Posts Tagged ‘CAD’
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…)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wednesday, January 25th, 2012
By now you’ve almost certainly got MCAD and CAM tools as a vital component of your business. With them you’ve hopefully seen how they have positively impacted the way you work, as well as the way you interact with your customers and vendors. Looking for a way to further increase your productivity, while continuing to optimize your processes?
If you haven’t already, it’s time you considered integrating tools into your workflow for simulation and analysis of virtually any aspect of the product development lifecycle. Although known in some circles as computer-aided engineering (CAE) tools, that acronym has largely been replaced by simulation and analysis, although they all mean roughly the same thing.
It wasn’t all that long ago that CAE was relegated to the latter stages of the design and manufacturing (product development) process — too many times as an afterthought. This is changing, though, on two fronts. First, realizing the potential payback in terms of reduced production time and getting it right the first time, many design and manufacturing organizations have moved CAE tools further forward in the development process. Some are even using them in the earliest stages of design, the conceptual phase. Second, software vendors are getting better at integrating CAE with their CAD and CAM tools.
A major roadblock to CAE’s wider acceptance has been the perception that only high-priced analysis specialists (math PhDs?) could understand and work with CAE tools. While specialists are required for some of the high-end tools for performing complex analyses, there are many CAE tools now on the market that require just some basic training and practice to become proficient in a relatively time.
Admittedly, all CAE tools require a technical mindset, but you don’t necessarily have to have a doctorate in math anymore to run many types of analysis and simulation. It really just requires familiarity with the interface of a CAE tool for creating and loading digital models, and then reviewing and interpreting the results. A really nice thing is that many CAE tools now work from within the familiar UI of your CAD or CAM tool. Finally, computer prices that continue to drop have helped popularize CAE tools, because some of them require a lot computing horsepower when working with large assemblies or very precise engineering constraints.
If this all sounds easy, it is to a point, but there are some caveats. That’s what we’ll discuss next time, as well as the most commonly used CAE tool — FEA.
Friday, January 20th, 2012
Like all aspects of the product development process, to justify its existence, simulation and test productivity are becoming an evermore pressing issue. Vendors say that in many cases, customers are demanding significant tangible proof of ROI in months, not years.
A major obstacle to wider acceptance of virtual prototyping and manufacturing simulation is a persisting lack of interoperability between CAD, CAM, and digital prototyping in the bigger PLM scenario. In this context, working toward data interoperability is not regarded as a value-added activity. Overall, however, one of the primary goals of digital test and simulation is to make the overall engineering activity sequence more of a value center and less of a cost center. Another goal is the ability to simulate the entire product lifecycle – from concept through production through sustainment to retirement.
Integrating the analytical, virtual, and physical is disruptive and is an obstacle to acceptance because the integration forces people to work differently than they had done previously. This integration only works through evolutionary implementation, and not necessarily everything all at once.
Many of the digital prototyping tools are still too difficult to use, and vendors need to pay more attention to ease of learning/use. Ease of use is important because vendors, even Tier 1 automotive suppliers, with their low margins cannot afford to hire and employ Ph.D.s to run their digital prototyping software.
On the other hand and in their defense, though, these same vendors are not interested in simplifying (“dumbing-down”) their software so much that they can solve only relatively simple problems. This is a big issue, and one that is even bigger than CAD, where ease of learning/use have made great strides for most vendors the past couple of years. Conversely, many vendors feel that the legacy workforce is not well-suited or qualified for the digital prototyping tools available today.
One way to address the ease of use issue is to provide a scaleable user interface on test/analysis applications to suit different user needs and skill levels at different times.This is tough to address because it requires flexibility and adaptability.
Finally, there is the trust factor that can be an obstacle. In the simulation/test arena, there is an adage that roughly goes, “Everyone trusts test results except test engineers, and everyone trusts analysis results except analysts.” Just about everyone agrees, however, that even with the best digital methods, physical testing will never go away.
The decision of whether to use physical versus digital prototyping is a delicate balance of tradeoffs. In fact, many companies employ virtual testing and simulation as a decision-making tool for conducting physical testing.
So how will digital prototyping ultimately succeed? It’s not hardware or software that makes or breaks digital prototyping, it’s people. While great people can overcome marginal or bad hardware and software, marginal people can cause the best hardware and software to fail. In this context, digital prototyping is no different than any other technical endeavor with regard to the absolute importance of the “people factor” for success.
Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
Market speak aside and regardless of whether it’s called, digital or virtual prototyping for manufacturing processes basically comes down to simulating something in the physical world, whether it’s simulating the machining of a part, placement of machines on a plant floor, or optimizing workflow.
To set the record straight, digital prototyping of anything, including manufacturing processes, is not necessarily CAD or CAM, per se. In fact, it primarily involves digital simulation and test to verify and validate designs and processes, and is an intensely math-based method of viewing them. Some vendors define digital simulation and test as simply good, old-fashioned computer-aided engineering (CAE), although most don’t anymore.
Prototypes of any type, whether physical or digital, provide a basis for making predictions about behavior for making better design, manufacturing, and business decisions. Ideally, intelligent digital prototyping is not only computer based, but a synergy of simulation (virtual) and testing (physical) information based on experience.
Much like CAD/CAM, the main areas that digital prototyping for manufacturing processes aim to influence in a positive manner include:
- Accelerating time to market
- Reducing cost
- Increasing safety of the designed product
- Improving product quality, reliability, and performance.
Figures bandied about by various industry pundits and analyst organizations predict that integrated digital prototyping is resulting in cumulative savings for product design and manufacturing processes of billions of dollars, and that’s only the beginning.
One of the greatest benefits of employing math-based methods in digital prototyping is that you can actually see cause and effect and track things that can’t be physically measured. Math captures reality. Digital prototyping is changing the traditional product development cycle from designbuildtestfix to designanalyzetestbuild. This newer paradigm reduces cycle times and is much less physical facility intensive. However, for its value to be fully realized, analysis through digital prototyping should be regarded as important as design of products and processes.
That all sounds good, right? Well, like just about anything that aims to change the status quo, there are obstacles to acceptance of virtual prototyping and manufacturing simulation. Overcoming these barriers will be the topic of the next MCADCafe Blog.