Design automation is built upon quality information provided by product standardisation and product configuration processes. From configured information, design automation can build 3D models, provide technical drawings and generate numerous documents previously provided by a large workforce of specialist engineers. Where speed, accuracy and efficiency are paramount design automation can reduce tasks that would normally take thousands of hours reducing the time to a few minutes.
Product standardisation and configuration
Design automation is suitable for businesses that have already fully standardised their products so that these behave in a consistent and predictable manner. Usually, this requires a modular approach in product design and there must be excellent knowledge available for the sizing, selection and integration of these modules. It is highly recommended for any company wishing to employ design automation that first the product standardisation is successfully completed and fully integrated into all other business processes. The second stage of development is to introduce product configuration to automate and guide the selection of standard products. Successful product configuration will validate the selection and integration of the product assemblies and provide valuable information for generating customer quotations and other documents driven directly from the product configuration data.
For many businesses, the introduction of product standardisation and configuration will provide 80% of the overall benefit without the need to extend the process to achieve full design automation. The first stage of product standardisation is recommended to all product manufacturing companies as this can significantly impact efficiency, profitability and customer satisfaction. For most, there is little dependence upon sophisticated software and it leads to numerous improvements throughout the business.
Product configuration is particularly useful for companies that need to provide a large number of customer quotations. Selection rules can be embedded which adds safeguards to the selection process. Sales teams find product configuration tools particularly useful because they provide real-time feedback of technical and commercial information during the selection process making product selection quick, accurate and interactive.
Design automation does require a significant investment of engineering to ensure that all documents and processes respond to the data entry and follow rules established.
The first priority for many businesses is to integrate product configuration with CAD output. This requires software which translates the selection criteria into instructions which can be understood by the CAD software to change either 2D or 3D CAD models. By providing a dynamic integration of the product configurator to the CAD software allows the user to see graphically the changes made to product selection. For many product manufacturing businesses, this leads to a considerable cost saving when compared to engaging the design office to do the same work. CAD output is exceedingly reliable and consistent and ensures that information follows rigidly to the product standards employed.
Further programming of CAD software can provide the automation of drawings and other technical documents. This area of work should not be underestimated, because drawing generation relies greatly on human judgement to ensure legible layout. Whilst the CAD software provides a great deal of information without intervention, programming is required to manage layout, dimensions, details and much more.
Contained in the configured data is information which can provide most if not all the financial information required to monitor, approve and validate the performance of a configured product. All financial summaries can be linked to this data, ensuring that senior management, project managers and sales personnel have immediate and dynamic access to information which is directly linked to the configurated output. With a few additional inputs commercials terms and conditions can be managed, profitability monitored and commercial risks highlighted.
Process and control
In addition to the mechanical assembly, many companies spend a great deal of time designing process control systems, electrical, hydraulic and pneumatic circuits to control the operation of the products. For many companies, this design work can be automated from with the design automation software. Process diagrams, electrical, hydraulic and pneumatic circuits can be driven by the product configurator output. This requires a high degree of engineering planning and the same modular approach taken to the control systems as originally employed on the mechanical product. Other information such as spreadsheets containing I/O, valve, instrument and motor lists can be created. Even programmable logic control software can be automatically generated. Design automation of this kind can save hundreds of man-hours and provide reliable consistent results.
Documentation which contains hundreds of pages such as operation manuals can be generated at the touch of a button. Other documents such as maintenance, installation, commissioning, spares manuals are equally available. The information is available at the point of configuration and eradicates the need for a customer to wait for documentation, which can lead to delays in receiving final payments.
Design automation can save a company hundreds if not thousands of hours of work. There is, of course, a significant investment of time required to standardise the products, systems and documentation to allow design automation. Most often the software is quite bespoke, and this requires careful thought regarding the initial design but also the maintenance of the software. For companies that do implement full design automation the rewards can be huge.