Minimize design planning, optimize time to market

Design automation software enables mass customization, accelerates manufacturing, improves efficiencies from sales to manufacturing, and reduces lead times across functions.

By Ketan Panchal April 13, 2022
Courtesy: Hitech CADD Services


Learning Objectives

  • Examine benefits of design automation software for manufacturers.
  • Review how design automation software works.
  • Explore ways to simplify product structure and mass customization.

Manufacturers in SME sectors like metal fabrication, furniture manufacturing, and building component manufacturing, where customers demand more personalized products, have been worst affected, and design automation software can help. It is crucial for engineer-to-order (ETO) and configure-to-order (CTO) manufacturers to shorten product design times and be innovative to withstand the pressures of mass customization.

To keep its product portfolio on course, a company must consistently innovate and offer different product versions. Successful products across the product lifecycle show a short investment period followed by a long profit phase and then a short decline phase. A product can find success if the pertinent variables at each stage of its lifecycle are effectively managed.

In the overall product development cycle, about 30 to 40% of time goes into design planning and in developing the final design. Greater time efficiency at the design phase, if it can be achieved without compromising quality, serves to push a manufacturer ahead of his competitors. To go increasingly customer-centric, and develop the product mix accordingly, a manufacturer needs to identify workable product options for CTO and customization options in ETO offerings. All such efforts require a high level of design planning from the initial stage of the product life cycle. The manufacturer needs to spot current processes that can be automated, computer-aided design (CAD) tools and legacy systems for integration and collaboration, repeatability among designs and design rules, their competitors’ approach and global practices to have effective design automation in place and stay ahead.

Implementing CAD automation from the design phase to sales through manufacturing lets manufacturers tackle the demands of personalization and cut down the design life cycle from weeks to days.

Challenges for manufacturers: Product design, customization

Today’s manufacturers have to withstand increased competitiveness, margin pressure, and highly informed digital customers who demand additional customizations.

Increased market competence and shortened product life cycle

The market has become very customer-driven. For every type of product, there are multiple manufacturers and seemingly limitless models and variations. Product variety has more than doubled in the past two decades and product lifecycle has shortened by about 30 to 60% across all industries.

Customers are aware of pricing, quality and delivery offered by competing manufacturers and sellers on similar products. Greater customer awareness increases the pressure on manufacturers to do their own homework on market trends and product variations to stay competitive.

Mass customization

Over several decades, trends show much higher demands for mass customization than for standardized products.

To offer mass customization, a manufacturer needs to accurately capture the customization needs of customers and develop the designs at speed. It is difficult to do so with legacy design resources. They need to maintain each requirement separately and develop it simultaneously. It not only increases the overall lead time, but it’s also error-prone and results in loss of opportunity.

Product design

For ETO manufacturers like industrial product metal fabricators, the development cycle starts from scratch. It requires capturing of complete specification, and then designing it from concept to validation before it goes for final manufacturing. These types of products have the longest development cycle and need the highest engineering efforts. Most of the time, it takes months to capture the specifications, and another six months to a year or more to develop the final product.

On the other side, industries like furniture manufacturing and building products, which are more of CTO, have additional challenges to incorporate extra personalization to suit the field or room space, functions and aesthetics. Though these do not demand as many design changes, the need to design at speed and at a competitive cost creates challenges.

Product design data in silos

While developing a variety of products, manufacturers often look for similar designs and historical data for design validation and to set up base line. They also look into competitive data, regulatory and other data to benchmark the product and for value addition. However, with no standard mechanism in place for design data management, most of the data lies in silos often stored in unusable formats. This leads to waste of time, increased costs and errors in understanding and applying new design requirements.

Skilled design resources

To offer faster delivery, manufacturers depend on skilled designers and drafters for quick design changes and to develop shop drawings that meet customer specifications. Only high-skilled designers know how to change a design to meet mass customization. The manufacturer becomes handicapped and dependent on the knowledge pool of designers they have access to.

Integration and collaboration

A complete product development cycle involves many stakeholders, ranging from sales, design, planning, quality, manufacturing, to supply chain. Tightly-knit coordination and communication are needed for successful product development and shorter delivery times. Manufacturers find it difficult to manage common consensus on design and manufacturing among the high number of stakeholders. It often leads to conflicts, loss of time and error-prone data flow among teams, resulting in loss of opportunity and increased wastage.

Design automation helps manufacturers meet the time to market

With a primary focus on reducing the time to market and mass customization, manufacturers need to look for advanced 3D CAD technologies offered by CAD platforms. These allow automation from design to manufacturing and integrate functions across the manufacturing value chain.

Through design automation, manufacturers can cut down on many dependencies and mundane tasks stretching from design to manufacturing and realize accelerated manufacturing of customized products.

Design automation not only shortens the product development cycle, but it offers a high level of integration and collaboration from sales to manufacturing.

How design automation works, benefits

Design automation uses the basics of engineering rules and common scalable templates to offer mass customization and personalization. This simplifies the product structure and designs the product block-by-block in a configurable manner. 3D visualization using design automation allows a high level of detailing to review and configure products.

Simplified product structure and mass customization for ETO and CTO

To automate designs, designers and manufacturers need to look into the structure of the product mix and spot rules for engineering that can be automated to accommodate customer specifications.

Design automation signifies a system to automatically capture design requirements and translate them to engineering activity for finished product variants in minimum time. In design automation, the following terms are frequently used:

  • System: A controller to provide an all-encompassing workflow. Design automation and CAD systems interact with product lifecycle management (PLM), and other engineering and office applications.
  • Engineering activity: All the knowledge, calculations, engineering precepts, use of rules of thumb and product lore that go into creating a product variant.
  • More or less automatic: Intelligent design automation systems automate repetitive or grunt work, and do not go into areas where experienced engineers can supply a creative solution faster.
  • Product variants: These are families of products developed from a central design needs to be re-engineered to gain full product functionality. 

Guided intuitive designs

With embedded design rules, you can eliminate dependence on the local knowledge pool of designers and empower the designer to simplify complex designs. With design automation, less experienced engineers also become able to deliver complex customized designs in less time. The latest CAD tools have AI-enabled generative design guides that help the designer to choose the right designs from options for cost optimization.

Increased digitalization in manufacturing has led to stiffer competition. Digital buying trends and personalization have increased the challenges of maintaining quality within shorter deadlines. Design automation software can help including advanced 3D CAD technologies offered by CAD platforms like Autodesk AutoCAD, Dassault Systemes SolidWorks, Autodesk Inventor, PTC Creo, and tools like Tacton by Tacton Systems and DriveWorks by DriveWorks Ltd. Courtesy: Hitech CADD Services

Increased digitalization in manufacturing has led to stiffer competition. Digital buying trends and personalization have increased the challenges of maintaining quality within shorter deadlines. Design automation software can help including advanced 3D CAD technologies offered by CAD platforms like Autodesk AutoCAD, Dassault Systemes SolidWorks, Autodesk Inventor, PTC Creo, and tools like Tacton by Tacton Systems and DriveWorks by DriveWorks Ltd. Courtesy: Hitech CADD Services

Eliminate mundane tasks

Designers often lose time on repetitive designs from regular customers or in finding the baseline designs. With the use of scripts and macros, design automation helps to eliminate these mundane tasks by capturing the baseline design and repeating order design with minor modifications. They allow the designers to use the baseline and update the new requirements quickly to generate accurate designs in no time.

Another task of the designer is to provide shop drawings, bill of materials (BOMs) and technical documents for sales and manufacturing. These documents are automatically generated with high accuracy at the click of a button.

Major tasks that are regularly automated include:

  • Automated creation of drawings, assemblies, and parts based on existing product variations
  • Automatic generation of manufacturing documents
  • Automatic retrieval and incorporation of product data and calculations
  • Automatic generation of sales proposals, quotes, and documents
  • Automated product specification by nontechnical associates, such as sales
  • Automated and web-based product specifications to enable remote sales.

Design automation using model-based design (MBD) enables incorporation of all technical details for supply chain, manufacturing, and quality to have common and a single source truth in the 3D CAD model and avoid conflicts and misinformation.

Accelerated manufacturing and time-to-market

As design efforts are reduced drastically with automation and all required technical documents are generated in no time, the manufacturer can cut down time to market from months to weeks. The design-to-manufacture lead time reduces significantly. The overall product life cycle shortens by almost 60% or more, opening the path to success and profits.

Common data sharing, interoperability, and collaboration

While developing customized designs, it is necessary to have all teams on the same page and collaborate effectively. With the help of application programming interfaces (APIs) and plug-ins, design automation software brings different legacy systems on a common platform and integrates with CAD software, enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, manufacturing execution system (MES) software, product design management (PDM) software, product lifecycle management (PLM) software and customer relationship management (CRM) software. Designers and stakeholders can access and maintain the design and related data in a common structured format. It allows them to review designs in real time and make informed decisions to accelerate design cycles.

At a high level of integration ranging from sales to manufacturing, a 3D visual product configurator allows customers to configure complex designs according to their needs. It speeds up the sales-to-manufacturing cycle and eliminates over 80% of design to manufacturing time.

Innovative, competitive manufacturing

To remain innovative and competitive, manufacturers have to shorten the product development life cycle and offer customized designs. Design automation is the way forward because it offers multifold benefits enabling mass customization, accelerated manufacturing, improvement of efficiencies from sales to manufacturing and reducing lead times across functions.

ETO and CTO manufacturers must fully adopt 3D CAD technologies and tools and techniques using scripts, macros, plug-ins and APIs to automate designs and the workflow from sales to manufacturing.

Ketan Panchal is a design manager at Hitech CADD Services. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,

KEYWORDS: Design automation software



Automation design software helps integrate key elements of disparate software packages used in product lifecycles.

Author Bio: Ketan Panchal is a design manager at Hitech CADD Services, and promotes engineering excellence through design automation. He and a team of automation specialists develop winning and user-friendly solutions for complex customization engineering projects by leveraging technology innovation in the manufacturing space.