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September 18, 1998

3 Min Read
CAD/CAM, RP step up pace for auto industry

Playing in the automotive ranks, as many custom molders do, can be an exercise in time management. As automakers take on the task of globalization and niche marketing, getting products to market faster becomes of utmost importance.

Counting cost in real terms

Not everything is relative, especially when it comes to product design and development costs. Several years ago, Ford Motor Co. performed an in-depth study to determine how much the inputs to a product-design, material, labor, and equipment-contributed to its final cost. The study and its outcome have become legendary, and are cited often as sound reasons behind more integrated product design and development trends. Results of the research, depicted in the accompanying graphics, speak louder than words. As you can see, the number one influence on final product cost is design. Think of garbage in, garbage out. If you don't start out on the right foot, you'll have problems all the way down the line. Many of the attendees we spoke to at this RP conference have taken the concept to heart and put it to work by emphasizing computer-aided tools as a way to improve and even optimize their designs.

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Harold Kutner, GM's vice president of worldwide purchasing, recently told a Detroit News reporter that all suppliers will have to cut processing and development time by quantum levels . . . or else. Gustov Olling, a Chrysler executive and past SME president, believes that computer-aided design, manufacturing, and engineering are some of the key underlying resources molders and OEMs will use to meet these new deadlines.

IMM caught up with Olling at a recent first-of-its-kind conference sponsored jointly by RPA/SME and SAE entitled "Rapid Prototyping and Tooling for the Automotive Industry" (see "RP accelerates tools for auto parts" December 1997 IMM). "Make no mistake," says Olling, "manufacturing competitiveness is definitely at stake within the domestic auto industry today. Traditional markets are saturated; in order to grow, OEMs must look to new markets in Asia-Pacific and Eastern Europe. But the differentiators won't be quality or cost anymore-those are already givens. Designing a product that addresses the perceived value of the customer, then quickly manufacturing and delivering it-this will provide the true differentiation."

Two specific technology areas will support these goals, according to Olling. They are rapid concept realization and rapid product realization. In concept realization, designers synthesize many ideas, deciding which ones are feasible by evaluating them quickly. This process requires CAD for creating the solid assemblies and virtual representation for visualizing the parts in action. Product realization, on the other hand, takes place during the design and manufacturing phase. Core techniques include FEA, robust surfacing packages for mold design and manufacture, and mold filling analysis. "The object," Olling says, "is to delay tool cutting to the last possible moment, then have the confidence gained through simulation to quickly cut an accurate mold." Together, these tools help OEMs and molders quickly realize abstract ideas, converting them to real products with high quality at low cost in the shortest time.

A focus on ergonomic design is another factor in favor of these technologies. "One of the most immediate ways to give customers what they want resides in the vehicle interior," Olling says. "Making interior surfaces more ergonomic means adding complex contours and surfaces. To do that, designers must rely on sophisticated software that can not only model the surfaces, but also translate them to CNC equipment and analyze them for moldability."

Claude Verbal, 1996 president of SAE, believes rapid prototyping is a necessary tool for taking cycle time out of the design and development process. "In the auto industry, downsizing has led us to search for the best ways to utilize resources-both people and time," says Verbal. "One of the solutions is to outsource certain functions, but another answer lies in integrating the product development processes using RP and computer-aided engineering."

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