Who doesn’t want some sort of design automation, especially for tedious tasks that eat up engineering time that could be better spent on innovation? The definition of design automation differs from company to company, however.
Exactly what is design automation?
Because most companies want to save time and lower costs in the engineering process, software publishers tend to refer to various features or utilities as “design automation.” In reality, most of these features are not very useful mechanisms for automation.
For engineer-to-order products, design automation is defined as a system that captures and automatically applies engineering activity to product variants to create finished designs as fast as possible. Engineers can overcome the difficulties in customizing a product with design automation software. Design automation software can also capture a company’s in-house design rules to simplify the process of creating variations.
Let’s consider just a few elements of design automation. If you’d like to see a more complete view, download the white paper Using Design Automation to Reduce Costs, Increase Profitability.
Design Automation in Practice
Design automation should be viewed as a new way of working, not as a single, standalone project with a beginning and an end. With design automation you can literally treat every part of an assembly as a variable design that can be modified automatically by inputs. Doing so, however, would be a mistake. Your first step is to determine which variable parts require engineering and will generally be a subset of a given assembly. Then select the best candidate from among these to tackle the first design, which is typically a redesign.
Consider a conveyor design: Most conveyors consist of a frame, legs, rollers or bearings, and links or belts. One or more sides require guards and fences. Some consist of straight sections with minimum change in elevation, whereas others spiral up or down significant vertical distances. To meet a specific custom requirement, such as control and sensor needs or drive and gearing considerations, various other components must be modified.
It would be naive to imagine that you could put all the details about all these parts with numerous variables into a rules-based system in one shot. Where would you start? What route would you follow?
Building One Element at a Time
Start by automating individual elements. You do not have to start from scratch since you can adopt existing assemblies and then add rules that you can make intelligent with design automation tools. With a conveyor system, for example, you could begin with a single series of drive and gear designs. With design automation you can easily create a system whose outputs include dramatically different geometries and configurations based on specifications, such as product weight, pitch, and conveyor width. You could then create a rule that takes a specified number of drive systems for a given conveyor length. From there, you can build rules that will automate the design of idle rollers, then frame components, and so on.
Before long, you will achieve a conveyor-generating system that performs design automation. After you specify the size and weight of the product along with the system dimensions, design automation tools can calculate the frame design, populate it with drives and idlers, and automatically generate the chains or belts. From there you can add capabilities to create the drawings, documents, and data for conveyor systems that will be useful first in sales quotes and later in manufacturing specifications.
Creating the Rules
Design automation tools will walk you through the process in a consistent workflow, allowing you to easily attach variables and parameters, engineering rules, and myriad engineering-related activities to the design. In the background the design automation software manages all the relationships between rules and assemblies as well as the necessary interconnectivity between the design automation software’s model and the entities.
As you add rules for the conveyor’s legs, beam, and motor, designing becomes a step-by-step process. Eventually you will build a complete model. By building in steps, however, you gain benefits every step of the way. For many projects you will find it most effective to maintain a top-down view while working in a bottom-up manner. A little planning will allow you to reinvest much of the time spent building one model when creating the next one. Rules-based design automation systems capture the way you engineer, enabling the computer to do many of the recalculations and the remodeling that take up so much time.
Automated systems can also manage and retrieve a broad range of design methods and criteria built up by your company, including important engineering rules, rules of thumb, and product lore that, if forgotten or ignored, can lead to product problems and unhappy customers.
Faster and More Efficient Design
Download the white paper Using Design Automation to Reduce Costs, Increase Profitability to learn more about what design automation can do for your company.
Design automation frees up engineering time formerly taken by repetitive tasks, recalculation, and specification changes. The resulting benefits apply across the organization, from the individual engineer to the company as a whole.