The auto industry has been an early adopter of digital manufacturing software, which allows an automaker to design, visualize and test a vehicle assembly line on a computer before ever installing a single conveyor.
Some automakers are using this software to speed up the assembly-line design process and, more important, to run 3-D simulations on computers to catch any problems before the line is built.
Last year, with automotive and aerospace leading the way, the market for digital manufacturing software was about $400 million. That will balloon to $1 billion in 2009, says Ed Miller, president of CIMdata Inc., a global consulting and research firm in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"In the automotive industry, most of the major automakers have some program under way, not necessarily enormous in all cases, but they recognize the value in it," Miller says. Toyota, General Motors, Chrysler and BMW all are using digital manufacturing software to some degree, he says.
Some Tier 1 suppliers are using the software, but the supply chain is a relatively untapped, Miller says.
The use of this software will continue to expand, albeit at a pace that coincides with the pace of automakers introducing new models, redesigning vehicles and opening factories. The biggest obstacle to widespread acceptance is the limited education in the marketplace about this software and its return on investment.
"I don't see this slowing down for a long time," Miller says.
Delmia Corp., a Dassault Systemes company, and Tecnomatix Technologies Inc., a UGS Corp. unit, dominate this market, but there are scores of small players offering niche digital manufacturing software as well.
Automakers and suppliers are in the process of figuring out how to use it to the best advantage, Miller says.
Having just two major players in the market is impeding the growth of this software, Miller says. He hopes more large players will enter the market to educate potential customers, he says.
Automakers and suppliers use Tecnomatix's FactoryCAD software to identify problems before they begin investing capital for the assembly line, says Al Hufstetler, vice president of Tecnomatix global marketing.
"Making a conveyor change can be costly once you start to see it in steel," he says.
Reusing digital designs
Some automakers have yet to try this software. "You have to get their attention, get the right people involved," Hufstetler says.
The next frontier for automakers is reusing these digitally designed assembly lines in factories around the globe, he says.
"A lot of our automotive customers want common processes, common tooling and common methodologies," Hufstetler says. "Back in the old days, they didn't care. They would go in, bulldoze the inside of the plant and throw everything out on a train car. It's not that way today. They can't afford to reinvent the wheel every time there's a new product or a new update."
Automakers are proving that digital manufacturing software is a mature technology and that it provides substantial value, says Peter Schmitt, Dassault's vice president of marketing in the Americas.
Schmitt says: "I think the stage is now for companies to embrace it and take the benefit out of that."
You may e-mail Ralph Kisiel at [email protected]