Product Design

Automotive Parts Designer Changes Gears with Integrated Manufacturing Solution

3 Feb, 2016 By: Paul Coleman

Bear’s Performance improves inter-departmental collaboration by replacing separate CAD and CAM software packages with TopSolid, a product data management (PDM)-based solution.

Shifting to an Integrated Solution

The Bear’s team explored many different options before deciding on TopSolid 7 from Missler Software. “[It] isn’t just a CAD system with options for data management,” explained Aaron Aalbers, president of reseller DDS Software Solutions. “TopSolid 7 is built around product data management (PDM), allowing an entire company to communicate its design and manufacturing intent. Standards of both design and production can be actualized. They built each part of the solution to have the same interface, the same icons, the same practices; this allows easy skills transfer between departments.”

The transition took less than a year. “There was a three-month ramp-up period for TopSolid Design, and then we started implementing CAM on the floor,” explained Grondin. “Implementation took a little longer on the floor because it was such a significant change: The ramp-up for the floor was approximately six months. There were no real snags or negative issues; we did end up investing in more tooling and automation tools because of the productivity gains afforded us by the software.”

Moving to an integrated system improved the communication between the design and manufacturing departments, Grondin reported, and also enabled some unexpected process improvements. “An excellent example of the progress we've made would be with a job we recently did for our racing team,” he observed. “We needed a strong intake manifold, but it couldn’t weigh more than 15 lbs. By applying materials in TopSolid, we were able to see in real time the effect that wall stock and rib changes had on the weight of the finished product. Once we were satisfied, the product was sent to manufacturing. While cutting the billet to shape, the thin walls started to cause an issue with vibration. When machining a thin wall, the cutter can cause the stock to vibrate causing tolerance and quality issues of the finished part. Adding an extra rib gave the part enough support to make it manufacturable at the tolerances needed.

“Changing a part after manufacturing has started machining it would have been a nightmare to do in our old software,” explained Grondin. “New models would have had to be created, including a stock model to indicate what had been machined already, and a complete recalculation of the machining process would have been required.”

In the new software, in contrast, changes are handled seamlessly. Once an updated part is released to manufacturing, TopSolid automatically updates the manufacturing programs accordingly. TopSolid only needed to do calculations on the new rib for machining, since it recorded where the CNC machine was halted and the rest of the programming was already is in place. The designers were then able to continue production from exactly where they left off.

Collaborating at High Speed

“Communication is the key to improving, and now that every department is speaking the same language, we communicate better,” stated Grondin. “When there is a change to a product, because manufacturing is looking at the same model, we know they will see those changes and update their processes. Most of the time, the changes in the model are recognized and updates to the manufacturing programs happen automatically, with little user intervention needed.”

TopSolid is built around a fully integrated PDM package, which tracks and manages users’ data. It will automatically create minor and major revisions and update assemblies while the data is being worked on. While using the PDM functionality, users can work collaboratively with other operators, or remotely, with complete access to the full history of all parts, assemblies, and cutter paths. The revision tracking allows the user to view a file at any stage of its lifecycle, from rough modeling to final production.

A manager can use the system to view the complete assembly and verify progress; the designer checks against the assembly to ensure proper fit and tolerance; and the machinist can see all this information when he or she pulls in the part to manufacture. TopSolid offers integration with the range of products — including Design, Cam, Mold, Sheetmetal, Progress, and Solid Wood — to help the workforce operate as a cohesive team.

The Tangible Benefits of Virtual Prototyping

Using simulations, the Bear’s team can now test out the details of their products in the design stage before they hit the shop floor. “[The kinematics and simulation functionality] have allowed us to do away with physical prototypes, reduced our labor costs, and improved our relationships with our customers,” said Grondin.

“By digitally testing clearances we can maximize the design space, giving us more room to strengthen walls and allowing us to build a better part,” he continued. “In the past, we would have had to build prototypes and grind away certain areas for clearance until we knew we had it right. Now we get it right in engineering before it hits the shop floor.”

The functionality also helps the team communicate with project stakeholders outside the company. “Our customers are impressed when they see their part working and moving in 3D,” said Grondin. “They are now more comfortable in kicking us off on projects without seeing a physical prototype. This saves time and money for both us and the customer.”

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About the Author: Paul Coleman

Paul Coleman

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