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Kuka Robotics is a global automation powerhouse. One hundred and twenty years after it was founded in Bavaria, Germany, in 1898, Kuka’s annual sales are around $3 billion and its workforce totals more than 12,000 worldwide. Five years ago, Kuka’s global data systems operated on disconnected drives with different systems for product lifecycle management (PLM), product data management (PDM) and sometimes only enterprise resource planning (ERP).

It embarked on a global journey to digitalize. “The only way a project like this will take and keep is if it had support at the top,” explained Greg LaMay, director, global PLM implementation, Kuka North America, who spoke at the 11th annual Manufacturing in America Summit, which was hosted in Detroit by Siemens and Electro-Matic Products. “Our previous platforms were siloed. Engineering, project management, planning and manufacturing were siloed within each company.”

“We start with proposal estimating,” explained LaMay. “The dilemma is you have a project lifespan. Each department has no visibility to what the other is doing, unless they have tribal knowledge. There’s a very long ramp-up to train new colleagues to satisfy Kuka requirements.”

While Kuka is still on its journey, it still has that lifespan, starting with the proposal and ending with manufacturing. “We wanted proposal, processing, factory simulation, system layout, mechanical design and controls to all use the same PLM system,” said LaMay. “We’re taking that tribalness away. Somebody new’s key processes are all templated. Digitalization brings people up to speed quickly. Having a single source of truth really is valuable.”

A global effort requires a global partner, and Kuka chose Siemens and its Teamcenter PLM solution for its journey and conducted business-process assessments at facilities in Germany, the United States, Brazil, France, Sweden and China. “Once we got the green light from all the CFOs—it took two years to get us up and running—we were in development,” explained LaMay. “We have integrated solutions for CAD packages and for mapping to ERP systems. Being able to leverage those common solutions really cuts the ramp-up. Our operations in China were up to speed in five months. We’re also using some development tools. Our first step was managing CAD libraries and being able to create a demand with a bill of materials. That was in 2015. You don’t really tax the system in development. You might have only 20 people pushing data. In manufacturing, you have hundreds.”

“Now that we’re up and running and our user base is trained, how does this all work?” asked LaMay. “When we think about digitalization, everyone thinks of engineering, but no one thinks of the users. We’re using our Teamcenter Rich Client for customer product processing, simulation and mechanical design. Teamcenter Active Workspace is where the information goes for manufacturing.”

More than 800 production users are digitalizing the data with Teamcenter PLM, and the goal is to reach 1,500 by September 2018. “How can we optimize local value and realize global value? We’re about 60% through with our journey today,” explained LaMay. ALSO READ: Multidiscipline teams transcend platforms and solve problems