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PTC Virtual Corporate Visit — Operations and Strategy

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

I recently attended a web-based company update by way of a quarterly PTC Virtual Corporate Visit. Over 500 people registered for the event that featured Jim Heppelmann, PTC’s President and CEO, as well as a customer, Dave Winter, VP R&D Lifetime Products. This time, though, I’ll focus on what Mr. Heppelmann had to say.

He started off by saying that PTC has a product and service advantage, meaning that PTC vision is being the premier provider of technology solutions that are transforming how products are created and serviced. PTC focuses on product companies and the processes that determine what and how they will create products and where and how those products will be serviced.

What PTC is offering is not just better products and services, but rather, a better way of creating products and services.

To explain what differentiates PTC’s offerings from ERP, Heppelmann said that ERP optimizes operations through operational coordination, while PTC optimizes product strategy (what-if) with strategy coordination during all phases of the product lifecycle with different functions within a manufacturing organization:
-Hardware and software engineering
-Supply chain and manufacturing
-Sales and service

(more…)

Simulating Mechatronics with LabVIEW

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

National Instruments (NI) is an interesting company that develops NI LabVIEW software as its flagship product. The company is fortunate to sell its products to a diverse customer base of more than 30,000 different companies worldwide, with no one customer representing more than 3 percent of revenue and no one industry representing more than 15 percent of revenue. Customer base diversity is an especially good thing in the technical software market.

I have followed NI for a number of years and really got interested in the company a few years ago with LabVIEW 8.5 being used alongside SolidWorks. LabVIEW has followed a natural progression in the evolution of the NI product line for designing and prototyping complex systems, including robots, that are becoming increasingly pervasive in the world around us, and not just manufacturing environments anymore.

National Instruments supports the increasing need for simultaneous simulation of mechanical and electrical systems, also known as mechatronics. As I have been saying for several years, there was a time when mechanical systems and products were strictly mechanical, however, the majority of today’s products continue to become more capable, and more complex, involving the integration of mechanical, electrical, and software subsystems.

A more comprehensive way to view mechatronics is the systematic integration of mechanical, electrical, electronics, and embedded firmware (software) components. When all of the various components are combined the result is an electromechanical system. Maybe a better term is functional ecosystem. In this context, mechatronics is characterized by software and electronics controlling electromechanical systems. This description is widely seen in automotive engines and other automotive systems, as well as production machinery and medical equipment.

A continuing trend is that as mechatronics systems get more complex and as functionality demands increase, in many instances software and firmware are replacing or at least supplementing hardware. A benefit of this transition from hardware to the burgeoning emphasis on software is called “postponement,” that is, the ability to include or change major functionality features during the final stages of production via embedded software. (more…)

Tool Maker Survival – Part 1

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Both my father and father-in-law (and his father) were master tool and die makers who made excellent tools and decent livings over the course of their careers. I chose not to follow in their footsteps, but rather, to go to engineering and design school instead. However, I consider tool making to be a noble profession and one that has contributed immensely to the quality of our lives for many years and will continue to do so for many years to come.

With all the news we continue to hear today about product design, engineering, and manufacturing increasingly being outsourced in every direction away from North America, surprisingly little coverage seems to be given to the heart of product manufacturing, namely, tooling and tool making.

Although most of our readers are obviously manufacturing-savvy, let’s first define what we mean by “tooling,” because it’s often a misunderstood term by those outside manufacturing. Simply put, tooling entails the tools, machines, or other devices required to manufacture products – everything from car fenders to detergent bottles. The two most prominent groups of toolmakers are die makers whose tools stamp out metal parts, and mold makers whose tools mold plastic parts.

Beginning a long time ago, the huge transportation market (primarily automotive) still dominates the tooling industry. Because the automotive sector is rapidly outsourcing as much of its manufacturing overseas, it becomes very clear why tool and die makers, especially the family-owned small ones with five to 100 employees have suffered the most. It’s estimated that approximately 60% of stamping dies and 40% of plastic molds are used directly or indirectly by automakers worldwide, so it’s no wonder the smaller tool shops are bearing the brunt of offshore outsourcing. This offshore outsourcing has cost a huge number of tooling jobs in North America, according to estimates from several sources.

Historically, toolmakers and machinists have been among the most highly skilled and highest paid trades in the manufacturing world, but also people who provided among the highest value-added services on or near the manufacturing floor. Although some would argue that technologically enhanced professions are just as valuable, a good toolmaker/machinist is still a true asset and value-added provider today. If nothing else, these toolmakers have been instrumental in the quality level and success of manufacturing in North America for 200+ years.

As if offshore outsourcing weren’t enough of a problem, there is also the problem of money. Let’s face it, tools are expensive to make and toolmakers generally don’t get paid until a job is complete. In fact, many toolmakers are forced to wait for months to be paid until the customer is satisfied with the quality of parts that a tool is producing. During this period, however, toolmakers’ bills must still be paid to keep their businesses running. This payment lag also can make it difficult for toolmakers to obtain bank loans to either allow toolmakers to grow their businesses, or merely keep them afloat until payment is finally received.

So what does this all mean and where is it all going? Is there a direction or solution for tool makers? That’s what we’ll discuss next time.

Tool Maker Survival – Part 2

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

It’s no secret that many tool makers have experienced and are still experiencing difficult times.

By necessity, the tooling industry is transforming from its roots as a craft to a future as a complex business. For this transformation to be successful, the tooling industry as a whole must realize that it is not just undergoing a temporary downturn in business, but a radical restructuring. This restructuring is evident in not only mergers and acquisitions (consolidation), but also in cooperative and collaborative practices taking place between small- and medium-sized tool shops. Additionally, new business models are being developed by innovative toolmakers for supporting their ability to compete today and tomorrow with just about anyone, regardless of geographic location.

Restructuring an industry, however, is an extremely tall order because it involves cultural change as much as it does developing new business models. One of the toughest cultural aspects that must be recognized and addressed is the fact that although tool making historically has been regarded as a craft requiring high degrees of skill, unfortunately, it is increasingly becoming regarded as a commodity.

What, a commodity with no real distinguishing characteristics?

To a certain extent, yes, (although there are notable exceptions) because what was done by hand and eye by a select number of tool shops can now be performed by just about any shop anywhere, due to technologies (3D solid modeling, rapid tooling and manufacturing processes, high-speed machining (HSM), etc.) available to just about anybody who chooses to employ them. There is a remedy to this commodity perception; however, by seeking out niches and having outstanding product, material, process and customer knowledge, and many North American tool shops are embracing these practices.

Like virtually all other aspects of manufacturing, integrating technologies in tool making assist in becoming more competitive, but in the end, it is the creativity and adaptivity of people (both on the production floor and in the management office) to an ever changing business climate, in concert with appropriate technologies, that will ultimately win the battle and more business.

MCADCafe eMagazine: Autodesk Launches Cloud-Based PLM

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Autodesk announced the immediate availability of Autodesk PLM 360. The next-generation cloud-based alternative provides a powerful, affordable and easy-to-implement solution at a fraction of the cost of traditional PLM systems.

Autodesk PLM 360 is the latest offering to build upon the company’s leadership with cloud-based solutions. Unlike traditional PLM systems — which have historically been expensive and complicated — Autodesk PLM 360 is instant-on and easily configurable to meet customer-specific product-lifecycle process needs across the enterprise. It is also the first cloud-based PLM solution focused on business applications beyond engineering and bill of material management. As a result, employees in a range of roles — from planning and product development to quality and compliance to service and more — can better access product and project-related information that helps them continuously improve the products they design and manufacture.

“Our customers deserve modern technology to help solve the needs of their increasingly complex and global businesses,” said Robert “Buzz” Kross, senior vice president, Design, Lifecycle and Simulation at Autodesk. “Autodesk PLM 360’s simple, flexible, cloud-based approach will radically improve the ability for companies to gain the full benefits of PLM, helping them to become more competitive and grow their business.”

(more…)

PTC’s Vision of Mobile PLM Apps

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

In early February I received some interesting information from PTC touting its plans for making some of its PLM offerings available to mobile users. At that time, PTC said:

“Mobility and mobile applications have a way of impinging on our daily lives – for better or worse – more so today than ever before. Whether it is keeping a global project moving during your time zone’s “off hours,” being able to access all the relevant data and product code while out in the field, or accessing product data on your mobile phone, there is just no denying the presence and impact of mobility.

In fact, according to IDC research, by 2014, 46% of employees will be mobile only. Which means that by 2014, vendors need to be able to supply reliable, scalable, affordable mobile applications that can support 46% demand and usage. Couple this with a workforce of young professionals who want, expect and need a modern, mobile infrastructure.

And then you can start to imagine these apps:

  • Mobile PLM for the engineer
  • Mobile PLM for the administrator
  • Mobile PLM for the service technician
  • Mobile Social Product Development
  • CAD creation mobile sketching tools

(more…)

Autodesk PLM 360 — Social PLM For Everyone?

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

This morning, Autodesk presented and launched Autodesk PLM 360 (fomerly known as code name Nexus at Autodesk University).

Participating in today’s presentation and launch were:
Brenda Discher, Vice President, Manufacturing Strategy & Industry Marketing
Buzz Kross, Senior Vice President, Design, Lifecycle & Simulation (new title?)
Steve Bodnar, Vice President, Data Management

The underlying themes for the presentation were “PLM for Everyone” and “Always On.” The presenters consistently stressed that Autodesk PLM 360 is more than just file sharing. It was made clear that PDM (on premise with Autodesk Vault) is for the design department, whereas PLM (PLM 360 and the cloud) is for the enterprise by providing crowdsource capabilities for sharing data and supporting business processes. It was made clear, though, that you do not need vault to use PLM 360 — it will work with any PDM system.

The phrase that kept coming up throughout the presentation was that Autodesk PLM 360 is, “Insanely Configurable.” That borrows pretty heavily from the late Steve Jobs’s product introductions at Apple, and I’m not so sure that PLM 360 is in that league, but time will tell. The fact that it is customer configurable, however, is noteworthy in and of itself. It was also said that no beta user took more than three days to get PLM 360 up and running. No details here, but that’s easy to follow-up on and confirm.

Autodesk claims that its PLM 360 will completely change the PLM landscape, primarily because it costs a fraction (10%) of legacy systems, and requires no special hardware, consultants, or programmers for implementation. Of course, this needs to be proven, but those are pretty heady claims when compared with the competition.

Even though it admits it’s entering the PLM market late, Autodesk is hoping to take advantage of current PLM customers who are dissatisfied with what they have. The company also is claiming that, “The cloud is the perfect technology for PLM” and “If you can use a browser, you can use Autodesk PLM 360.”

As far as pricing goes for PLM 360, the first 3 users are free for all access, and this will resonate well with really small businesses. Additional regular users are $75/month/user. What Autodesk calls participants (casual users) are $25/month/user — although it’s a little unclear what distinguishes a participant over a regular user.

Regardless of price, security has historically been one of the biggest barriers to wider PLM acceptance. Autodesk assured us that that piece has been thoroughly addressed, as well as data backup, and disaster recovery. All good things.

Autodesk PLM 360 is available now and cocnsists of ~140 apps (modules for specific functions?). According to Autodesk, it spent a lot of time and effort maximizing the user experience and minimizing the learning curve. Kross said, “The user experience is key, because the UI for most software [including PLM] has not really progressed since 2000.” I’ll agree there.

When asked what distinguishes Autodesk PLM 360 and other competitive cloud offerings, Kross responded, “Ours is real and we are in the market.”

So, will Autodesk PLM 360 fulfill the promise of “PLM for everyone?” Will it be where business apps meet social apps for social PLM? That’s hard to say at this early stage, but it seems like Autodesk has a lot of the pieces in place. I’ll reserve judgement, though, until I actually experience PLM 360 hands-on myself.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

For More Information: www.autodeskplm360.com

Moving Lean Manufacturing Beyond The Factory Floor – Part 2

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Last time we discussed lean manufacturing and applying it to factory floor processes. This time we’ll discuss applying it to other parts and processes of a manufacturing entity.

The primary goal for any business is making a profit. The factory floor and processes which are huge portions of manufacturing companies, however, are not profit centers, they are cost centers. This cost is a variable that may but probably does not carry over to all aspects of a company. To work on an enterprise level, mechanisms must evolve that foster lean principles. But, because a factory floor and a business as a whole have different problems, different requirements, different ways of thinking, just having the mechanisms in place for lean principles isn’t enough. Also in many cases what works on the factory floor may not necessarily translate and work in other parts of a company. Buy in by all parts of an enterprise is an absolute necessity for lean principles to work.

For applying lean principles throughout a company, it helps to think of an office as analogous to a factory, only the main product it creates is paperwork or digital information. Like raw materials that are transformed to a finished product, paper and information also go through a series of process steps, but end up spending the majority of its life waiting for someone in the chain to act on it. One of the most applicable areas of lean principles in paperwork and digital information is rework where the wrong data has been entered or is missing – error proofing.

Acceptance of lean principles is not always universal, but resistance is often a matter of misunderstanding. For example, there is a perception by some that all lean principles do is reduce inventory and employment levels. Actually that is a misperception because ideally, lean principles can unlock workers’ hidden talent and increase their capabilities to improve the overall business.

The place where it all began, Toyota, has been hard at work to extend its TPS to other parts of its business beyond the factory floor. However, it’s proving to be a challenge dealing with non-physical inputs and outputs, and protracted time frames with multi-year product development cycles. Indications are, though, that the company is making progress in its Japanese and North American facilities.

The biggest challenge for any manufacturer trying to adopt lean principles is to deploy it beyond the factory floor. While an increasing number of manufacturers are succeeding in applying lean principles on the factory floor, applying them to the balance of the organization still has a long way to go.

Moving Lean Manufacturing Beyond The Factory Floor – Part 1

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

We’ve all heard now for many, many years that lean manufacturing is one of the keys to remaining competitive if you want to stay in manufacturing. However, can some of the principles of lean manufacturing be applied to other parts of a business beyond manufacturing? That is a question that a growing number of companies are attempting to answer, especially in today’s super-competitive marketplace.

The phrase “lean manufacturing” is an English invention that was coined by James Womack and used to summarize Japanese manufacturing techniques, specifically, the Toyota Production System (TPS). The phrase is used to describe Toyota’s approach for expanding peoples thinking beyond basic tools and tasks.

Since I learned about lean manufacturing (or production) a long time ago, a comprehensive definition has evolved in my mind over the years. Lean manufacturing is one of those things that can defy definition.

Ask 10 people what it is and you’re likely to get 10 at least slightly different answers. Basically, lean manufacturing is a combined philosophy, initiative, and method for continually reducing waste in all areas and forms to improve the quality and efficiency of a manufacturing process. An even simpler way to define lean manufacturing is a method for producing products using less of everything (material, time, energy, etc.) compared to mass production.

Lean manufacturing isn’t just as simple as doing more with less. It is a very complex methodology with many dependencies. It is a comprehensive methodology that seeks to minimize the resources required for creating and manufacturing a product. Although lean principles strive to make things simpler, these principles actually add a layer or level of complexity to processes.

I think that to this point, and somewhat ironically, lean manufacturing concepts have tended to focus strictly on the processes occurring only on the factory floor. Ironic, because to truly exploit all that lean processes have to offer can and should be deployed throughout a company — from the factory floor to the top floor. Obviously, that’s easier said than done, and that’s what we’ll discuss next time in the MCADCafe Blog.

Introducing CAE Into Your CAD/CAM Workflow: Look Before You Leap

Friday, January 27th, 2012

There are several types of CAE-related manufacturing applications for optimizing the use of materials, tools, shape and time, and machine layout by simulating and analyzing specific manufacturing processes. However, probably the most common method for getting CAE into a manufacturing environment, finite element analysis (FEA) for parts and tooling.

FEA is a numerical technique for calculating the strength and behavior of structures. It can be used to calculate deflection, stress, vibration, buckling, and other behaviors. Typical applications for FEA would include minimizing weight and/or maximizing the strength of a part or assembly.

In FEA, structures are divided into small, simple units, called elements. While the behavior of individual elements can be described with a relatively simple set of equations, a large set of simultaneous equations are required to describe the behavior of a complex structure. When the equations are solved, the computer and FEA tool displays the physical behavior of the structure based on the individual elements.

FEA tools can be used for innovating or optimizing mechanical designs. Optimization is a process for improving a design that results in the best physical properties for minimum cost. However, optimization using FEA tools can prove difficult, because each design variation takes time to evaluate, making iterative optimization time consuming. On the other hand, FEA tools can really shine when seeking new and unique ways of designing things – the most crucial aspect of innovation.

Before committing to any CAE tool, however, be sure it is compatible with your existing CAD and CAM tools, the types of parts and assemblies you design, and your general workflow.

Keep in mind that there is no one tool that serves everyone’s needs. Some will be interested fluid flow, others in structural mechanical properties, and still others in thermal issues. Get input from as many groups within your organization as are likely to benefit from CAE tools. When evaluating CAE tools, make sure you evaluate them with your models; not just models supplied by a vendor. That way, you’ll be able to objectively evaluate different CAE tools that best suit your needs in your environment, and not be overly swayed by what a vendor wants you to see. Obviously, it’s in your best interest for objectivity to use the same parts or assemblies with different CAE tool vendors.

Finally, a word of caution. Don’t expect CAE tools to solve all your problems with all of your parts. Like CAD and CAM tools, they should be used in conjunction with experience and common sense to arrive at optimized and innovative designs. Calculating return on investment when using CAE tools can be as complicated as performing analyses on complex assemblies. However, you can probably count on estimating ROI from time saved during the design process, lower material costs, reduced numbers of physical prototypes and ECOs, and possibly greatly reducing the number of product liability lawsuits. CAE tools cannot perform miracles by themselves because they still require a significant human element, but employed wisely, will likely improve your workflow and provide tangible benefits.




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