In most companies, product design and manufacturing groups generally operate as separate, autonomous functions. Whether it concerns machining parts, developing jigs and fixtures or making moulds, manufacturing engineers, machinists and production personnel typically do not get involved in the development of a product until the design is released for production by a design engineer.
The product development transition from design to manufacturing is almost always a handoff of 3D design and tooling data and associated 2D drawings. Since designers and manufacturing engineers use different tools for handling design data—one uses CAD software to design the product and the other uses a CAM application to create tool paths and machine moulds. The handoff has typically not been clean, requiring data imports, translations and conversions. Moreover, once the handoff is made, a virtual wall in terms of communication can go up between design and manufacturing. This lack of communication is the basic problem that an integrated CAD/CAM platform solves. However, the potential positive ramifications of the solution are much more widespread.
The integration of CAD and CAM
An integrated CAD/CAM solution helps unify the design through manufacturing process. An integrated CAD/CAM is a CAM solution that uses a CAD system as its front-end, geometry engine. Instead of importing or converting a CAD file, or some other data format, such as IGES or STEP, an integrated CAD/ CAM platform performs CAM operations on the CAD file itself, offering full single-window, bi-directional associativity between the CAM application and the CAD system. This technological advancement offers many advantages that can help one boost productivity, control costs and resolve manufacturability issues.
To understand the potential benefits of an integrated CAD/CAM platform, it’s helpful to contrast the workflow processes associated with the traditional, sequential, non-integrated approach to design through manufacturing versus the concurrent, collaborative workflow process made possible by an integrated CAD/CAM platform.
The non-integrated approach
Using CAD and CAM systems that are not fully integrated, the workflow between design and manufacturing is a linear, sequential handoff of design data, with each subsequent back-and-forth iteration occurring late in the process, adding potential costs and delays. After a design is released to production, manufacturing personnel have to import, convert or translate the data into a file with which they can work to program tool paths for machining either a part or a mold. If there is design geometry, material cost or manufacturability issues, these have to be relayed back to the design engineer for resolution and the process repeats.
These types of problems often go undiscovered until after the creation of tooling and the start of production, resulting in costly scrap and rework. Plus, when an issue is detected, additional linear iterations between design and manufacturing are typically necessary to resolve an issue and the resolutions they employ are sometimes reached as a matter of expediency to avoid more iterations and busy work, rather than quality. In the case of moulded parts, additional linear steps are required to create a prototype mould, mould base and mould inserts. Again, any subsequent iterations needed to address mould performance, such as draft, fill, and parting line issues, require a lot of extra work to iterate between design and manufacturing. Even more disruptive are design changes or engineering change orders (ECOs) that emanate from product design, requiring manufacturing operations to start all over again.
Disadvantages of the non-integrated approach
The non-integrated approach to design through manufacturing has several disadvantages—the most critical being the increased potential for inaccuracy. Whenever you have to convert, translate or import a file, moving from one data format to another, there are opportunities for error as well as a lack of documentation of design changes made for manufacturing reasons that never make their way back to product design.
Secondly, the lack of integration adds time at almost every step. CAM operators program tool paths after the fact and after unnecessary data conversion and translation steps. Addressing manufacturability issues late in the process adds time. Design changes and ECOs create lengthy delays because manufacturing programming has to be redone, and tolerance and dimension information has to be manually updated. In the case of mould development, unnecessary prototype mold iterations are often required to address performance issues.
Time is money, and all this wasted time adds cost to production and shrinks profit margins. High levels of scrap, rework and tooling changes represent lost money. Working with non-integrated tools not only creates barriers to communication but also adds training requirements and additional maintenance expenses.
The non-integrated approach to design through manufacturing can also lead to a lack of healthy interaction between design and manufacturing personnel. The communication barriers raised by working in different systems create separate organisational silos, each of which is protective of its own territory and limits the power of collaboration and teamwork. The non-integrated CAD/CAM workflow disadvantages, thus, includes data translations that create barriers, data accuracy which can be in jeopardy, concurrent design which can be thwarted, involves a time consuming process and is expensive to maintain and train.
CAD/CAM integration improves process
By using an integrated CAD/CAM platform, what was once a linear, sequential workflow with a high probability of costly, time-consuming iterations at the backend becomes a concurrent, collaborative process with more efficient, timely and costeffective interaction occurring early in the sequence. The critical factor underlying this improved design through manufacturing workflow is the common data format and the valuable communication that it facilitates. An integrated CAD/CAM system provides one model supporting both design and manufacturing functions instead of having various file formats, numerous data translations/conversions and different CAD and CAM models. To the CAM system, the CAD model becomes the sole geometry in play.
This single-model paradigm breaks down the communication barriers between design and manufacturing. Working with the same data is analogous to speaking the same language. With common tools in hand, design and manufacturing engineers can iterate during the development process, before tooling is created, costs are incurred and scrap is produced. Iterations that once consumed time and held up production can now take place more quickly as part of the development process itself and without repetitive data manipulations.
Manufacturing personnel can create tool paths in parallel with design instead of after the fact, so production is prepared once a design is released. Since both design and manufacturing engineers work from the same solid model, all design changes and updates automatically propagate to all associated tool paths and drawings, transforming design changes and ECOs from arduous, time-consuming and costly undertakings to simple steps towards improving the quality of the product and its manufacturing.
This more streamlined, collaborative approach leverages the knowledge and experience of manufacturing professionals early in the process when their input can make the most significant contribution by identifying and addressing potential cost and manufacturability issues. Iterating up front in a common virtual environment is faster, costs less and produces better products. It also helps designers and manufacturing engineers work more closely together, better understand each other’s perspective and ultimately benefit from the professional growth that can inspire new ideas and innovation. Thus, integrated CAD/CAM workflow advantages includes data translations which are avoided, secured data accuracy, promotion of concurrent design, less time than export/import and less costly as it involves fewer systems.
Benefits of integrated CAD/CAM
The concurrent, efficient workflow made possible by an integrated CAD/CAM platform can generate substantial productivity gains that shorten design through manufacturing cycles, reduce production costs and improve manufacturing and product quality. The specific benefits that save time, reduce costs and improve quality are detailed below.
Saving time using integrated CAD/CAM solution
The integrated CAD/CAM solution helps save time due to improved quality. Working with a single model and data format, there is no need to import, translate or convert data. This eliminates chances for error, maintains high levels of accuracy and minimises delays related to design errors. Elimination of wasted effort is another factor that helps save time. Accessing design data in a single data format is simple and straightforward, eliminating file conversions/translations and the need to update drawings and associated tool paths when changes are made.
Pre-production iterations also aid in saving time. Resolving design for manufacturability issues prior to production is more efficient than after a design is released for production. Additionally, enhanced collaboration allows for working within the same 3D geometry environment, which facilitates collaboration between design and manufacturing personnel, accelerating the design to manufacturing transition. Improved handling of design changes and ECOs also helps in propagating design changes to the CAD model automatically to all associated drawings and CAM data facilitates and speeds up the processing of design changes and ECOs.
More efficient production entails iterating on production planning as part of the development process, prior to production, which results in more efficient throughput and fewer manufacturing issues. Finally, there is a greater opportunity for automation while working in an integrated CAD/CAM environment, which provides more opportunities for automating design through manufacturing processes, such as, leveraging design tables to drive multiple production configurations or Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to automate particular functions.
Reducing costs with integrated CAD/CAM
The integrated CAD/CAM solution also helps curb costs due to a faster design through manufacturing cycles, which accelerates design through manufacturing cycles, saving time and money. Early identification of cost-effective production techniques also helps evaluate cost-effective production techniques and materials early in the process, which can result in significant cost savings. Lower levels of scrap and rework including resolving geometry, cost and manufacturability issues upfront leads to lower levels of scrap and rework, saving time and eliminating unnecessary costs. Working in an integrated CAD/CAM system also reduces the need for training and maintenance requirements and associated costs.
Improving quality with integrated CAD/CAM
The integrated CAD/CAM solution also helps in improving quality with more effective communication. Collaborating on the development of a product through more effective communication rather than treating design and manufacturing as separate, sequential functions results in higher levels of quality and innovation. Improved accuracy is another factor that helps improve the quality. Operating on a single, common model and data format eliminates the potential for manual errors that can negatively affect quality. Fewer machining issues further enhance the quality and iterating on manufacturability upfront as part of product development minimises the likelihood for machining issues once production starts. Early pinpointing of mould problems and identifying potential mold issues, such as, not enough draft, insufficient wall thicknesses, inadequate mold fills or parting-line problems prior to production can increase the quality and effectiveness of molding operations.
The article is reproduced with courtesy to Dassault Systemes