Improving the Design-to-Manufacture Process

There has been a lot of conversation lately about a design-to-manufacture workflow as it relates to improving communication and efficiency within a company. What does design to manufacture mean? The short answer is that there are lots of different thoughts on this process. The one that is correct is the one that works best for your company and procedures.

Our version of this method focuses on the reduction of extra steps as an idea goes from concept through validation to the customer. The National Institute of Standards and Technology recently released a study about improving the reuse of data and resulting annual savings for companies. It is estimated that annual cost savings and the percentage of reduction in production costs are 57.4 billion dollars annually.

So how do these savings happen? One of the main identified reasons for the savings is better communication and data reuse. A good example is using SOLIDWORKS as the center of the process. At a previous job, we implemented a digital design-to-manufacturing workflow using SOLIDWORKS as the center of our digital universe. All designs or customer concepts started in SOLIDWORKS PDM. All the information was stored in our design team to create the concept or idea and process the quote. Once an order was made for a customer, the designers created all the necessary specifications and got approval before starting the manufacturing process. After the customer signed off on the design, our programmers, and processing planning/order management used PDM to create orders for hardware and create toolpaths. All of the data revolved around the designed components. Hardware was ordered from BOMs in PDM. Programming for CNC equipment was created from the original CAD files using NestingWorks and CAMWorks 2.5 axis (this would now be SOLIDWORKS CAM Professional). All of the data was linked to the unique designs.

If a revision was needed, we controlled the change through PDM, and all the necessary information was updated including any CAM programming information. The final installation drawings and onsite planning info were created while manufacturing was building the product to make sure the final drawings shipped with the equipment to the customer. By creating a digital world, we were able to shorten the design and build process by weeks over traditional workflows. The main reason was that manufacturing could start making components earlier in the design process vs. waiting until all of the drawings were created. By programming from the SOLIDWORKS models, we were able to reduce the number of details needed in a traditional 2D illustration. We only had to identify high tolerance areas, which could be done in 3D to notify the programmer.

The unintended benefit of this transformation and process was that design and manufacturing started to speak in a common language, SOLIDWORKS. As our team became more proficient with SOLIDWORKS, our engineers and programmers began talking about extrudes, sketches, and planes to communicate issues versus work offsets, clamps, and you just don’t get what I am saying. This common language made it easier to make changes and understand where roadblocks were popping up and slowing down our efficiency. This evolution of the design-to-manufacturing process did not happen overnight and did have some growing pains, but the result was better than anticipated in the end.

As companies evolve and look to be more efficient and innovative in their manufacturing processes, the most significant improvements will happen in the digital workflows. All CNC machines run at the same speeds and feeds anywhere in the world; the difference between companies is how well they process information from concept through shipping. To learn more about SOLIDWORKS CAM and the Design-to-Manufacture workflow, please use the following link:

Mike Buchli

Mike Buchli

Michael Buchli has 20 years of design and manufacturing experience throughout the Midwest ranging from Aerospace to recycling systems. A number of those years were spent learning and understanding workflows and processes to improve efficiency and productivity. From running CNC equipment to welding and painting Michael has been hands-on in all aspects of bringing products to market. Michael is also certified in many areas of mfg and a CSWP. He has also written the CAMWorks Handbook.