Improve Speed-to-Market and Reduce D.O.W.N.T.I.M.E with Automation

Female industrial engineer maintenance mechanic orange robot frame then assembly to robotic automation machine
Plus: Learn the ‘what, why, and how’ of CAx Automation, including its tangible and intangible benefits for business.

As cutting-edge technology continues to fuel innovation and competition, it's also dictating that products be developed and delivered in increasingly shorter time frames.

Automation, which seeks to minimize or eliminate human intervention in various processes, is among the multitude of ways companies can improve their speed-to-market.

Robots and controllers – hydraulic, pneumatic, and electrical – are already facilitating automation on production lines. The Internet of Things (IoT), which connects devices and equipment to the internet, communication systems, and a host of other technologies, is also becoming a wide-spread form of automation. And, at present, even newer applications are incorporating business intelligence to create higher-quality forms of automation.

In this article, we’ll undertake a further examination of automation, including a breakdown of CAx Automation: its types, uses, and benefits.

Automation Reduces D.O.W.N.T.I.M.E.

D.O.W.N.T.I.M.E. stands for D – Defects, O – Overproduction, W – Waiting, N ­­– Non-Utilised Talent, T – Transportation, I – Inventory, M – Motion, E – Extra Processing. These are the eight wastes of lean manufacturing.

Having the ability to automate processes in the product development phase, where it's obvious that less or no human intervention is required, reduces D.O.W.N.T.I.M.E. Here's how:

D – Defects

By Automating the repetitive activities, the manual errors occurring due to repetitive, monotonous work can be reduced and hence associated rework is reduced as well.

O – Overproduction

The Automations works on the pull system. The user will only perform the automation when it is necessary. Therefore, overproduction is eliminated. It also helps the user to plan more effectively.

W – Waiting

Think about having real-time communications between departments – from Sales to Engineering to Manufacturing and Supply Chain. Automations can help improve the information flow and reduce related delays.

N – Non-Utilised Talent

Automations can improve the bandwidth of resources, thus optimizing those resources and allowing them to be focused on more value adding activities.

T – Transportation

Efficient workflows reduce the information transportation

I – Inventory

As it is a pull system, it allows to better control over the inventory

M – Motion

"Motion," in this sense, refers to user switching between multiple environments, multiple databases, and systems. This can be eliminated by integrating different tools together.

EExtra Processing

The ‘to and fro’ of information and data is eliminated through well-defined workflows.

What is CAx Automation?

Engineering design processes can also be automated; these are referred to as CAx Automations.

CAx stands for "Computer Aided Technologies," which are tools used in the design, analysis, and manufacturing of products.

CAx automation, in turn, involves automating not one but several processes in the product life cycle, from design up to maintaining a bill of materials, all in real time.

What Are the Different Types of CAx Automation?

There are two types of CAx automations, Design Automation and Tool Customization. Let’s breakdown the characteristics of both:

Design Automation

  • Uses Knowledge Base Engineering (KBE) - Design Automation is highly recommended for organizations where design rules are robust. That’s because it uses KBE, which requires that all rules, logic, and decision-making check points be well known in advance.
  • Is a Product Configurator - Design automation allows the rule-based approach of configuring the product to be automated. The user selects options until the product, along with its bill of materials, are generated automatically. This is highly recommended for industries such as Elevator OEM, Access Doors OEM, Furniture OEM.
  • Allows for Drawing Automation - Design automation can create drawings automatically based on standard templates. It can also be used almost anywhere.
  • It’s a Component Library Wizard! - Design automation is a library wizard from the standpoint that standard components, such as hardware and purchased items, can be maintained through a library tool which can be used in the tool environment itself to assemble.
  • Can Integrate Different Systems - Design Automation can integrate different systems, such as product lifecycle management (PLM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, with computer aided design (CAD) tools. Establishing this communication between these systems gives the benefit of keeping all the data in sync all the time.
  • Automates Pre- and Post-Processing Analysis - In computer- aided engineering (CAE), analysis performed during the pre-processing and post-processing phases – creating mesh, result plot etc. – can be generated automatically using design automation.
  • It’s a Materials Library Wizard! - Like components, materials can also be integrated into the library. Those materials can then be synced within different tools. For example, materials from CAD tool can be imported in CAE tool and PLM.
  • Allows Batch Processing - Design automation allows for batch processing and bulk conversions. For example, an entire assembly drawing package can be printed.

Tool Customization

Customization means tailoring software through macros, scripts etc. Many times, it is required to customize certain features of the CAx tools for optimized use. Here’s how tools are customized and optimized:

  • GUI Creation - Sometimes, the Graphical User Interface (GUI) of the tools need to be altered so that the tool gives maximum area for working, or it is required to generate a user interface to capture certain inputs from the user.
  • Plugin Creation - The customizations need to be deployed through plugins.
  • Model Check - Repetitive Quality Control activities – material assignment, complete filling of the Title Block – can all be automated through model check customization.
  • Model Clean-up - This typically works with CAD models imported from another tool. These can be batch processed if required.

What are the benefits of CAx Automation?

Tangible Benefits

  • Reduced Lead Time - Manual calculations and model modifications often take a very long time. Once these processes are automated, a large amount of time (almost 80%) can be reduced.
  • Improved Quality and Accuracy - Since monotonous work is automated, it reduces the human error.
  • Improve Productivity - Turnaround times get faster (This varies from activity to activity. Typical effort savings are 20% to 95%).
  • Cost Savings - Direct cost savings thru reduced labours. Reduced cost of iterations in Product Development. Since the output becomes defect free, the cost of rework is also reduced.

Intangible Benefits

  • Greater Innovation - Engineers and Designers will get more time to focus on innovation rather than non-value adding monotonous repetitive activities.
  • Process Enhancements - Communication between different systems, such as CAD to PLM to ERP, will be streamlined.
  • Reduced communication gaps between departments - Integrating the CAx Automation to cloud systems empowers sales teams. Specifically, they don't need to rely on other departments for their inputs, thus reducing their response time to the customer.

Some Additional Points Regarding Automation

  • Not all design activities can be automated. Only activities where the decision-making points are clearly defined can be automated.
  • Initial automation costs can be high. And, depending upon the complexity, the development may take longer time.
  • Updates in design standards must be implemented promptly in automations.
  • As human intervention is reduced or removed in obvious processes, it becomes even more important and impactful at the critical, decision-making stages of a system or process.

What Organizations Should Be Using Automation?

Organizations that have one or more of the following criteria may be ripe for automation:

  1. Configurable product lines.
  2. Continuous communication requirements between different systems. For example, their PLM system and CAD tools need to communicate.
  3. Pre-Sales activities where information is exchanged between departments.

Preparing for Automation: Three Simple Rules

In closing, with much to consider when considering automation, here's three simple rules to get you started:

  1. Analyse the steps of design.
  2. Identify repetitive activities.

Document all the rules and decision-making notes associated with it.

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