We all know that communicating early and often with your manufacturing partner can pay big dividends. It’s not easy, but here are a few suggestions for smoothing the way.
During the design cycle, partners can help optimize your design for manufacturability and assembly. They can also prevent late (read: expensive) changes. And during production, smooth communication between your two departments can minimize the disruption of unexpected problems, like a part that suddenly can’t be purchased anymore.
That said, engineering and manufacturing are complicated endeavors. How does anyone negotiate the technical barriers, geographical distances, conflicting agendas, and seemingly incompatible personalities?
1. Test data exchange processes early
The engineering drawing or model is your fundamental tool for communicating with manufacturing. So, ideally, you and your manufacturer would read off the same page, or at least the same CAD system.
But that’s often not the case. So you use translation software or exchange STEP files—if you don’t mind the data loss.
It’s always smart to talk to your manufacturing partner about this. Different shops have different preferences and abilities. Run through the process early, while you’re still in the design phase. Make sure that your producers can easily open your files, mark them up, and adapt them to their own processes (like CNC programming). Then make sure you can easily adapt any feedback into your own system.
2. Know your manufacturer’s processes
While you’re talking to your manufacturer, find out all you can about his or her processes. Organizational experts point out that the best communications come from teams that have stood in each other’s shoes. In part, that’s because they understand each other’s goals and metrics.
For example, you may take pride in developing innovative solutions to intractable design challenges. But the person assembling your solution is more likely rewarded by how many pieces she produces in a day.
Conflicting goals? Not necessarily. But perhaps a situation ripe for talking past one another. If it’s not practical to build cross-functional teams or move in for extended visits, at least get to know your producers’ priorities and how your model becomes a product once it’s in their hands.
3. Manage your data
Maybe you’ve been lucky and never had a manufacturer tool against an outdated CAD model. It’s an expensive form of miscommunication and a common one. Start with a CAD management strategy while you’re company is small, and you won’t have the headaches of loading all your legacy CAD data into a database or the cloud as versions and new product designs multiply.
4. Consider geometric dimensioning and tolerancing
Not everybody uses GD&T, but it’s a powerful communication tool for working with manufacturers. Most CAD systems now support this universal symbolic language, and it can answer questions from your manufacturer before they arise. It ensures quality, preventing interferences and other product failures that might not have shown up during prototyping and simulation.
5. Urge your IT department to support product development
While you’re hoping to get products out the door, traditional IT departments are looking for ways to bolt the doors shut. But the good news is that analysts predict that will change, and soon. If you’re a CAD manager or CIO, or if you have the ear of a CAD manager or CIO, now is the time to urge IT to do more to support product development processes, cloud solutions, and collaboration—or risk putting their companies at a competitive disadvantage.
6. Protect your IP without undersharing
Some companies feel uneasy about IP, and severely limit sharing. You may be able to do more by optimizing these widely available tools:
Shrink wrap, simplify, or defeature the model. Most CAD packages include tools like these for dumbing down assemblies, in part to help you hide unnecessary details.
If you’re using a data management system, understand permission settings and make the most of them.
If you’re using GrabCAD Workbench, explore Partner Spaces. A Partner Space is a folder in your project that you use to show only a selection of files to a partner—without seeing any other data in the project.
7. Invest in an interpreter
Even with all the right technology in place, a solid relationship can still make a remarkable difference with your manufacturing partners. If your manufacturing shop floor doesn’t speak your language well, you can prevent misunderstandings, save time, and strengthen relationships using a trained interpreter.
Skilled interpreters earn degrees in the discipline and can help you with both language and cultural nuances. They aren’t necessarily expensive, and they can be essential for your most important meetings and communications. Find one with experience in manufacturing and engineering in online marketplaces like Translatorscafe.com and ProZ.com.
Struggling with CAD file management?
Unmanaged CAD data can lead to wasted time and expensive mistakes, but traditional PDM and PLM solutions are too costly for many companies. This guide, written by industry analyst Jim Brown, will help you find the solution that fits your needs.