There’s a lot of benefit to be had by doing manufacturability analysis (DFM, Design for Manufacturing) early in the design process, rather than waiting until later, when design changes are far more expensive.
A couple of years ago, Autodesk Labs previewed a product, Project Krypton, which ran inside of 3D CAD programs (including Autodesk Inventor, DS SolidWorks, and PTC Pro/E), and gave real-time feedback on manufacturability, cost, and sustainability of plastic injection molded parts.
Project Krypton has now reappeared, in commercial form, as Autodesk Simulation DFM (Design For Manufacturing.) It works as a plug-in, running in a number of versions of Inventor, Inventor LT, Wildfire, Creo, and SolidWorks. It is available as a subscription benefit for Autodesk Simulation Moldflow Adviser 2013 subscribers, or as a stand-alone product, at US$2,000 for a license to run on any of the supported CAD platforms.
It’s reasonable to argue that engineers who are designing plastic parts should know enough to be able to recognize manufacturability, cost, or sustainability problems. And, if they don’t, they should take the time to learn (for example, by taking a few hours to read any of the many freely available books on the subject, such as General Design Principles for DuPont Engineering Polymers.) Even though that argument is reasonable, it doesn’t recognize human nature. People, even engineers who should know better, don’t always take the time to “read the manual.” Often, it makes sense to build the “manual” into the tools that engineers use every day. Simulation DFM does that, and quite a bit more.
For inexperienced designers, Simulation DFM provides quick feedback to help them avoid rookie mistakes. It’s sort of like an “idiot light” on a car’s dash, that warns you when something is wrong. And while old-hands might say they prefer gauges to idiot lights, experience has shown that idiot lights are useful to experts (even F1 drivers and fighter pilots) for catching their attention, and getting them to actually look at the gauges.
Simulation DFM doesn’t require that users have any background in molding simulation. It uses “green is good, yellow is not so good, and red is bad” indicators to identify potential manufacturing, cost and sustainability issues, showing the source and location of the problem. Any issues that pop-up can be expanded upon, to provide more detail on the exact source of the problem, even showing, for example, mold filling analyses. The software requires no additional training, and doesn’t require much user input.
The open question with Simulation DFM is “how good is it?” Since it’s based on the Autodesk Moldflow simulation engine, it should be quite good, even for relatively complex parts (though it doesn’t support multi-body parts.) Yet, even if its capabilities were modest, it would still be of value, in either helping beginning designers to learn good design practice, or helping old-hands catch mistakes they might have otherwise missed.
As an engineer, I’ve long had the habit of using the “anything I can see” test to evaluate the usefulness of software. I look around the room, looking at anything I see, and ask myself “would this software have helped the engineers who designed these things?” In this case, as I sit in my office, I can see at least 20 items (without even turning to look behind me), each with multiple injection molded parts, that would have been quicker, easier, and less-expensive to design, had their engineers had access to up-front DFM software, such as Autodesk Simulation DFM.
The most significant benefit of Autodesk Simulation DFM comes not from its detailed capabilities, but rather from its clean integration into the design workflow. A user need not press a button, or take any specific action when designing a plastic part to benefit from it. All they need to do is notice, as they design, whether the software has picked up any obvious red-flags.
That Autodesk decided to make Simulation DFM available for Pro/E, Creo, and SolidWorks (as well as Inventor) shows that rational minds sometimes do prevail: There are untold thousands of PTC and SolidWorks customers who design plastic injection molded parts, and who are unlikely to switch primary CAD tools any time soon. The challenge Autodesk is going to face is in getting Simulation DFM in front of those users (since PTC and SolidWorks sales reps and dealers are not likely to recommend it.) Maybe not so much of a challenge: Many of Autodesk’s existing Moldflow customers are Pro/E and SolidWorks users.
There’s a certain charm to software that does something of great value, but does not impose any extra demands on its users. Autodesk Simulation DFM looks like it may be that kind of product.
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