CAD (the use of software to aid in the product design processes for visual product configuration) is resource-intensive across multiple dimensions. It’s slow, laborious, and requires more engineering expertise than many manufacturers can afford to allocate. Talk to any engineer, and they’ll tell you the same.
Yes, CAD is a major improvement over drawing with a pen and paper (for anything other than quick sketches,) but it’s ripe for change. Design automation and product customization via CAD are the change we’ve been waiting for. And they’re redefining the design process once again.
This article provides a straightforward explanation of CAD customization, design automation, and the subtle difference between the two. We take a look at the benefits of these transformational technologies and how you can put them to work in your own business.
Here’s what we cover in this article:
- Improved Engineering Efficiency
- More Innovation
- Better Designs
- Greater Responsiveness and Agility
- Increased Customer Satisfaction
- More Sustainable Products and Processes
- Lower Costs
- Enhanced Communication and Collaboration
- Higher Employee Retention
CAD Customization and Design Automation–What’s the Difference?
First, a couple of definitions.
In the words of Wikipedia, CAD (computer-aided design) is “the use of computers to aid in the creation, modification, analysis, or optimization of a design.” And in the words of the dictionary, customization is “a modification made to something to suit a particular individual or task.”
CAD customization, therefore, is the modification of CAD to suit its users–designers and engineers. These modifications tend to be custom tools. Design automation is one such tool, which was developed to support the automation of slow, repetitive, resource-intensive CAD tasks.
Design automation tools overlay mechanical engineering knowledge onto a CAD system and apply it to product development. Engineers don’t have to apply their theories, concepts, and techniques to every design. Instead, they code this knowledge into the CAD software once, and the software uses it every time a design is created, where it makes sense.
There are other forms of CAD customization beyond design automation. These include
- Developing macros: Engineers can use macros to execute a series of commands with a single click, thus saving time and frustration. If you’ve ever created a macro in Excel, it’s the same concept.
- Designing user interfaces: Chances are, the CAD user interface you get out of the box won’t be optimized to your needs. Engineers frequently customize their UI to suit their workflow better and get work done more quickly and efficiently.
- Menu customization: Same as above, only with a menu rather than the UI.
Benefits of CAD Customization and Design Automation
When you’ve implemented design automation the right way, you’ll know. How? Because users take it for granted. At first, it feels like a game-changer–“I’m getting twice as much done in half the time!” But within weeks, it starts to feel…normal. Users can’t imagine a life without it.
Design automation makes engineers’ lives simpler. But it does take a significant upfront investment–mainly in time. Codifying decades of engineering knowledge into your CAD system is not easy. But is it worth it?
The answer is, of course, yes. It’s totally worth it. A couple of weeks spent automating is quickly recovered through increased productivity. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Below are some of the additional benefits.
Improved Engineering Efficiency
Automating the most time-consuming, repetitive, tedious design tasks enables engineers to achieve more each day. They can free themselves from the minutiae and focus on the strategic work that matters most.
Less repetition=more innovation. CAD automation frees people to be more creative and curious. Engineers can start developing breakthrough products and innovative solutions to longstanding problems in your industry.
Automation eliminates errors, ensures consistency, and improves the outcome of the design process. Engineers can optimize every design, developing products that are higher quality, more sustainable, and higher margin, thereby increasing client satisfaction and profitability.
Greater Responsiveness and Agility
The faster you can design your products, the quicker you can launch them onto the market. Enhanced agility means you can respond lightning-fast to shifting client tastes and fluctuating market conditions.
Increased Customer Satisfaction
Demand is high among B2B buyers for custom and personalized goods. But for many manufacturers, custom engineering is too expensive to generate a sufficient return. Design automation upends this paradigm, making custom engineering fast and inexpensive. Now manufacturers can afford to configure complex products for each buyer, increasing customer satisfaction (products are a better fit) and expanding the total addressable market size.
More Sustainable Products and Processes
Design automation reduces engineering errors, meaning fewer prototypes are required per finished product, and less waste is generated through defective production. These improvements contribute to a lower carbon footprint.
Design automation reduces manual work such as drafting, supervision, quality assurance, and other checks and balances. This is the work done by humans who, unlike computers, take time off and need pay! Therefore, the more work done by computers, the lower your costs. You can retain these savings as profit or pass them on to customers, making you more competitive.
Enhanced Communication and Collaboration
Standardizing processes and data aligns employees inside and outside the engineering department, facilitating collaboration and boosting productivity. It makes it easier to integrate CAD with your other systems, driving end-to-end automation from sales through engineering and the shop floor.
Higher Employee Retention
Design automation lets your employees create more each day–with less frustration. They have the space and time to be creative and achieve their potential. Happier employees stay longer. So if you want to retain your top talent, you need to automate the transactional work engineers and designers despise.
The Bottom Line
The future of CAD and product design lie in automation. Design automation is faster and less costly and leads to the development of better products–more durable, sustainable, and profitable. As customer expectations increase and finding skilled labor becomes harder, design automation is key to achieving more with less.