Automating the design process further

WITH the trend to automate the manufacturing design process ever expanding, the move this year to embed DriveWorks Express in SolidWorks 2008 was a targeted move.

WITH the trend to automate the manufacturing design process ever expanding, the move this year to embed DriveWorks Express in SolidWorks 2008 was a targeted move.

The software allows users to capture and re-use knowledge and rules to specify, design, manufacture and engineer-to-order. It also lets users automate repetitive tasks and generate design and manufacturing output much faster.

According to Glen Smith, CEO and founder of DriveWorks, the software offers users big savings, “if they are able to fully automate their design procedures”.

“The software offers users the ability to use repeated designs a lot quicker; where they want a new design that’s a variation of one they’ve done previously.

“It gets rid of mundane, repetitive tasks, and frees them up to do what they’ve been trained to do, which is design exciting new products,” Smith told Manufacturers Monthly on his recent visit to Australia.

He says the system is mainly suitable for companies who design products based on a theme, but are different.

“For example, we have a major trailer manufacturer near Wellington in NZ as a customer.

“Every one of the company’s customers wants to be able to do different things; carry different loads, have different size trucks, different options, different tailgates, some might have curtain walls. So every time they sell a trailer it’s different, and there’s a really high design content with every item they sell, which is based on a theme…based on rules.

“So rather then their team of engineers changing each one, every time they sell a trailer, the engineers have more time to come up with new, innovative designs or maybe do some cost engineering.”

Smith says the savings can be spectacular.

“If you can fully-automate, and not all companies can, but if you can fully-automate the design of something, the savings can be quite dramatic.

“For example we have a US company who makes fire trucks, and they had SolidWorks and DriveWorks Express.

“For them the design savings were around 90%, just using DriveWorks Express.

“It can also have other changes for the company. For instance, if the engineer has captured the rules about how a product can change and creates some forms, they can be used by the sales guys, when they are in front of a customer to configure a unique product for them.

“If they can do that, there’s not only the cost savings, but they can get incremental revenue. The chances of winning business can increase just through automating their design, and being able to turn around designs and quotations a lot quicker,” he said.

While companies have been slow to link their CAD data with their enterprise systems, Smith believes almost all will do it eventually.

“It makes sense if you’re designing things based on rules, not just from a data reuse perspective, but also from a trying to get rid of errors.

“Users can reuse that data, and pull that information into a system. So rather than typing in a customer name for example, they select it from a drop-down, and kick that information through on a bill of materials through to an ERP system.”

But to start on the design automation journey, Smith suggests manufacturers look at their engineering to order area.

“The design part of it can be a real bottleneck. Once companies can automate that, then they can spend time looking at reusing that data everywhere.

“When we go and see companies and show them DriveWorks, most get really excited about all the possibilities and they want to do everything at once.

“They want to put every product they do into the system, they want to link it to every other piece of software they’ve got in the company. But if they do it that way, it can actually take a bit of time before they start getting a return on the investment.

“Whereas if they can just do some design automations to start off with, and start getting some quick and accurate designs out of it, then actually they’ve got more time, and they’re a bit less pressured,” Smith said.

He explained DriveWorks Express, embedded in SolidWorks 2008, is just the company’s basic product, with three other levels available.

“From commercial point of view, we wanted exposure to a worldwide market. In terms of upgrading to the fuller products, to a certain extent, time will tell. We know the market’s there; we know the requirement is there, we’re already showing well.

“I think we had somewhere around 3,500 users of DriveWorks Express before it got embedded inside SolidWorks, now we’ve got over 350,000 commercial users out there, and that makes quite a difference,” Smith said.