By Russell Brook, marketing director EMEA, mainstream engineering, Siemens PLM Software
Like every industry, durables manufacturers are under pressure to deliver smarter products to customers more quickly. Being nimble enough to capitalise on new opportunities faster than competitors lets successful companies keep up with consumer trends. That’s not about chasing fads; instead you need to build up innovations and take advantage of the latest technology to speed up product design. And you need to do all that while coping with ever more government and industry regulations and making sure that what you’re delivering are high quality goods rather than cutting corners to get there faster.
3D printing is often hailed as the way to speed up the pace of product design and it’s quickly becoming a key part of manufacturing as well as prototyping; Airbus and Boeing are already using it to cut costs and reduce waste by making parts for passenger jets. But to get the most benefit from new technologies like 3D printing, especially for consumer durables, it’s key to have an integrated design and manufacturing system that enables collaboration and preserves accuracy throughout the entire delivery process. In doing so, what you create is the product you wanted to design, faster and without expensive and damaging recalls.
That product may have to be smarter than it would have been in the past. The Internet of Things is coming to more household products with sensors that can track changes in the environment like temperature and pressure, monitor usage and deliver information that can help manufacturers investigate problems, and maybe even anticipate failures. But these smart, connected products are also more demanding to design and manufacture. You need to deliver more complex electromechanical designs that incorporate those sensors and electronics into previously analogue products, without increasing costs.
Taking advantage of these trends (and coping with these new pressures) is easier if you have an integrated design system that can cover you from initial styling to prototyping to design to manufacturing. Groupe SEB (who you may know better for their Krups, Moulinex and Tefal brands) went from introducing 140 new products in a year to 200 – a 43% improvement – by using Solid Edge software for computer-aided design (CAD) as an integral part of its overall product lifecycle management (PLM) system; this software also made its manufacturing processes more reliable at the same time. With everyone at the company able to access the PLM tools on different devices, they could share knowledge and keep up with standards and policies. That meant they could move from having individual teams working on developing new products to building processes that go across multiple disciplines. Groupe SEB has more than 20 different brands in different geographies; historically, they’ve been very separate but they can now share information, expertise and processes.
Zumex found similar benefits when it wanted to develop its orange juicing systems faster; the company was able to cut development time in half with Solid Edge. Getting better collaboration between different departments meant it could use the same improvements in its domestic and professional models. And it was able to show off new products long before they were ready to go on sale using high definition visualisations and virtual prototypes. This helped them educate their sales team and retailers and establish a strong market.
The first step in getting to market faster is improving productivity with a system that includes tools optimised to speed up every individual stage of your process while still preserving accuracy. These tools should be integrated to take you all the way through the process. When you’re working in 3D CAD (computer-aided design) for example, Solid Edge synchronous technology makes creating and editing 3D models faster and easier. By combining the speed and simplicity of direct modelling with the flexibility and control of parametric design synchronous technology allows you to rapidly create new concept designs, easily respond to change requests, and make simultaneous updates to multiple parts within an assembly. With this design flexibility, you can eliminate cumbersome pre-planning and avoid feature failures, rebuild issues, and time-consuming rework. The power of synchronous technology also allows you to treat other 3D CAD models just like native files, supporting seamless collaboration with suppliers and partners.
As designs become more complex electromechanically, you want a system that lets you prototype the electrical design as well as the mechanical with a complete set of modelling tools. The tool set must extend past part and assembly design and include speciality applications for frame design, capturing welding operations, stylized design, wiring, schematics, cut lists with a precise bill of materials for the product and more. And more importantly, those applications need to be designed for the task at hand. We call them process specific applications which provide the user with only the tools and operations needed to complete a certain task. Automatically flowing that information through the design process means you use the original design information to produce your manuals and support documents, at a lower cost, and with increased information. You can track components, even if the spec changes (because the components list will be updated automatically), giving you better inventory control. That’s useful for support and maintenance after you ship, and it gives you a clear view of what products are affected by any faults or recalls.
3D printing is increasingly coming in house rather than being sent out to a specialised bureau or building physical prototypes. Look for a design system that lets you send files to 3D printers for design verification and prototyping without requiring your engineers to become experts in managing 3D printers. That way you’re not just increasing the efficiency of your workforce on the tasks they’re already performing during design, you’re actually creating an environment that improves the design of the final product. For example, engineers can test how well parts fit together and if they look the way they should, early in the design phase when it’s relatively inexpensive to make changes. Resources that used to be devoted to waiting for bureaus or building physical prototypes can now be invested in areas that let you differentiate your products from the competition.
One example of how you might differentiate your product could be industrial design. Some of the most successful household goods manufacturers are shifting to higher-end, premium products that appeal to customers who are looking to trade up (and those products often have higher margins as well as higher price tags). Premium products need premium industrial design, and if you’re paying for a top flight industrial designer, you need a system that lets you get the most value from the designs they provide. That means getting their original 2D sketches into your design system and converting them to 3D accurately while being confident that you can manufacture the design they envision.
When you do that, you get an additional asset; virtual prototypes that you can use to evaluate and market your future product long before it’s finished. A photorealistic 3D model of your product that you can animate and show in action, even on mobile devices like tablets and smartphones, is a great tool that you can use to get customer feedback and gear up sales promotions before you spend money on manufacturing.
Industrial designers may not take manufacturability into account, so when you build your design to get the look they’ve created you need to think about everything. That includes continuity of curves between different materials, lines that are left by injection moulding, and the need for kinematic and finite element analysis to make sure your materials and design deliver the performance you want. This requires a system that lets you go from sketch and design concept, to 3D model, to design for manufacturing, to managing designs once a product ships. And this needs to happen in one end to end workflow that takes advantage of what you’ve learned in other teams and on other products. The result is you get to market faster, you save money – and you get the design right the first time.