Modern factory automation technology has completely changed the way goods and raw materials are manufactured, packaged and distributed. For the consumer, products that have rolled off an automated production line are generally of greater quality and consistency – traits that are appreciated, foster customer loyalty and go a long way in building reputation and brand awareness. For the manufacturer, automation has enabled products to be mass produced at outstanding speeds while delivering the repeatability and quality their customers demand. Often, a company’s ongoing investment in automation technology is a deciding factor in whether or not they can maintain their competitive advantage.
For machine builders, meeting the requirements of these extremely demanding manufacturers is hard, especially when a multitude of other machine design companies, both domestic and international, are competing for the same business. There are challenges to respond to RFQs faster, reduce order-to-delivery time, reduce the number of parts, increase functionality and the rate of production a machine can deliver. Naturally, competition causes price pressure, but initial purchase price and machine speed are not your customer’s only considerations. Reliability, flexibility, and lifetime costs are just as important.
So how can you differentiate your company and your machines?
Price, of course, is one way. Creating your own niche or focusing on a highly specialized market segment is another, but these have the potential downside of restricting your growth. Building special purpose one-off machines may command a premium, but these introduce their own set of challenges and risks. Ultimately, your customer expects an innovative solution at a reasonable price that delivers their target volume, cost per unit and overall equipment effectiveness.
Every customer has their own idea of what constitutes a good machine design. Each of the main characteristics that define modern machines have their own unique challenges.
Let’s take a look.
1. Machine Design Challenge: Speed & Accuracy
Machine speed or cycles per minute is a common benchmark many manufacturers use when choosing a machine supplier. Faster machines cost considerably more and some manufacturers assume that investing more up front will give them higher yields and improve their overall productivity, but that is not always the case. Cycle times are meaningless if the quality of the products coming off the production line are substandard or machine reliability is questionable. After all, it’s safe to assume that the faster a machine operates, the greater the risk of it breaking down. Unplanned downtime can cost thousands of dollars per minute in missed delivery schedules, unexpected repair and maintenance costs, setup time, damaged stock and startup rejects. These hidden costs can damage a machine builder’s reputation and potential future business. Indeed, some machine builders sacrifice speed for greater reliability and gain more customers for it.
Whatever speed you run your machine at, accuracy and attention to detail are the most important factors when designing a new machine. However, even your best engineers can overlook errors in a design, especially if multiple people are working on different parts of the machine in isolation. Design changes may not be propagated to the rest of the team in a timely fashion and mismatched components can easily be missed. Out of date or incorrect parts could then be manufactured and only discovered at final assembly. Delays this late in a project can be costly.
How Onshape Improves Speed & Accuracy
In a modern CAD system like Onshape, designs are always up to date. This is all taken care of automatically. Onshape’s unique database architecture completely eliminates the hassles of trying to manage distributed CAD files and complicated PDM systems. So when a colleague makes a design change, you’ll know about it, without having to jump through hoops to get your hands on the latest and greatest design data. Errors are therefore significantly reduced with every team member working on the latest design data at all times.
2. Machine Design Challenge: Reliability
Backing up your reliability claims with real data can be a profitable strategy. Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is a methodology some manufacturers use to measure their productivity and throughput. A score of 100% indicates that they are producing perfect products, as fast as possible, with no unplanned downtime (note that this score has no relation to the speed of the machine).
By measuring OEE and the underlying losses, manufacturers can gain important insights into how they can improve their manufacturing processes and measure the return on investment of the supplied machinery. Obtaining this data from your customers can help you to improve current and future machine designs, improve customer support and loyalty, and gain valuable sales and marketing collateral. Delivering machines that consistently score high on OEE benchmarks (that are not affected by human error, which can be mitigated with special attention to operator ergonomics and training) can be a useful tool when competing for new or repeat business.
Customers have high (and sometimes unrealistic) expectations. Short delivery times are often a driving factor for many when choosing a machine supplier, while at the same time expecting machines of the highest quality and reliability. Engineering quality takes time. If you don’t have time, your design may be compromised. That is simply not acceptable.
How Onshape Improves Reliability
While Onshape can’t make you think faster, it can help you design faster. Related parts and subassemblies can be designed together to ensure that all your design intent is captured and every part updates predictably when changes occur. Custom features enable you to streamline and optimize repetitive design tasks. Onshape assemblies can be built in a fraction of the time with single-click placement and built-in standard content.
Onshape runs in a secure-cloud workspace and can be accessed instantly via a web browser or mobile device. With no downloads, no installs, no crashes, and no lost or corrupt data, you’ll have more time to perfect your designs and spend zero time on the mundane IT tasks that old file-based CAD systems impose.
3. Machine Design Challenge: Flexibility
Another way to develop a real competitive advantage is to reduce the amount of time spent designing each new machine. Less time equals faster delivery and higher margins. Building machines that can operate as multi-purpose or multi-product machines reduces design time and gives manufacturers more flexibility. Many manufacturers require production lines to run different products on different days or at least be able to adapt or upgrade their existing machinery when new products are developed, production needs to scaled up or old products are discontinued.
A simple push-button operation that enables manufacturers to swap out one product for another is the ideal solution, but this is usually highly dependent upon product similarity to enable it to work with the minimum of downtime, setup and startup costs. Different design strategies must also be considered for this to be successful, including switching from mechanical gears and cams to modern control systems and servomotors, and incorporating modular design. While these types of improvements make machines more flexible, they also introduce a significant amount of complexity to the machine and subsequently to the machine design process.
Design is an iterative process with usually more bad ideas than the handful of good ones. As you start to consider different design strategies and rework your existing machines, you’ll need to make umpteen copies of your entire machine data set to work on and test out different concepts. Keeping on top of all these copies and deciding which combination of ideas are best can be difficult even with a PDM system. If several designers are working on several copies, the problems are compounded.
How Onshape Increases Flexibility
Onshape enables everyone involved in the machine redesign to add all their ideas to the same Document. Each user can create their own individual branch or workspace within that Document, based off a particular version or revision of the machine. These branches are completely isolated from the rest of the Document and the rest of the team (unless more than one person is working in a branch).
This means that each designer can explore new design scenarios without affecting other people’s work. If a design idea is no good, it can be deleted or saved for future reference. If it’s a great idea, it can be merged back into the main design. If multiple areas of the same machine are being redesigned at the same time, multiple branches can also be merged together.
Since every design change in Onshape is captured and recorded forever, your design team can experiment as much as they like, confident in the fact that any errors or bad decisions can always be undone. In short, Onshape gives you unlimited undo/redo.
With Onshape’s built-in data management capabilities you can use branching, merging, versions and history to iterate your designs faster with a minimum of fuss.
To read more about the challenges in machine design, navigate to Part 2 of this blog here.