Want to maximize productivity? Try integrated product design

DN Staff

June 19, 2000

9 Min Read
Want to maximize productivity? Try integrated product design

The key ingredients that will help drive productivity gains in this new decade include new concepts about manufacturing design roles and workflow, coupled with increasing functionality in the software and hardware tools that support them. We are witnessing a convergence in manufacturing workflow processes as companies worldwide strive to reduce product cycle times with maximum utility of their top engineering talent.

With resources always at a premium, engineers require tools that provide higher levels of performance and visual accuracy. Their computing systems must be powerful and sophisticated enough to support multiple simultaneous processes and fluid manipulation of large, intricately detailed datasets. Companies that realize the greatest productivity gains will be those that seek to fully exploit both state-of-the-art technical capabilities and the enhanced scope of individual responsibility that new technologies provide.

First there was "traditional product design," which is largely a sequential process. With traditional product design, which was the primary process in the industry until the early 1990s, each department does its work and passes off the product to the next department for the next step in the process.

The next wave has been called "concurrent product design"-stylists, designers, and engineers work concurrently and information flows between them, yet their respective roles remain distinct. Departments work together closely but each process is essentially discrete. Concurrent design, which was widely practiced in the 1990s and continues today, produces quicker development cycles than traditional product design.

In the new millennium, as leading-edge companies continue to push for faster time to market and further process improvements, it is critical for them to leverage their key engineering talent as efficiently as possible. Now new combinations of hardware and software are making it possible for design professionals to perform more than one task on desktop workstations. The combination of powerful and increasingly realistic computer graphics systems coupled with dramatic increases in computer system speed are changing the scope of how professionals can use computers to accelerate the design process. The resulting convergence of manufacturing workflow, called "integrated product design," is the next logical step in manufacturing design practices.

In the new world of integrated product design, roles and responsibilities are being rewritten to obtain maximum productivity from key engineering talent. Innovative companies will provide technical and organizational support to allow single individuals to have broader ownership of the product while seeking out specialists within the company to help them complete the process, as required. For example, a designer working on a personal communication device can do the first usability simulations and make iterations to the design before calling in the engineer for final analysis evaluation.

Effective implementation of this model requires multi-discipline software driven by workstations that can provide quality graphics with new levels of accuracy and the ease of use that big bandwidth systems provide. The result is that more products can be created without increasing the size of the development team.

Let's take a look at the ways functional teams in manufacturing organizations are using technology to streamline processes today and are further modifying roles to move toward the emerging integrated product design model.

From sketching to design

In "traditional product design" each department does its work sequentially and passes off the product to the next department for the next step in the process.

New conceptual design software is available that takes full advantage of modern workstations. Utilizing parallel processing and hardware-based graphics accelerators, these tools make it easy to use freehand sketching to create conceptual design models and geometry on the system. The process of creating this realistic looking 3D geometry requires a tremendous amount of information that must be generated within the computer in a transparent manner to the user. Interactivity, which can be defined as the user having full access to computing resources without being interrupted or slowed down by computational processes, is key to the conceptual modeling phase. The user must be kept creative. The computer response must be a help to the designer, not get in the way. In addition to fast CPU speeds, the graphics systems must be able to draw fully textured, realistic-looking images at an interactive speed greater than 10 frames per second. The system must be able to respond to the user's input seamlessly in order to achieve maximum utilization. Tremendous amounts of geometry, such as all of the components under the hood of a car and texture calculations that could be used to make the scene more realistic looking, are required to create the feeling that the design on the screen is actually real. Only workstations designed with large data transport in mind are efficient at doing this.

In addition, stylists, who would traditionally create only conceptual designs, can begin the detailed engineering CAD process.

From design to analysis

The advantages of designing with solids are well known. Although full solid modeling systems have not been universally adopted, most corporations involved in the design of complex products use them. While the basic system for creating solids is now well understood and implemented, users are becoming more sophisticated in their implementations and requirements. Models are being generated with increasing levels of detail and realism that require higher levels of graphics quality without performance penalties.

The second wave has been called "concurrent product design"--stylists, designers, and engineers work concurrently and information flows between them, yet the respective roles remain distinct.

As an example, let's consider a steering wheel. While designing the steering wheel with the right tools, it is quite easy to design every hole, fillet, screw, nut and bolt that is part of this assembly. Simultaneously, the background of the dashboard can not only be visible, it can also include precise details of the parts that interact with the steering wheel. Designers do not have to ignore related components because there is not enough computer power at their disposal. In fact, it is far more efficient overall to design in context with the other surrounding parts, and validate the original design assumptions.

The ability to do sophisticated engineering analysis (finite element or flow) on the desktop workstation is a reality today and is increasingly accessible to the mechanical designer. Multiple processors on the desktop can take advantage of parallelized software that integrates analysis capabilities into design software. It is feasible and easy for the designer to perform structural analysis and other engineering simulation computations by taking advantage of advanced workstation technology and the new software techniques. Automated meshing and easy to use pre-processing software have created an environment where designers can now run preliminary or detailed analyses directly from the CAD model. The increased power of desktop workstations allows for an analysis to be performed on all of the geometric components, without the need to eliminate some of the data. This creates an easier job for those who are not experts.

In the third stage, "integrated product design," one department in the organization takes the lead in the product development process and leverages the other departments for their specialized expertise to complete the product, as needed.

As a result, the solid modeling expert can begin a finite element analysis project to determine if the form chosen is up to the function required. For example, an assembly modeling specialist can perform a kinematics simulation, using the computing power available. This expert can then make any necessary adjustments to the design, based on the results of the simulation, without the participation of the analyst. Either the designer or engineer can also do first pass machining, Numerical Control tool path creation and mold injection simulation efficiently on the desktop workstation. In many cases, these different processes can be performed at the same time, utilizing as many processors as are in the system.

Engineers are still required to participate in the design cycle, but their role now becomes that of the "specialist" with the ability to take advantage of modern FEA and NC programs to the fullest.

Integration broadens individual scope, leverages specialization

Thus, in the integrated product design model, an individual who is the primary driver for the product design process can exercise a greater degree of ownership for the overall product, engaging other specialists for refinements as necessary. UNIX workstation capabilities, combined with new multi-discipline software, support this model.

As product cycle times are compressed, many essential components of the product design process can now be performed on a single (and thus cost-efficient) high-quality system, which is powerful and reliable. In tandem, workflow processes need to adjust to take full advantage of the new computing power available and to optimize human resources. Stylists will style and design. Designers will design and analyze. Analysts will analyze and design as well. Individuals can now be responsible for more than one task. The most efficient manufacturing organizations will continue to integrate powerful desktop systems into a seamless workflow. In this environment, the power and visual accuracy provided by leading-edge computing solutions supports the realization of integrated product design.

About the author: Eric Doka is manager, CAE Markets at SGI. A 13-year veteran at SGI, he has spent 11 years working with manufacturing customers and major CAD/CAM/CAE software partners. Previous roles at SGI include Manager, Manufacturing Markets, and Manager, Strategic Alliances. Prior to joining SGI, Doka was director of worldwide sales at Zilog Inc. (Campbell, CA), and vice president of sales and marketing at ParaData Inc. (Detroit, Mich). Doka has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Michigan State.

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