Let engineers do engineering

Feb. 19, 2004
Design teams work more efficiently when they have 2D and 3D CAD with data-management functions at their fingertips.
Designers typically reuse existing configurations and push legacy data to others rather than actually creating new designs. The key to maximizing time savings is improving the efficiency of the whole process with software that includes 3D modeling, 2D work, and data management.
The printing press from Giardina, Italy, was modeled in thinkdesign. The same interface works for making or modifying 2D drawings.
MBF Inc. manufacturers bottle sterilizers, fillers such as the Synchrofill, cappers, and complete bottling lines for Napa Valley wineries. The company grew tenfold in five years and had problems managing designs. After adopting the XYZ design concept, man-hours spent on modifications went down by 45%, and time spent filing and retrieving information was reduced by 75%. The company now delivers bottling lines in nine months instead of 10.
The 2D features in thinkdesign let users, such as printing-press maker Giardina, make drawings and plant layouts from 3D parts faster than when designing from scratch.
Thinkteam, a data-management module embedded into thinkdesign, lets large groups and departments easily access engineering product data in a process-oriented manner. A graphical-user interface defines users, roles, organizations and projects. Part lists and BOMs can be generated for assembly drawings derived from 3D models.

Daniel Meyer
Vice president
Cincinnati, Ohio

Your job as an engineer is designing new products. It's what you were hired for and most likely what you enjoy doing. But there are other necessary tasks that sap design time, such as looking for information and sending data to other groups. As important as these tasks are, they are often uncreative and make no use of your technical expertise. They are also a drain on productivity and obstacles in the road to success and profitability.

Recognition of the time and money lost prompts at least two questions: How much is wasted on low-value activities? And what can be done to refocus engineering duties on useful design work?

The XYZ idea

An approach, the XYZ framework, helps answer the questions and gives insight into finding ways for designers to work more productively. As a way of quantifying the time spent on different activities, let X represent time spent modifying existing designs, Y for the time creating new designs, and Z for pushing design data to others. The sum of these three should be the total time spent on projects. And the X and Z components, if they can be quantified, would reveal how much time gets spent on low-value tasks. The framework can also be used to reduce time spent ineffectively and improve product development.

Companies looking to improve engineering productivity often try a shortsighted approach: Reducing time spent creating new designs by purchasing only a solid-modeling CAD system. That means they still spend considerable time on low-value X and Z tasks such as gleaning databases to answer supplier questions. So the 3D CAD system that was supposed to slash time off project cycles often turns out to be a rather dull instrument when considering the overall effect.

Some companies address X, Y, and Z issues with patchwork or stand-alone systems and modules from different vendors: a solid modeler for 3D design work, a program for routine 2D drawings, and a PDM system for managing product information.

The downside of this multivendor approach is that patching programs together becomes your responsibility. Even after all the hardware and software is finally running, users still have to push data in and out of the different systems with different interfaces. Nothing happens automatically. The bottom line: Using a collection of different programs and platforms is neither the easiest nor most-efficient way to work. Jumping in and out of different systems lowers productivity and increases the chance of errors. Translating files between different formats often loses critical product data. Such fragmented solutions address only separate parts of the whole process. Thus, it fails to optimize XYZ times and may introduce more problems than it solves.

A better way to handle the XYZ processes is with one system capable of 2D and 3D design, and data management, such as thinkdesign. It includes functions for 2D and 3D design work, as well as basic data-management capabilities that are easily extended into a complete product-data management solution with thinkteam. With this setup, there's one data set, one interface, and one unified toolset in a single software environment.

Software that shares data among different functions helps manage information. For example, associative features change the appropriate 2D drawings when changes are made to the 3D model. And when users start a new part, the internal PLM system automatically tracks essential information such as date of origin, revision level, and who is working on it at the moment. The automation keeps users from manually translating between different systems.

This is more than what's typically offered in CAD packages, and more practical than what's ordinarily licensed as PLM. A significant portion of design work is still done in 2D, and companies don't want to go through the hassle of transferring all their 2D designs to 3D.

Having all data in the same system encourages efficient reuse of existing designs. State-of-the art 2D and 3D capabilities in hybrid modelers maximizes the time spent on new designs. It's easier to find information and transfer it to other areas of the enterprise. And computer generated bills-of-material are more readily available downstream to departments such as purchasing and manufacturing. All these capabilities work together so designers can perform more efficiently and positively impact the entire product-development process.

XYZ at work

Several companies have shown that adopting software to address the XYZ framework solves the time-division problem. For example, Italy-based Kosme, a manufacturer of industrial bottle-labeling machines, transitioned to a design system built on the XYZ concept, gained the benefits of working in 3D, and trimmed the time usually spent creating new designs. The company credits features such as better interference checking and visualization. They slashed 60% off the time usually spent modifying existing parts, and data-management capabilities let them improve their business for spare-parts and generation of manuals. Bottom-line benefits of data management include 70% less time spent searching for information, 60% less time creating BOMs, and 80% less time checking on product status.

After struggling for years to benefit from 3D designs using a high-end system, Kosme engineers hadn't improved their process much at all. It was difficult to get people trained, and it did not integrate well with the previous 2D system.

Another example comes from Stranco Products of US Filter, Bradley, Ill. (www.strancoaquatics.com), a maker of water-management equipment for commercial, industrial, municipal, and residential customers. Even though new products were derived from previous ones, design cycles averaged one to two weeks with engineers spending hours searching disk drives, old job folders, and paper catalogs to find what they needed. But once located, only a half-day was often needed to modify existing parts from their design component library. Once a design finished, BOMs turned into time sinks by taking long periods to write by hand. Even then, accuracy was as low as 60%. Errors were not found until it came time to build. But by using the data-management capability, BOM accuracy increased to 90%, customizing catalog components takes only 5 min, and design-cycle time is only two to three days -- a 70% reduction in their XYZ framework.

Make contact:

think3, (800) 323-6770, www.think3.com

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