By Steve Luby
President & Chief Executive Officer
Waltham, MA
Steve Luby, President & CEO, VISTAGY (Waltham, MA).

Today, every company is searching for a sustainable competitive advantage, and getting great products to market quickly at a good price is what matters most. Product innovation and speed are the keys to success, and PLM and the latest 3D CAD tools can play a part in achieving these goals. But there are more significant rewards for organizations that take a broader process-oriented view of the entire product development cycle.

The obvious progression for most companies that deploy 3D CAD is to increasingly define their product data in 3D to create a single master definition, and ultimately eliminate drawings. While this is a good first step, you shouldn’t stop there. By looking beyond simply achieving a 3D CAD definition to improving productivity, decision- making, and integration in design, manufacturing, and quality, companies will achieve tremendous business benefits such as reduced costs, errors, and time to market. When engineers work the way they think, they create truly innovative products faster. And, when people downstream in manufacturing and quality can reuse engineering information automatically, without reinterpretation and re-entry of data, this streamlines the entire development process.

Achieving each of these goals on its own would be a significant challenge. Accomplishing all three simultaneously would seem impossible. However, with the help of specialized engineering software, companies are meeting these goals — master model, engineering productivity, and data reuse — in production. In fact, it is easier to address all three simultaneously. This “3D triple play” is the result of teamwork, focused execution, and the right tools. Like a triple play in baseball, this approach can change the outcome of the game, slanting the playing field in your favor.

Process Emphasis is Key

In trying to save time and money, many companies try to reduce nonvalue- added effort from the design stage by using 3D CAD representations to minimize their reliance on drawings, which can consume 30% or more of total engineering time. So it is enticing to think that by simply eliminating drawings and adding product data to the 3D CAD model instead, you will save the 30%. However, in practice, it rarely pays off because engineers still document their designs in a separate step, and are forced to use low-level tools such as 3D text. The downstream users are now faced with unfamiliar 3D representation, which actually may decrease productivity and introduce a new source of errors, resulting in a 3D process that is merely a slight variation on the traditional 2D process.

Yet, some companies have used 3D software tools to greatly reduce engineering time and improve processes. So what makes them different? The biggest difference is a process emphasis in which engineers understand that their job is not just to define the product in the design phase, but that engineering is the first link in a chain of many links, in which each depends on the previous. In other words, it is not just about how fast you can get your job done, but how fast (and well) you can get the entire job done.

To begin the process properly, and to make it more efficient, engineers need a way to express all non-geometric product information naturally, in their vocabulary. In order to complete the 3D triple play, the information created by the engineer must be easily reusable by the downstream disciplines of manufacturing and quality.

This can be achieved using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) specialized engineering applications from companies such as VISTAGY, that are specifically devised for a domain’s particular needs. These software applications complement your existing 3D CAD and PLM investments, and by using open data exchange formats based on XML, the structured, rich information authored in these applications is readily reusable throughout the enterprise.

Specialized software can capture fastener and hole specifications, assembly requirements, and installation guidelines, reducing the weeks or months required for this task to hours or days. Quality planning and inspection can now more easily verify how a product was created by tracing data back to conceptual design to ensure design intent was achieved in the final product.

What’s the Payoff?

By taking a process-oriented view, companies can make a “3D triple play” — going beyond just defining a single master 3D product format, to also providing engineers a more efficient way to create it, and the means for those downstream to use it. Utilizing specialized engineering software, engineers will quickly create rich product definitions starting early in design, enabling better communication and more collaboration across the entire global supply chain, and changing the game forever.

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