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"Art-to-part" is key to shorter cycles.

"Art-to-part" is key to shorter cycles

Manufacturing is moving rapidly away from an environment characterized by mass-production techniques which existed to serve a mass-consumption consumer appetite. Instead, the environment is changing to one where more diversified consumer appetites are driving radically more diversified production technologies.

Moreover, advancements in transportation and communication have created a truly global marketplace. There's a continuing rise of manufacturing even in what we've traditionally thought of as "nonindustrial" countries. The result is that in global business, nations are interlocked through a complex array of economic and corporate alliances as never before. My company is one such alliance - a global joint venture between General Electric and Japan's Fanuc with four operating subsidiaries around the world.

In that kind of an environment, it is said that time is today's competitive weapon of choice. For manufacturers, the key question is, "How do we achieve shorter design and manufacturing cycles, and simultaneously deal with rapid new product introduction cycles, thereby getting to market faster and gaining competitive advantage?"

Design the process first

One approach is to remove the barriers between design and manufacturing. Many companies are implementing concurrent product and process design disciplines. Some are now going so far as to say "design the flexible manufacturing process first; then design the product."

As more and more computerization is applied to product design and production machinery, many companies are moving away from mere process mechanization toward true process automation. With "time" as the manufacturers' most potent competitive weapon, an automated "art-to-part" approach, coupled with flexible manufacturing facilities, can dramatically shrink product introduction cycles.

Currently 20 to 25 percent of the average manufacturing budget is earmarked to find and fix mistakes - a situation which is intolerable for any world-class manufacturer. However, it's also true that 80 percent of manufacturing defects are locked in during the initial design phase.

Just think about it. We're not very far away from being able to develop parts on a CAD machine, do all the design through group technology, view it in 3-dimensions on the screen to make sure everything looks good, download it through a high-speed network to a tool room or model shop someplace, and in a matter of hours get a finished part back. The designer can then compare the actual machined or molded part, or whatever it may be, to the design that was put on the screen only hours before.

Part right, first time

This "art-to-part" approach will shrink product introduction cycles from what has typically been two-to-five years - depending on the product - to what will become one-to-two years. It will also enable us to make a part right, the first time, with little variation. For example, we are talking about revolutionary changes in car making, where, in one assembly plant, completely different car models can be assembled automatically, in dealer-scheduled sequence. No longer will you dedicate a plant to manufacture one car type.

This is not star wars technology, but technology truly on the verge of implementation. In the near future, technology advances like fiber-optic-based communications networks, smart sensors, embedded artificial intelligence, conversational programming, parallel neural computing, and application-specific large-scale integrated circuits are going to enable us to distribute intelligent control devices cost effectively throughout the product design and production process. It is these advances that will revolutionize our design and manufacturing processes.

We always advise our customers that, in order to take maximum benefit of new manufacturing technology, they probably need to redesign their product. A redesigned, "automatable", product can have enormous beneficial impact on both market share and operating cost. I've never seen a good CAD-CAM-driven automation project that did not involve substantial redesign of the product to make it simpler, with fewer parts, and easier to assemble. A company should never overlook the positive effects of improved product quality on the productivity and profitability, of the entire business.
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:product design and manufacturing
Author:Collins, Robert P.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:column
Date:May 1, 1990
Words:640
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