As we watch the development of autonomous cars, we should also brace ourselves for autonomous product design and manufacturing. Gian Paolo Bassi, CEO of the Dassault Systemes’ design software company, SolidWorks, explained his vision of design tools that emphasize the digital integration of CAD and simulation. Bassi expects computers to take on more of the design decisions, creating a product development world in which objects are designed by computers to the optimal shape and materials, while also configuring the manufacturing process for the objects.
To take computer decisions even further, the computer will select components for the product based on attributes such as weight, reliability, materials, and cost. “We’ve tried to extend our reach to a more comprehensive integrated approach, beyond what was going on in the engineering world,” Bassi told Design News. “The focus on mechanical or machine design is gone. The successful engineer is now a systems designer.”
New Engineering for the Digitized World
The process of product design in the digital world requires the discipline of system design beyond the traditional engineering focus of mechanical or electrical engineering. Mechatronics is a word often used to describe the requirements of advanced engineering. That term implies knowledge of systems engineering. “The new engineers are focused on mechatronics, robotics, and autonomous vehicles,” said Bassi. “There is a huge interest in the new professional who knows mechanical engineering as well as electrical systems using electronics.”
With the move to a more integrated design process, SolidWorks is looking to expand beyond its identification as a CAD tool provider. “We’re shifting from a single focus on CAD to a wider look at design from a platform approach,” said Bassi. “This will involve several integrated solutions. One includes platforms for the electro-mechanical intelligent objects for the IoT. This requires a platform of integrated solutions for the design of collected objects. We’re creating a solution for the design and manufacturing of those collected objects.”
Moving Beyond CAD Software
The idea of expanding design tools beyond CAD is a recognition of the reality that Big Data provides the power to put a wide range of design tasks at the fingertips of the design engineer. The design is now more than just an object; it’s a digitized design and manufacturing process that includes everything from simulation to robot configurations on the shop floor. “The world is moving into the age of the platform. To stay competitive, we have to break the mold of make-and-fit and work in a collaborative way,” said Bassi. “We will be partnering with other companies to make it easy to design collected objects.”
The fully digitized idea is to make manufacturing an extension of the design process. In the past, the design engineer needed to be cognizant of manufacturing constraints. In the digitized vision, manufacturing is part of the design process. “We need total digitization from design to manufacturing,” said Bassi. “We are totally supporting this type of thinking, to make it possible to manufacture a product with the click of a button.”
Let the Computer Do the Thinking
Design tools getting revamped to support digitized integration. This development is happening across the design software industry at varying levels. With that integration also comes the ability for the computer to calculate and determine aspects of the part and aspects of manufacturing based on the available manufacturing tools. Taking it a step further, the computer will create the part and configure the manufacturing machinery accordingly, based on the pre-loaded tolerances and available equipment.
“Modern 3D includes simulation, and at the end of the design work, the drawing has to be put into production. You need to convey the information to the robots to create the manufacturing cycles,” said Bassi. “Say you’re manufacturing a part with a drilled hole and you have to determine the tolerance – who decides the right process? If you do it in a digital way, the machine makes the decision. The machine is able to automatically drill it with the appropriate tolerance.”
Putting Manufacturing Data into the Design Tools
On the manufacturing side, the capabilities of the robots can be included in the design tools to help the computer design the part knowing the constraints of the actual shop floor machines. “The next step is to have robots understand what they need from the products. Robot manufacturers are designing robots using SolidWorks. They work with a product that is going to be produced by a robot,” said Bassi. “There are two sides of the manufacturing. On one side, you have the robot that is simulated in a digital way. Then, you have the form of the product, with the robot telling the design team what it needs.”
Since the design and manufacturing process is digitized, you can include machines that work in tandem, and the computer can sort out how they work together. This is where Big Data exceeds the capabilities of traditional engineering. “You now have two or three or six robots working simultaneously on the same product. That used to be impossible,” said Bassi. “We are expanding our thinking beyond sketching to create a geometry, then a simulation, throughout the drawings. The result is a totally digital solution, from design to manufacturing without any break.”
The result of this process is the ability to create optimized designs that were not possible with non-digitized engineering. “All of this changes the paradigm of how things are designed,” said Bassi. “In the past, the brain created the object, and the computer didn’t help much. The computer would validate that the object is the right object and that the flow was correct but it was still up to you to make the decisions by trial and error.”
Digitized Design and Manufacturing Is Here Now
This fully digitized design and production process is already beginning to alter how products are created. “This is starting to change now. The computer will ask what you want to achieve. The computer asks how far you want the wing to be from the body, and it does the job for you,” said Bassi. “Using programmed geometry, it will be able to come up with a shape this is very automated. The design will be optimized to give you the best possible shape to achieve what you want. it will give you the lightest component and the lightest design.”
Once the design and manufacturing process have been worked out by the computer, the machine will go shopping for the required parts. “All of this puts the machine learning into the design world,” said Bassi. “Let the computer connect with the part you need and it will find the part in your inventory or suggest a supplier who has the component.”
Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.
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