The trick to getting better products out the door faster is design reuse. You start with a legacy model, incorporate a vendor’s new PC board, add some mad curves to the grip, and before long, your electronic ice cream scoop is on the market and you’re collecting a Red Dot award.
Unfortunately, there are some things missing from that picture. Like what if you can’t find those legacy models? What if they’re built in such a way that you can’t quickly extract the geometry you want to use? What if it’s so much trouble, it’s just easier to start from scratch, even if it means lost time and higher costs? The truth is, to get the most from design reuse, you have to start thinking about it early, long before you’re ready to build that 2015 model eScoop. Here are some things you should be doing today to make sure you can leverage today’s designs next season:
- Modularize the design. The idea of modularizing parts in a mechanical design isn’t a new one. In fact, interchangeable parts laid the groundwork for our earliest assembly lines. As a designer, the more you can modularize components into discrete assemblies, right from the start, the more you can extract those components into standalone reference parts you and others can reuse later.
- Design a whole platform. Another (admittedly ambitious) approach to modularizing a design is to start with a platform for a product family. In this scenario, you design to reuse the majority of your work for future products in the same line. For example, a power tool company might craft an entire range of products using standardized components, such as motors, switches, cord sets, and fasteners. You spend more time planning on the front end, but you can bring multiple products to market, in less time and with lower costs.
- Create a centralized library for reference parts. Discrete parts and assemblies can’t be reused if you can’t find where you put them. Fortunately, most CAD systems let you create libraries of parts. If you’re a SolidWorks user, get to know the Design Library. For Autodesk Inventor, look up the Content Center.
- Consider an intelligent numbering system. Some companies enlist intelligent part numbering to make it easier to find models for reuse. Intelligent numbers group sets of numbers together (aa-bbb-ccc-dddd), with each group indicating something about the part—aa=usage, bbb=length, ccc=finish, etc. The Internet is full of arguments for and against intelligent numbering systems. It’s worth exploring a few of those arguments to determine which is right for your company.
- Vault all your parts and assemblies in a PDM system. The more extensive your collection of standard models, the more you’ll need professional search features to leverage them. PDM systems shine when it comes to vaulting and finding models. They make data available to users across the organization, and sometimes beyond. With a PDM system, it's not only easier to find and build off your old projects, it's less likely that you'll create models that duplicate something that already exists somewhere else within the organization--amplifying the time savings you get from your design reuse strategy.
- Know the typical objections to design reuse strategies. If you’re eager to incorporate some of these ideas for better reuse, researchers warn you can expect a couple barriers.
- Management incentives may discourage up front efforts—like designing more modular products and setting up libraries. It may take some effort to justify the extra preliminary work when management just wants the current product out the door.
- Some designers may find their creativity threatened by reusing designs, simply preferring to start from scratch every time.
You may or may not run into barriers like these, but it’s helpful to know they’re common. And it’s worth getting past them to reap the considerable benefits of effective design reuse. Note that none of these reuse tips help if you have a product you want to model today. Fortunately, there’s a reuse strategy you can use right now: Leverage the work of others. All the major CAD systems come with libraries of standard parts, like fasteners, so there’s no reason to design nuts and bolts from scratch. And of course you can always download any of the myriad models here on GrabCAD for free. Even if they’re not exactly what you’re looking for, they’re easy enough to modify, saving you the effort of starting from scratch.
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