, were also language based, e.g. APT and Compact II. An NC program contains part geometry, toolpath motion and machine commands. Early Finite Element Modeling and Analysis programs such as NASTRAN and ANSYS were also language based. Today CAX systems will automatically generate language decks for NC and analysis applications due to this legacy but a user does not write in these languages. Mechanical CAD is not a language based tool, although one can take a history command file as a starting point for creating a parameterized macro.

Electronic design involves synthesis. Mechanical design is an iterative process of design, analyze and modify. A 3D part is interactively defined by Boolean combination of basic shapes such as extrusions and revolutes and features such as holes, slots and cutouts. An assembly is defined by a combination of parts that mate with points and/or surfaces of contact and alignment of axes. All mechanical CAD systems provide first order analysis through calculation of mass properties and determination of clearance and interference. Optional add-on products or third party products perform more sophisticated analysis such as structural, thermal, electromagnetic, aerodynamic, kinematics and dynamics. Several of these analyses are based upon finite element analysis (FEA) technology. Geometric models must be converted by a combination of automated and interactive techniques into discrete finite element modeling (FEM) models that FEA requires. Leading CAE companies such as MSC.Software and ANSYS have annual revenues in excess of $100 million. They have grown and expanded their product portfolios largely by gobbling up smaller CAE firms.

Both EDA and PLM involve the support of standards. A drawing created by a CAX system must comply with drafting standards, e.g. ANSI, ISO or JES. Data can be exchanged between PLM systems according to the IGES (Initial Graphics Exchange Standard, ANSI Y14.26M-1981) or STEP (STandard for the Exchange of Product model data, ISO 103033) standard, although considerable intelligence is usually lost in the transfer of data between disparate CAD systems.

Major aerospace and automotive companies are outsourcing an increasing percentage of their product designs. While an IC can contain millions of gates, a complex mechanical product can contain tens of thousands of components that are independently designed and manufactured. Many of these components are themselves very complex assemblies such as an aircraft engine or landing gear system consisting of components from other third parties. This creates a significant data management problem. A product like an automobile may have multiple models and multiple options within any given model. Over time there may be variants due to ECOs for various reasons. The length of the product development cycle and the lifetime of major mechanical products are considerable longer than most consumer electronic products. Keeping track of all this data during design as well as during manufacturing and the post sales period is a daunting task. That is why the leading PLM vendors have invested so heavily in Product Data Management which must interface into ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems. PDM offers a significant opportunity for service revenue which explains the involvement of IBM and EDS.

Consulting and research firm CIMdata partitions the PLM market into two primary segments: cPDm and Tools. Tools include the primary design authoring tools such as mechanical computer-aided design (MCAD), computer-aided software engineering (CASE), and technical publishing. cPDm is focused on collaboration, visualization, management, and sharing of product related information.

According to Ken Amann, CIMdata Director of Research, “The 2004 overall PLM market grew by 8% over 2003 to approximately $16.7 billion. Approximately 68% or $11.4 billion was invested in Tools while 32% or $5.3 billion was invested in cPDm. Both PLM segments grew in 2004, with cPDm investments increasing more rapidly with a growth of approximately 15% over 2003.”

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