Often people say, they find it hard to make decisions.
Unfortunately, we have to make decisions all the time on inventions, devices and systems created by us which did not exist before or improvements made over existing devices and systems. Inventions or new designs, do not suddenly appear from nowhere. Companies have to invest money and time considering competition in the market. The design activity occurs over a period of time where it requires step-by-step modifications and maturity in the system. We know that design problems are often open ended in nature and they could have multiple solutions. Systems are developed in manufacturing companies considering such problems and challenges. These systems are the result of bringing together technologies to meet human needs or to solve problems and do a task more quickly or efficiently. Today, problems and challenges are measured in terms of cost which becomes a major decision tool in the competitiveness of companies. Organizations often use failure review analysis which helps them develop a multi-objective design approach for comprehensive analysis (Cost saving opportunities) of the manufacturing aspects and helps them adopt changes to meet market needs.
Some fundamental issues are observed in manufacturing companies. Many companies are struggling to solve design for manufacturing problems and save cost. These companies have operated for many years in a system where design and manufacturing teams worked independently and rarely exchanged their feedbacks on the failures and challenges. Even in cases, where the feedbacks were exchanged, learnings were not transferred in a meaningful manner to the next design or the next product.
An experience of failure itself is one of the solutions (though a potentially expensive one) for system development, so many guideline/reference books are published in the market to support product design and yes, users have been benefited from them. However, engineers are now used to computers and CAD tools for product design. In that case, why would engineers refer the guidelines in book to complete design? Can’t these guidelines be integrated in the CAD environment? Fact is, every engineer’s knowledge and experience is unique and he is a master in a particular subject. If the situation or requirement requires him to work on a new design, which is not his core area, obviously, the end result may fail due to lack of subject knowledge.
Product design is not a simple subject. It requires a lot of hands-on experience. Many engineers in a company work in a particular department for many years. Their learnings may be recorded in their own individual experience/guideline books for their reference. Another challenge is that they have to visit the problem area and spend a lot of time to gain the knowledge from other departments- this is one of the reasons why companies experience indirect overheads on engineering change orders. Issues may be related to other departments such as manufacturing, quality, logistics, etc.
As per my experience, we have to develop a digital guidelines library for an engineer, where he has to spend less time on searching for best practices to consider the requirements/constraints from other departments and all such departmental requirements can be bundled in a single library for wide spread usage. As we know, automation development is not an easy activity – the first part is understanding the user requirement and the next part is to convert it to machine language.
As per my knowledge, limited manufacturing knowledge is added in latest CAD tools library, such as global interference, standard holes, taps size recommendations, etc. These few solutions have brought certain improvements to the engineering companies considering essential issues. However, such solutions address a limited set of problems and are not easily extensible to serve as design assistants which can be customized for organizational requirements. We have to design an extensible architecture to accommodate Manufacturing process, Tooling and Costing related rules or recommendations in guideline library and this becomes a reference book for design engineers.
A digital library is needed which can also help identify and generate more cost saving opportunities, identify failures or features within product during NPD cycle. Automated digital guidelines library can increase success rate of NPD, such as medical, consumer electronics, industrial etc. in cases where new product development rate and indirect overhead costs are very high compared to other industries in development cycle.
To build the most powerful competitive edge in market, companies must change their product development strategies and look for latest automations and continuous improvement plans. Henceforth, each department should aim to change existing situations into preferred ones rather than continue with the status quo. Implementation of automation in product development will bring maturity in design activity which helps reduce design cycle time. Everything we have around us has been practically designed with help of some design guidelines, field failures and supplier feedbacks as we keep learning and improving. This methodology is followed by the engineers to solve complex problems of clients in an appropriate solution by understanding, learning, past experience, thinking, planning and creativity. A typical engineer’s mind-set is solution-focused and not problem-focused.
Virtual 3D models are created by designers using their functional and product knowledge considering application requirements with help of CAD tools – these models present the design virtually to engineers (application) before manufacturing begins and engineers can also manipulate these 3D models in a way they often can’t with 2D CAD drawings.
- Can be more accurate than hand-drawn designs – it reduces human error.
- Can help quickly create and present new ideas, which makes it easier and cheaper to modify your design as you go along.
- Can help modify existing ideas, which saves time.
Are we really considering other critical design for manufacturing issues in the model? No, in most cases only customer requirements are considered. One of the reasons for this situation is that those guidelines are not readily available in the CAD environment. As a result, the only option is to release the drawing to production and wait for feedback from each department or from the supplier. In some cases, other teams will not share problematic issues and knowledge back to the design engineer. Instead the process will get adjusted or in the worst case, the design is changed, to ensure that manufacturing gets done. I think that this is not the right approach for product development.
Once the reasons for manufacturing delays or cost overruns attributable to design have been identified, they can be eliminated such that the organization obtains significant gains in efficiency and savings in iterations and feedback time. Putting physical manufacturing and process guidelines putting into practice becomes very easy since every industry uses CAD tools and the platform is also readily available for building guidelines.
A typical process for guideline implementation and usage (Figure.1) involves
- Guideline information gathering and feasibility analysis
- Development of guidelines
- Guideline customization with help of SME
- Complete the analysis using guidelines
- Modify the design as per recommendations
According to my experience, an organization’s focus during new product development should also consider on-time delivery and a cost effective approach in addition to quality and functional requirements. Organizations should capitalize on automation tools and guidelines, which will help capture, enhance and spread engineering knowledge within the organization. Engineers will spend less time on repetitive issues and at the same time they will have additional bandwidth to think out of the box for new innovations.
Organizations have to explore ready-to-use solutions for NPD. Sometimes we have to customize the applications according to our requirements. HCL has developed a DFX platform for a “Design for eXcellence” approach. This platform not only offers out-of-the-box integration (“DFMPro”) for many CAD platforms (Creo/Solidworks/NX) and is available as a standalone application but is also customizable as per organizational requirements and internal best practices. It assists design engineers in terms of recommended best practices, quick cost estimates, materials and alternate manufacturing process selections.
- Capturing downstream knowledge and best practices and making them available during design thus improving overall organizational productivity
- More time for innovation
- High quality output, cost reduction in NPD cycle and fewer engineering change orders
- Digital guidelines library development for engineers with help of subject matter expert knowledge.
We should utilize our brain power mainly for decision making and problem solving rather than remembering reams of recommendations and guidelines. A software can easily assist in that area whereas human intelligence is applied to make final decision on software recommendations.
A software like DFMPro is very useful for design engineers in their daily design activities. The software will assist the engineer in shortening the decision making process It will not generate a new and improved design automatically but the guide the engineer in taking right decisions. This will help to reduce product development failures, analysis efforts, thus saving development cost and time.