The combination of technology for the manufacturing process and technology for design tools has changed the very nature of how products are designed and produced.
For one thing, computers used for design don't need software. In a setup often called Web 2.0, design tools reside in the cloud, not on the design engineer's computer. In another shift, specialty design companies are beginning to offer pre-engineering review of products to help the brand owner determine whether the product is even worth engineering. The analysis examines materials and financial feasibility and creates a "producability index." The process can cut design-to-production time while helping companies ditch infeasible products early.
Cloud-based design tools are changing the nature of the design team itself. The cloud is supporting distributed teams that are becoming a blend of employees, outside engineers, specialists, and semi-retired engineers, all collaborating from locations around the world. The results of this collaboration can be measured in reduced design and manufacturing costs, as well as higher-quality designs. (Check out our on-demand webinar, "How to Choose the Right Modeling Software"for more information.)
Cutting time in the design cycle
To speed design while utilizing new materials and processes, some companies and military groups are turning to outside specialists to plan, design, and even conduct the design process.
"Our role is to make sure people get the jobs done. We help with the processes and the products to get the job out the door. We work for manufacturing readiness, getting right the first time, and decreasing complexity," Sandy Munro, CEO of the design firm Munro and Associates, told us. "We're doing manufacturing at the concept stage and sometimes the pre-manufacturing stage. On average, we can cut the program time by about a third. We can cut five years of development down to three."
Coping with new materials is one of the challenges that can slow a project down. Munro helps customers manage the process of evaluating these materials using cost and structural analysis.
"One of the big trends in design is we're moving toward lightweighting. Meeting automotive CAFE standards is one of the reasons," he said. "People are trying to put their best foot forward on lightweight, and not just for vehicles. The military is also huge on this."
Weight requirements can force companies into exotic materials. As a service to its customers, Munro and Associates keeps up on developments in new materials. "A lot of our customers are looking to reduce weight and do it at a relatively low cost. With new materials, you can produce a product that is half the weight and equal the strength. We're seeing more carbon fiber" -- and not the same carbon fiber used on airplanes. "We're seeing a newer style that can be used for injection molding."
Small-scale manufacturing using 3D printing techniques is another important new tool in the design for manufacturing process. "Additive manufacturing machines expand on prototyping. The defense industry is on the ragged edge of this development, but it's also showing up in specialty medical and aircraft," Dan McCarthy, design prophet at Munro, told us. "In the Navy, they don't want to have 10,000 replacement parts on the ship. So they put an additive manufacturing machine on the ship. They can make their own machine tool replacement parts."