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Breaking down walls: linking knowledge with design

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FOR a manufacturer who purchases a new CAD/CAM system once every five years, trawling through a vast range of software and products, particularly when on the surface every product looks the same, is a daunting prospect.

Paul Gantz, managing director of Intercad, is in the thick of the software jungle, yet still finds the pace of technological process relentless.

“Our biggest problem today is to keep up with the changes, and everyone, including our competitors, struggles with this.

“I pity the poor customer who has to make a decision from say 4-5 products, all mid-high CAD level software, because to the uninitiated, they all look suspiciously alike. Some companies are selling a commodity, but in light of this, we’re selling expertise and solutions for the next 3 to 5 years for the company,” said Gantz.

Knowledge robots

Often the biggest challenge is to plan for the future, as well as keep up with the changes of today. Many users know of 3D modelling as the “Holy Grail” of CAD/CAM, but another feature that is set to see major development is the capture of knowledge.

For many, the move from 2D to 3D over a decade ago means that programs not only carry information about the model’s physical properties, but also embed additional engineering and costing information that can automatically flow up to the ERP systems. This knowledge can be easily used in processes such as stress analysis, plastic mould simulations and flow simulations for water, developing a better quality product.

“The old image of a house with a roof, complete with dimensions, is old hat. You can put in these models all the information that is needed for any company - the material, the supplier of the part, what colour it is, the cost, the engineers involved – and then someone else can put more information in the same model.

Once the information is transferred to a machine, it will automatically cut the part because it knows all the data that is needed,” Gantz told Manufacturers Monthly.

Dennis Colusso, director of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), agrees and claims that current CAD systems at the top end of the market are starting to better understand the process by which things are designed, embedding best practices into their systems and transforming into a type of “knowledge robot”.

“In sheetmetal, the system can tell you that you need to bend the metal at a certain radius or hold it at a certain distance from the edge, preventing conditions in which the product could fail.

“Then there are more elaborate systems, with detailed information such as how the model would sit on a shelf embedded into the process for designing that model. As people use the system, they are in a sense guided by these rules,” said Colusso.

In the past, CAD systems capable of complex geometry worked alongside high-level ‘knowledge’ systems designed to evaluate requirements, but there was little interaction between the two worlds. To break down this wall, PLM has developed a technology to wrap around the concept of information sharing called NX Knowledge Fusion.

This new technology creates a link between CAD systems and information systems by building necessary parameters into the designs themselves. Specific models are embedded with rules and information that can be continually added throughout the process, influencing the design throughout its lifecycle.

This program, with others of a similar nature, has many benefits for users including shorter lead times, more accurate bids and easy alterations. However, Colusso believes that only a small number of manufacturers are taking advantage of what’s available.

“It’s a very small percentage of customers that are using it, but they’re able to reduce their design cycles by anywhere between 70-90%.

“People need to see what the potential is. You’ve got two factors that come into play with this technology – the reduction of the cycle with more iterations, reducing the time the product takes to get to the market; and a simplified rulebook so that when a designer is creating something, all the components are able to interact with each other and they can go and check the rules,” he said.

A users tool, not obstacle

Another important development, alongside embedded information, is the ease and speed with which programmers can use CAD systems in their practices.

In the early days of CAD/CAM technology, Gantz says that users had to be a selected group of experts in order to be an operator. Today, functionality has reached a level that includes most users, as ongoing developments make the technology more intuitive and the user interface easier to navigate.

“Early CAD systems forced users to spend more time on how they’re going to do something, rather than the content of what they are doing. Today, the majority of time is back to being spent on what the operator wants to achieve,” said Gantz.

“However, I still think that ease of use still has a long way to go. As the saying goes, hell doesn’t exist anymore, but heaven hasn’t arrived yet.”

Increased speed is another developing area, and one example of this is Sydney based manufacturer Dexion’s implementation of Autodesk Inventor, the basis for 3D modelling system Procreate.

The company originally intended to integrate the system simply to harness 3D drawings as a valuable sales tool, but also discovered that the system brought increased productivity and reduced time-to-quote to their operations.

The end result was that all the component pieces of a project – quotes, proposals, models, site and installation layouts – could be produced more rapidly.

According to Graham Eastick, general manager for logistics at Dexion, the company can now output the complete design of a 30,000 pallet warehouse in approximately 10 minutes, where as previously, such a job would have taken one person two or three working days.

These developments are taking CAD technology into the next generation, helping Australian industry keep in step with the rest of the global marketplace.

Intercad 02 9454 4444.

Product Lifecycle Management 03 9835 5400.

Autodesk 02 9844 8000.

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