3D CAD is just one of many tools companies leverage to improve efficiency and impact profitability. As you use 3D CAD, it should continue to pay dividends for years to come. Has your CAD investment gone up in value?
Real World Application
To help explain this concept, let's use bird house construction as an example. Initially, you might cut all the structural pieces and assemble by hand. You can turn out one bird house a day with your hand saw and a pal's trusty hammering.
One day, you buy a power saw. Now you are turning out the birdhouse panels faster than your friend can hammer them together. Suddenly, the hammering is the bottleneck of the process.
Over time, your power saw begins to wear out and its value declines. However, in making more efficient one part of the construction process, it enables you to consider where else you can improve the overall process (nail gun, anyone?).
In the grand scheme of things, bringing aboard the power saw has increased in value to you.
How Does This Apply In The World Of CAD?
Many companies think that once they buy a 3D CAD tool they have reached the peak of their investment value. They go and build 3D models, turn those into 2D drawings and call it a day.
The fact of the matter is these 2D drawings are only the most basic way to get a return on your CAD investment. Many companies don't go further, much to their own disadvantage.
Like with the table saw, the real value of 3D CAD isn't in the CAD itself, but rather in what else it enables you to do.
Consider this. It probably took hundreds if not thousands of hours to build up your CAD model library, and you are only using it to get 2D drawings. Why not squeeze every possible ounce of productivity enhancement from that hard-fought data?
The Natural Progression For The CAD Model
Let's dig into an example starting after the initial CAD seat purchase is made and a few CAD models have been created. The story always starts between engineering and manufacturing.
Since manufacturing efficiency is likely the original reason to purchase CAD, the first step we usually see is the purchase of a CAM system. A good CAM system will allow you to use the 3D model directly from your CAD system, without having to export or remodel the same information in another system.
The next natural step that many companies find is using their CAD models for pre-sales activites with photo-realistic renderings of their products.
This usually starts with someone from marketing wandering over and saying something like, "Say, I saw a nice 3D picture on your screen of our new product. Any way you can take a snapshot of that for me?" The end of that sequence of events, of course, is a sold out item on a website.
Now that we have popular new products and can make parts quickly, we want to make sure what we are designing meets our product quality goals. This where analysis comes in. By using the CAD models, we can bend it, break it and try out different designs while minimizing the traditional costs associated with creating prototypes.
As with the initial benefits from adopting the CAD tool for design, impacts from simulation are immediately felt on the manufacturing side. We start to use simulation to reduce tooling costs or lightweight our products.
Because most products these days involve multidisciplinary design teams, the rest of engineering looks to cash in on the productivity gains. There are now tools that take the same intrinsic benefits of doing mechanical modeling in 3D CAD and apply those to the world of industrial wiring and PCB design.
Like on the mechanical side, the results are fewer manufacturing errors, better collaboration and most importantly, the automation of time-consuming and error-prone manual processes.
Capitalizing On Design Insight
To maintain the qualiy of our goods, we need to verify they fall within tolerance. This can be done by using our engineering documentation to quickly automate the creation of our inspection reports.
We now have mechanical and electrical parts produced correctly but faster than they can be properly assembled. Now we look to improve on one of the core activities of manufacturing and focus on the effectiveness of the shop floor instructions. Our CAD models are the centerpiece for accomplishing this, and the results can be absolutely transformational to a company's manufacturing process.
With all the information exchange and quality as a central hub, we must be sure all transactions are documented and that the information is both the right file and the latest version.
This is where a document management system comes into play, providing a complete audit trail. While engineering and manufacturing see the initial benefits, all departments can utilize this tool for intra- and interdepartmental document version control and exchange.
An interesting phenomonon happens at this point. With departments firing on all cylinders, the focus shifts to our end customers and how they interact with our products once they leave the factory. With the same tools that we used on the shop floor, we can use our 3D models to produce easily understood assembly manuals and instructional information. We use our models to create a total experience for our customers that goes beyond the features and functions of our products.
Looking Towards The Future
Finally, we get to the latest trend, which shows a move from mass production to mass customization. Our goal is to enable our customers to design their own versions of our products.
From a manufacturing perspective, it may be possible, but we may not have the infrastructure to individually respond to every RFQ and build the associated manufacturing package.
Once again, our CAD models can drive this effort in our business. With the proper tools, we can build a completely independent interface on our website where our customers can configure a product to their liking, get immediate pricing and produce the necessary documentation right away.
Getting The Most Out Of Your CAD Investment
Ultimately, all companies have a unique roadmap for getting the best ROI. To determine how your company is doing, take a hard look at your different departments.
Are there departments, people or processes that would be more efficient or realize improvements in quality if they just had access to the 3D information?