Automation Alley Opens Center to Test Products Digitally

Automation Alley opened a product lifecycle management center at Oakland University

Feb. 21--Automation Alley has opened a product lifecycle management center at Oakland University.

The center will enable small- and medium-size businesses to conceive, engineer, test, manufacture and deliver products digitally, making a process that used to take months now just minutes. This streamlining will save millions of dollars for these firms, which include numerous smaller automotive suppliers.

The first assessment and training courses begin next month, according to officials from Automation Alley and OU Inc., a SmartZone business incubator, where the Automation Alley Product Lifecycle Management Center will be situated. The center also will provide consulting services. The cost for companies to participate is $300-$2,000.

Software, like the type the center has from Siemens, normally costs around $300,000, plus training costs of an additional $50,000 to $70,000, according Michael Grieves, a product lifecycle management expert and OU professor. Those are exorbitant amounts for the manufacturing sector's smaller players.

"It's our only hope for bringing manufacturing back to the area," he added.

Software is used to design parts and products, then tested by computer. After perfecting it, the technology can design the molds to make said part. A 3D printer may be utilized to make physical prototypes.

"It's instead of the old way: Sketch it on paper. Go to the machine shop. Bang it out. 'This doesn't work.' Try it in the field. 'This doesn't work,' " Grieves said. "PLM does this digitally."

He explained that this method was originally used by the major automotive and aerospace companies as many as four decades ago, but it really came into its own in 2000. And by 2008-09, the technology became cost-effective enough for smaller companies, which couldn't afford the old expensive mainframes, to embrace.

"Innovation happens when you bring the right people together with the right resources," said Automation Alley executive director Ken Rogers.

OU Inc. opened in 2006 and joined forces with Automation Alley in 2011.

Contact Zlati Meyer: 313-223-4439 or zmeyer@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @ZlatiMeyer.

Copyright 2014 - Detroit Free Press

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