How design automation improves the efficiency of custom metal fabricators
Published on August 18, 2021
Custom metal fabrication demands a close-knit approach from sales to manufacturing else it results in an iterative process and increases lead times. Design automation streamlines customization and eliminates iterations through logical rules-based automated approval.
Manufacturing of bespoke fabricated metal products needs design engineers to coordinate between sales and manufacturing teams with exact customer specifications. The traditional design process for custom products like furniture, architectural ornamental products, industrial equipment etc. leads to flawed designs and increased cycle time.
Design automation using DriveWorks or CAD macros speeds up RFQ stage and cuts lengthy approval cycles. It is backed by powerful logical rules to automate product configuration and auto-generate manufacturing documents.
To explore the benefits of design automation for sheet metal manufacturers, let us first understand how lengthy lead times affect metal fabricators.
Effects of lengthy lead times on custom metal products manufacturing
Delayed responses to customer inquiries: About 60 to 80% of design time is spent in preparing initial design drafts and BOMs. It takes from days to weeks to respond to internal RFQs, finalize designs and respond to customers.
Conflicts and inaccurate lead time estimation: Multiple decision makers in estimation, sales, engineering, planning and purchasing, and manufacturing teams lead to conflicting opinions and inaccurate lead time estimation.
Multiple design variants and unsatisfied customers: A product design can have several customizable features and the customer can mix and match any option. Even if one of the options is neglected, customers feel unsatisfactory sales.
The primary focus of metal fabrication firms is delivering the best product design without affecting project cost and product quality. CAD macros and related advanced technology for automation have a lot to offer to sales, engineering, and manufacturing divisions and help achieve this.
Benefits of design automation
From easing the sales process to saving on project costs, custom metal product fabricators can avail several benefits and add variety to their offerings. The benefits of design automation to fabrication firms for products like doors, windows, shelves, roofing, cabinets, panels, etc. are many. Here are some of them.
Benefits for sales teams and customers
Configure products in few minutes with a real-time 3D product view
Get 100% accurate sales quotes with right pricing strategy
Establish clear and convenient communication with customers
Get real-time pricing during sales with changing configuration
Uplift customer experience by adding product model interactivity
Benefits for design-to-manufacturing teams
Reduce design to manufacturing cycle from weeks to days for ETO products
Reduce 90% time and efforts for CTO like windows and doors
Eliminate repetitive tasks of design modeling and verification
Capture material requirements, standards and DFMA rules
Standardize manufacturing processes with accurate drawings and documents
How design automation resolves custom metal fabrication challenges
1. Design automation through user-defined macros and scripts
When we talk about metal fabrication, it mostly encompasses sheet metal component designs and fabrication. 3D Sheet metal part design deals with features such as holes, slots, bends, notches, reliefs etc.; and most of them are repetitive. Experience says that depending upon the complexity of the sheet metal part, it would take an hour to more than six hours to model these features. And a few more in creating detailed 2D drawings.
Clearly, without automation it becomes a tedious job for designers, let alone the errors and time spent in QC. But advanced CAD tools like SolidWorks, Inventor, Creo, and AutoCAD lifts designers’ productivity along with design quality. These CAD tools offer inbuilt macros and allow creating user-friendly scripts to reduce engineering design and detailing hours.
When CAD design automation is employed efficiently, designer can:
Reduce more than 80% design and detailing efforts
Produce detailed manufacturing drawings with BOM having 100% accuracy
Create documents and pdfs like specifications, BOMs, product images for sales and manufacturing within seconds
3D CAD users can create macros for repetitive tasks without special programming skills. All they have to do is click the record button and capture design operations that are to be replayed later.
You can find this button under Tools> Macro> Record.
Upon running a macro from the toolbar, pre-recorded operations can be repeated on the current file.
Below are some mundane tasks that macros can automate:
Creating start part having predefined CAD environment and prefilled part parameters like material, family name, company name, thickness, coordinate systems for CAM environment
Repeating commands for hole, slots, corner radii, fillets and features that follow patterns
Creating standard drawing template having title blocks, annotations, BOM table creation and item balloon location, auto view locations, lines, hatching, dimensioning, sections etc.
Creating flat patterns and DXF files and save files such as BOMs and other manufacturing documents in pdf format
TrueCADDs’ automation engineers developed .swp files SolidWorks macros and auto-create DXF files for a sheet metal fabrication firm. Direct DXF generation from CAD models reduced lead time from 5-7 minutes to 2 minutes and saved a few minutes in modeling each part. The firm’s design division could make time for design research and development.
Tools like DriveWorks offer advanced design automation for complex parts and large scale custom manufacturing. This automation platform has a range of user-friendly plugins to automate designs on higher levels. Additionally, DriveWorks Pro Application Program Interface has provisions to customize the plugins for project-specific functions.
Typical tasks include:
Developing macros for rapid feature creation
Documentation and format conversion
Extraction of product data into defined formats
Search for specific parts or assembly within library
Management of data in PLM/PDM
DriveWorks 3D Viewer allows the design engineer to view any CAD product file for enhanced collaboration. It supports all major CAD formats offered by SolidWorks, AutoCAD, Creo, SolidEdge, Inventor etc.
The CPQ DriveApp integrates with business systems like ERP, PLM, CRM and SolidWorks to automate and increase efficiency across the value chain. This integration enables you to:
Streamline request flow between sales [customer and sales reps], design and manufacturing
Create and manage all sales documents including sales quotes, invoices etc.
Automate generation of all manufacturing documents
TrueCADDs’ automation specialists implemented DriveWorks-based online configurator for a pressure vessel manufacturer. It streamlined and shortened design process for metal sheets used in pressure vessel body. The entire process from sales to manufacturing was automated. The client could offer higher customization and save time with a simplified communication channel.
Design engineers and fabricators cannot win custom manufacturing market segment with standalone CAD tools. They are time consuming and tedious to work with. On the other hand, design automation with macros and tools delivers faster design cycles for customized product manufacturing. It helps you make the most of your CAD system.
It requires skills and expertise to deploy design automation as per the need and nature of your business. TrueCADD offers expertise in both, DriveWorks implementation as well as custom macro creation for custom manufacturers around the world.
Find efficient solutions to your product design customization challenges
About Author:Usha B. Trivedi is a mechanical design engineer at TrueCADD – a company invested in industrial CAD drafting, modeling, and design automation. Ms. Trivedi writes about solution finding approach in CAD and design automation challenges backed by her years of exploration in industrial designing in furniture, millwork, and metal fabrication designs.