WHILE manufacturers are still using CAD/CAM tools essentially for the same purpose as they were 10 years ago - to create a virtual prototype of their products - today many, instead of just simulating products from a physical perspective, are trying to build ever more into such models.
Michael Campbell, vice president of product management for PTC’s AMCAD line of tools, describes a trend happening at the moment called ‘model-centric design’. “People are capturing not just geometric properties like size and shape, but also requirements,” he told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
“For example, a particular model might need to be balanced, have a maximum weight or maintain a certain volume. Manufacturers are also tying their structural, thermal analysis and radiation analyses into their models.
“There is a pretty big initiative underway around capturing a lot of the content in what we would traditionally think of as a 2D drawing in the 3D model itself, ”he said.
Campbell is also noticing a lot of collaboration between different stakeholders, including customers. In the consumer products, medical and automotive industries, especially, customers are being invited to participate in design sessions and ensure the product is right much earlier in the process than in the past, he says.
Another trend in the past year or so, according to Campbell, has been more convergence and integration of CAD, CAM, data management and collaboration tools. He claims that other vendors are now adopting PTC’s vision in this respect.
However, he questions the wisdom and advantages of integrating a CAD/CAM system with a core manufacturing system such as SAP or Oracle Manufacturing. Rather, he advocates another layer of integration between CAD/CAM and the data management system that then passes data on to ERP systems.
“Traditionally, SAP has been about managing the product after it has been released to manufacturing. At PTC we look at the world as before release to manufacturing (RTM) and after release to manufacturing.
“What goes on after release, frankly, is a lot easier to deal with because there are known quantities, costs and physical items to manage, whereas what goes on before RTM during product development is a lot more nebulous and tougher to manage. I don’t think the ERP systems have the understanding of what goes on during product development to manage that data effectively,” Campbell said.
Both Campbell and David Peake, who manages a series of accounts for Concentric , a provider and reseller of engineering solutions, believe that Australia is lagging somewhat in migrating from 2D to 3D CAD/CAM modelling tools.
However, as always, there are notable exceptions. Peake says that Boeing in Australia is starting to use full 3D design and Toyota has set up a regional design centre and implemented 3D modelling for its next generation of cars.
Digital manufacturing is becoming another major trend in which companies virtualise and design the entire shop floor before committing to production, according to Peake. Even the robotics can be pre-programmed and analysed to see how long it will take to make sub-components and sub-assemblies before the end product comes together, he says.
CAD/CAM has also evolved from being design centric to process centric or into PLM (product lifecycle management), which includes data management and this virtualisation of manufacturing.
“The Australian tier one automotive and aerospace companies are really going down the PLM route now. The promises of 10 or 15 years ago are starting to come to fruition now, where multi-discipline teams are all building the one product working together,” Peake said.
According to Peake, it can be much more beneficial for manufacturers to have one integrated system, rather than a number of piecemeal products for different tasks.
“They might pay $5000 - $10,000 each for those [products] when they could have got them all-in-one for $30,000. So it’s costing them about the same, but they’ve had to train a lot more and they’re still limited,” Peake said.
To negate the need to spend an inordinate amount of time in training sessions, Campbell’s advice is to select a CAD/CAM system that is easy to learn and use. Scalability is another important factor, he says, so that when a company needs additional functionality or power, rather than buy a new system, it just has to buy a new licence and switch on the new capabilities.
He also counsels companies to make progress in a stepwise fashion.
“You can’t automate the entire process overnight. There is a learning curve, and it’s a change in the way that people work. But there are huge benefits in taking advantage of some of this technology, and by now there are lots of people out there who have done it, so there is a lot of experience to learn from,” Campbell said.