Digital Manufacturing - A key tool for better products faster
Product development has often been hampered as a result of poor integration of technologies and processes. Bringing quality products, right-to-market, on time and to budget is highly desirable but not normally experienced.
Various technologies may provide incremental benefits, however more benefits can be gained by integrating technologies and processes to gain an accurate, overall picture of the product development process.
Over the past decade, technologies have vastly improved our product development processes. Technologies such as:
- 3D CAD for concept and detailed product design
- rapid prototyping for evaluation, testing & market feedback
- ERP systems to assist data management
- establishing links to suppliers (Supply Chain Management systems)
- CRM systems to capture customer information
However, such technologies are rarely integrated with each other and with the product development process as a whole. This is where digital manufacturing can assist.
Digital Manufacturing is the integrated development and manufacturing simulation of a product, which clearly communicates the product and the manufacturing processes for the product.
Digital Manufacturing utilises 3D digital visualisation that enables interaction with the product design through the development process and in the planning and preparation of the manufacturing processes.
If you have developed your product as a CAD model – you have already invested in digital technology.
A 3D CAD model significantly defines the geometry (shape, features, assembly, etc) of the product and while some of this information may be used within a specific manufacturing process (eg CNC machining), to a large extent that is the end of making use of this digital information.
A Digital Manufacturing environment revolves around a Product, Process and Resources (PPR) ‘hub’ that manages the information that relates to the product, processes and resources and illustrates the way product and process information should be shared across activities.
Competitive pressures and the need to generate quality products and deliver them to market rapidly mean it is vital to ensure effort and information is shared efficiently within an organisation, across product design, engineering, production engineering, manufacturing, purchasing, distribution and marketing teams.
Therefore, in practice, the 3D CAD model as a digital definition of the product is the start of the process, but it must be integrated into the other processes to maximise the visual benefits of developing the model in 3D CAD.
Digital Manufacturing goes even further by utilising the product design to develop the manufacturing requirements including:
- Defining the manufacturing processes
- Layout and simulation of the manufacturing process flow (factory layout)
- Development of the jigs & fixtures required within the manufacturing processes
- Creation of the production process plans
Development of a Digital Mock-Up (DMU) is possible with digital manufacturing, enabling a ‘virtual engineering’ visualisation of the product, facilitating design reviews, effective communication and the sharing of product information.
The major benefit is the sharing of product information across teams within the company - supporting concurrent activities and reducing the product development time.
Digital Manufacturing is a key component in an emerging solution known as Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). PLM is a suite of software applications and services that enable companies to design, manufacture and maintain products from initial concept to retirement, while reducing cost, increasing quality and dramatically shortening time-to-market.
PLM enables collaboration across organisational and geographical boundaries, to improve supply chain communication, business process efficiency, product innovation and an important tool for enhancing lean manufacturing processes within an organisation.
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