DETROIT - Daimler-Benz engineers take note: Chrysler Corp. soon expects to save more than $20 million per vehicle launch per plant and cut as many as four months from its vehicle development time by going completely virtual.
Through a partnership with four suppliers, Chrysler has developed a digital manufacturing system called Control Program Genera-tion Analysis.
The system will let Chrysler validate designs and processes through computer simulations and take the bugs out of a work cell before the production tooling is made.
Once the system is implemented, Chrys-ler plants could complete a model change-over in one weekend instead of the typical two weeks, said Frank Ewasyshyn, Chrysler vice president of advance manufacturing engineering.
Ewasyshyn said Chrysler should have the system refined and ready for some new car and light-truck programs in 12 months.
'It's really one of the major steps in the ideas of computer-aided manufacturing and computer-aided design,' he said.
Chrysler, with partners Rockwell Automation of Milwaukee; Dassault Systemes SA of Paris, France; Deneb Robotics Inc. of Troy, Mich.; and Progressive Tool & Industries Co. of Southfield, Mich., introduced the system last week at the SAE International Automotive Manufacturing Conference and Exposition in Detroit.
Chrysler entered the world of virtual reality and digital mockups in 1984, when it began designing parts using Dassault's CATIA, or Computer Aided Three Dimensional Application, software. The automaker says CATIA shaved eight months off the development of the new Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler Concorde.
But even with CATIA and Dassault's Digital Manufacturing Process System, which Chrysler adopted in 1995, Chrysler employees must program each work cell on the plant floor separately. Then they must validate the program by running each work cell.
'Most of the time now is spent working out bugs in the software,' Ewasyshyn said.
With Control Program Genera-tion Analysis, Chrysler will take the same set of data from the design process straight through to the assembly line. Along the way, the system will generate and change diagnostics and control code.
Any possible problems in a cell, such as a collision between two robotic clamps, will be detected during a virtual run and corrected, Ewasyshyn said.
The system also handles changes in products quickly because the updated data carry through from beginning to end. That will eliminate the need to re-enter data at other points.
'Where we get killed is on the changes,' said Jodie Glore, president of Rockwell Automation.
Once the cell is running, the system will improve production by graphically identifying breakdowns in the production process, Ewasyshyn said. Currently, work cell operators are trained to locate breakdowns by interpreting complicated computer data, according to Ewasyshyn.
He would not say if Daimler-Benz AG will use the system once it begins merging its operations with Chrysler next year.
Chrysler has exclusive rights to the new system for an undisclosed period. After that, Chrysler's four partners said the system will be a natural step for other automakers currently using CATIA, such as Daimler-Benz.
Bernard Charles, president of Dassault, estimated CATIA has about 45 percent of the CAD market. The next popular system only has 8 percent of the market, he said.
Ford Motor Co. and General Motors use other design software.