PLM & Design Re-Use: Model Searching Works for Norden Machinery
Verdi Ogewell posted on September 19, 2018 |

If you’ve ever squeezed toothpaste, cosmetics or soft cheese from a tube, there is a good chance that said tube was manufactured on a machine made by Norden Machinery.

Based in Kalmar, Sweden, Norden is world-leading in its industry, with sales of nearly $100 million. Every year, Norden sells approximately 130 machines, with an average price of $400,000 to customers such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble and L'Oréal.

The PLM and ERP landscape at Norden Machinery shows typical diversity with software from PTC, ANSYS, Autodesk and IFS. Of the 250 employees in Kalmar, about 40 machine engineers and 25 automation engineers work within product development.

"Our machines contain a lot of mechanical parts, but also advanced electronics, control systems, engines and software," said Eric Pehrsson, IT and HR director of Norden Machinery. “Our largest 1,000-tube filling system costs up to $8 million, has over 100 servo shafts, fills 16 tubes per second and consumes one ton of toothpaste every eight minutes. The development of these pieces requires top-level IT support. An added level of complication is that each machine is customer specific, leading to a lot of work for the company's designers and engineers. So, a challenge we had was to see if we could find ways to develop the systems more effectively.”

The drawings and 3D model area turned out to be a good angle to improve the design team’s efficiency. Every year, 14,000 drawings were produced. Through the use of new software, this number has been reduced to about 12,000an improvement of almost 15 percent.

We will look into this and how new disruptive technologies like Geometric Search, IoT and Augmented Reality affect a player like Norden Machinery.

Every machine manufactured at Norden Machinery is bespoke, with a price range from $300,000 to $70 million. Because the designs are complex, the company's designers produce thousands of new drawings each year. Previously, the company produced about 14,000 drawings to document 130 tube filling machines, but using the new Techsoft Model Search solution, it has managed to reduce that number to about 12,000.
Every machine manufactured at Norden Machinery is bespoke, with a price range from $300,000 to $70 million. Because the designs are complex, the company's designers produce thousands of new drawings each year. Previously, the company produced about 14,000 drawings to document 130 tube filling machines, but using the new Techsoft Model Search solution, it has managed to reduce that number to about 12,000.

Sophisticated PLM tools are required to create today’s advanced tube filling machines. Norden Machinery relies mainly on PTC's Creo Elements Direct. On the PDM/Vault side, they use CoCreate’s Model Manager. In addition, FEM simulation is done with ANSYS and visualization in Autodesk’s 3D Studio Max.

"But product development must constantly be enhanced to maintain competitiveness, and reuse of product data presents great opportunities in this context" says Pehrsson. “We have hundreds of thousands of drawings on different solutions, a treasure chest of reusable product data, drawings and 3D models. New machines and systems can usually be produced as variants of previously created solutions, instead of starting on a blank paper every time a new solution is to be developed.”

All this information was available in Model Manager, but unfortunately the designers weren’t always good at filling in the classification information. This meant it was difficult to find existing solutions that could be reused.

“We therefore started a project within our Lean Six Sigma work to reduce the number of new drawings. And we found a solution in a software from PTC’s gold partner TechSoft: Model Search. The results came quickly, and with this tool we reduced the number of new drawings from 14,000 to 12,000 a year and picked up several additional savings in addition to this 15 percent reduction.

On the product development side, Norden Machinery mainly works in a PTC environment with solutions such as Creo Elements Direct and on the PDM/Vault side with Model Manager. This has been complemented by a number of other software packages including Model Search from PTC gold partner Techsoft. In the picture, an example of the interface in this solution.
On the product development side, Norden Machinery mainly works in a PTC environment with solutions such as Creo Elements Direct and on the PDM/Vault side with Model Manager. This has been complemented by a number of other software packages including Model Search from PTC gold partner Techsoft. In the picture, an example of the interface in this solution.

What is Model Search?

The Model Search program can be described as a tool for automated geometric classification. Generally, this is not a new type of solution; there are several companies within the PLM sphere that offer the same or a similar thing. For example, it was many years ago that Siemens PLM released its Geolus software, which can search geometric data from a simple sketch, or indexed and semantically.

Most search is based on text.  “It works on metadata or keywords that were either entered by hand, auto-generated, or extracted from underlying documents like CAD files. This information is notoriously inconsistent,” analyst Jim Brown of Tech-Clarity notes in his report, Five Ways Shape Search Drives Business Value.

If you want to know more about Search & Discovery Solutions, read more in Dick Bourke’s article on the topic, ”Search & Discovery Solutions: A Primer.”

As for Model Search, it applies mathematical algorithms to identify geometric similarity.

At Norden Machinery, the solution works in parallel with the Model Manager PDM system, and also with PTC's PLM solution Windchill. The software provides geometric "footprints" that contain information about all parts and assemblies contained in the database.

Eric Pehrsson, IT and HR director at Norden Machinery.

Eric Pehrsson, IT and HR director at Norden Machinery.

"This gives us a number of advantages," Pehrsson explained, as he showed the 15,000 square-meter factory premises to engineering.com. “Without anyone having to describe a detail geometrically, the system will provide metadata describing the detail. Everything becomes searchable either graphically by drawing something or by searching metadata.”

The point of Model Search, he asserted, is not only to decrease design time, but also to decrease the time needed for related administrative processes.

"We also get reduced purchasing, warehousing and handling costs; which is great in view of our estimate that each new item represent $500 in handling costs,” Pehrsson said.

Tube filling machines are highly complex. The picture shows a Nordenmatic 1703X Filler.
Tube filling machines are highly complex. The picture shows a Nordenmatic 1703X Filler.

How to Quickly Find the Right Variant

Each machine is customer-unique and although much can be reused, the company's designers produce thousands of new drawings. The problem was actually to find the right starting point for a new machine, and whether existing solutions can be reused or modified.

“Here we have made great progress. We no longer need to ‘reboot’ every time we start a new project. One could say that our design process initially is characterized by search and traceability. We manage our variants based on the tube’s design and what equipment you want on the machine, as a tube can vary a lot both in shape and in size," says Pehrsson.

At the same time, a large number of machines with different capacities and appearances have already been produced—there is always a variant close to the new machine that has to be built. The question is then to determine which variant is the most similar. With this in place, the designer has something to base the work on, and get the machine up and running quicker, winning back time at every stage of development.

"It's really critical to quickly find the right variant. Previously, we had to look through, for example, 47 variants to find an exact, or closely similar, equivalent. This does not only apply to mechanical constructions but can also be about material, for example. The software also facilitates when you want to create a mirrored version of a solution," says Pehrsson.

Return on Investment in Less than Three Months

All in all, Norden Machinery claims that the Model Search software has been a good investment. The solution is sold locally through Cadplatsen Nordic, a subsidiary of the PTC partner Econocap.

Cadplatsen Nordic’s representative, Leif Mårtensson, points out to engineering.com that the investment estimates look very good.

Cadplatsen Nordic’s representative, Leif Mårtensson, points out to engineering.com that the investment estimates look very good.

“Yes, Techsoft's ROI-estimates are at about 2.5 months, which means that the benefits are seen quickly. Just take the example of new employees, who often do not know the solution domain about a product, a part or a summary. With Model Search, you get started faster,” said Cadplatsen’s Leif Mårtensson.

He also stated that the software not only works with PTC’s software, but also with SOLIDWORKS, Autodesk Inventor, CATIA, Siemens NX and Solid Edge.

"For example, you only need to make a simple sketch in Creo, CATIA or any of the compatible CAD programs. Then Model Search presents options that are close or precise in terms of measurements. Model Search constantly looks at the active part and brings out the best suggestions from the database. And it goes fast, as the solution works with an in-memory technology (much like the memory technology that SAP HANA works with).”

The price for the server part is approximately $17,500, ten licenses included. If you want to have additional licenses, they cost around $1,100.

The operation-cycle in a tubefiller.
The operation-cycle in a tubefiller.

The Links to ERP at Norden Machinery

Norden Machinery is owned by Italian Coesia Group, which also owns R.A Jones (Kentucky-based producer of packaging machines for food and consumer goods), MGS (Minnesota-based producer of packaging automation solutions) and FlexLink (Swedish-based producer of industrial automation solutions).

Generally, the Coesia Group uses SAP as their ERP system, but Norden Machinery uses IFS Applications for compiling product structures from the eBOM (engineering BOM), which is produced by the PLM system, but which is usually executed by the ERP system.

As for the documentation of machine systems, a content management tool called "ZERT info logic" is used. This system generates the manuals and is connected to a PTC module (Creo Illustrate) that creates exploded 3D views.

IoT and AR - New Technologies with Good Prospects

This is how the digital reality looks today, but what does the future look like in an era characterized by a constantly accelerating technology development in areas like IoT, Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality (VR/AR) and the Cloud?

Pehrsson notes that they keep a constant eye on developments, also launching projects when the time and technology feels ripe, "IoT, for example, is a great effort we are making within the Coesia Group," he says. “Two companies have been started recently, in Gothenburg, Sweden, and Bologna, Italy. The objective is initially to develop the infrastructure that will hold and allocate information within the IoT framework.”

The information is entered from the sensors in the machines and goes through the cloud to servers within the companies.

"We developed our own solutions for this," says Pehrsson. “We currently have a team of four people who work intensively to find good solutions for our tube filling machines. I generally think that it is still quite virginal technology. Our customers think the IoT concept is ‘nice to have’ but not quite there yet. But that’s where the future is heading, and there’s no point in sticking your head in the sand trying to deny it.”

In fact, PTC is one of the best-known pioneer companies within the IoT thanks to its ThingWorx solution, a platform that is not only connected to the PLM system, but also has VR/AR solutions through the linked Vuforia platform. But what kind of traction do these solutions have at Norden Machinery?

"Augmented reality, or AR, is of course a technology that can mean a lot to us and our products in place at the customer site. Things like instructions on how to service, replacement parts and other service measures can be solved a lot more effectively with AR technology. Being able to apply a 3D image from PLM or IoT systems directly to the physical machine to be serviced and, for example, using an animation to show in which order parts should be removed and replaced when the broken part is exchanged is of course a fantastic ability, when it comes to solving maintenance faster and probably also cheaper. For Norden Machinery, these are also important things. In this context, we should remember that we live on revenue from the whole chain; not only by selling the machines to customers, but the aftermarket that represents almost 40 percent of our sales,” says Pehrsson.

From this perspective, AR will become an important tool in the future, according to Pehrsson.

"Absolutely, AR support is becoming increasingly important, not least in the sense that product complexity is increasing. We most certainly see the need for the person at the machine to explain what happens when a problem arises and the benefit of getting support to solve it.”

How Do You Make Toothpaste with Stripes?

Finally, engineering.com could not resist asking the burning question: how to actually make striped toothpaste. Eric Pehrsson happily answer the question.

"First, it is doubtful if striped toothpaste would have been developed without Norden Machinery. Secondly, it is based on a four-cylinder technology, for example, if there are four colors that will enter the tube. The colors are fed into the tube from the containers and are not mixed because they have the same viscosity.”


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