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Pulse of the Industry: Designers feel the pressure

July 1, 2001

4 Min Read
Pulse of the Industry: Designers feel the pressure

The product design and development function within the injection molding industry consists of many branches, from industrial, part, and product designers to tooling and mechanical engineers. So when IMM mailed out 600 surveys, they were sent to readers in each of these categories. 

When this admittedly diverse group was asked to name the industry trend in the last five years that had the greatest influence (positive or negative) on their job or business, answers varied wildly, but there were a few common threads. In fact, two answers stood out—price pressures and time to market. An increase in overseas competition also registered with the group as a major influence. Advances in rapid prototyping and 3-D solid modeling were cited by several as ways to combat each of these pressures. 

In addition, the continuing trend toward consolidation, or "mega-mergers," was cited as a negative by one custom molder, who added, "Customers are losing service and people are becoming easily expendable." 

When it comes to the number one challenge affecting product development, a majority of respondents named the issue of file translation (i.e., translating a file from a supplier's or customer's CAD system to the one the designer is using). This finding is supported in part by the results of our query on CAD systems used: Approximately half design with AutoCAD; nearly one-third use SolidWorks; and many use a combination of the two. Pro/E and Unigraphics also ranked high with around 25 percent of respondents reporting that they use these programs. A scattering of other software made the list as well, including I-deas, Autodesk Mechanical Desktop, Cadkey, and Catia (all of which hit home with about 5 percent of users). In all, 38 CAD/CAM programs were named by the 137 who responded to the survey. 

It comes as no surprise that 3-D solid models (54 percent) are overtaking 2-D drawings (46 percent) as the preferred format for design. And the trend is taking hold for mold design as well as industrial, part, and product categories. "We are able to convey designs in an extremely short time (sometimes less than an hour) using solid modeling," reported a contract manufacturer/moldmaker. "In fact, 100 percent of our mold and fixture design is 3-D, allowing us to head off manufacturability problems before they cost money." 

Moldfilling simulation seems to have taken root in this community, although it appears to be used on select projects rather than every one. A majority of respondents outsource this function (57 percent), but a good number of them perform the analysis in-house (39 percent) or online (4 percent). 

Online design and collaboration tools, as well as finite-element analysis, are not being widely used in the industry, according to our data. Resin suppliers appear to be making some inroads, however, with 23 percent of respondents reporting that they had used online design tools available from a resin supplier's website. Of those using these tools, though, only a few listed more than one website, suggesting the relative newness of this technology. 

One indicator of the possible future growth for online collaboration: Survey participants listed early supplier involvement as the number one technique for reducing time to market. Getting involved earlier in a product's development may be achieved via virtual meetings, rather than the face-to-face design reviews common today. 

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