WITH Australian manufacturers working hard to buck the downward growth curve of recent years, new technology in the manufacturing process is being used to drive up final product value for customers.
CAD/CAM software is not new to the industry, but new technology like design automation is giving manufacturers more options for streamlining their CAD/CAM operations.
Design automation software dramatically reduces the time required to produce engineer-to-order, custom and customised products, saves on design time, reduces margins of error and simplifies information sharing between different software applications.
In many instances customised products are essentially variations on a theme. Design automation takes pre-defined design and engineering rules and automatically alters them for each customer’s requirements.
For example, if you specialise in the production of office screen partitions, different customers will order different heights, widths, materials or paint colours.
Using design automation software, these variations can be ‘plugged in’ at the design stage and new CAD drawings and manufacturing data are automatically generated for the production line.
This means that you don’t have to spend time re-creating CAD drawings and manufacturing data like bills of material, or different order forms, for each new job.
Time taken for the pre-ordering and quoting processes can also be significantly reduced.
Built-in engineering rules in design automation products like DriveWorks** can immediately let a customer know if their order will need further customisation, and if this will cause a delay in delivery time. If need be, the customer can then change their order to meet their deadline. For some products this whole process can even be completed over the Internet without interaction with a sales person.
Some of our own customers who have implemented design automation technology can report a 75% improvement in their productivity.
For example where it would previously have taken four to five weeks to generate models and drawings for a particular product, the same projects can be completed in one to one and a half weeks.
Due to the number of steps involved and frequent need to re-input information for the manufacture of high-quality products, the risk of error in design or documentation is high, and as more changes are introduced for customised products the risk of error increases exponentially.
For example, in the construction industry you simply cannot afford errors in design. If a mistake was found on the 15th floor of a building would you have to start again?
Design automation saves you from having to input the same information repeatedly, considerably reducing the risk of error in the final design.
Risk aversion doesn’t have to be CAD-related either. For instance, the technology can be used to create all the dynamic documents required for manufacturing, such as bills of material, technical specifications, data sheets and paint selections, which in turn can be used as purchase orders.
These documents can range in complexity from simple selection records, to documents that start with selections and then apply complex calculations and rules to determine the most appropriate parts to use during manufacturing.
Design automation software can be integrated with existing MRP systems and other CAD/CAM software to easily share data between the programs and multiple business units.
It makes sense to integrate your software programs; different parts of your business can draw on information stored electronically more efficiently. For example, the accounts department can easily draw a quote out of the system; the inventory manager can check stock levels when completing regular orders and the sales rep can tell a customer exactly where their order is up to at any given time.
Automation software works in harmony with different business units who have different objectives. Engineers are satisfied because slight variations and customisations to the master files automatically produce a new CAD drawing of a product, and the sales department is happy because they can automatically produce bills of material, quotes and unit pricing.
Design automation is relatively new in Australia, with early adopters testing the water to confirm the benefits of the technology in their own environments.
Our customers have told us that using the technology ‘is like cloning your best engineer’, so the potential is clear.
* Scott Frayne is MD of Intercad.. **DriveWorks will be demonstrated at the second SolidWorks World Australia Conference, organised by Intercad, to be held in Melbourne on September 10. For more information, visit www.intercad.com.au/solidworksworld or phone 02 9454 4444.