SolidWorks, a supplier of computer aided design (CAD), computer aided engineering (CAE), and other manufacturing and design software, recently announced that in 2017, it will integrate currently separate software suites to provide a “fully digitized design to manufacturing ecosystem.” Currently, part designers using CAD software need to design a part capable of performing its function while making sure the part is manufacturable given manufacturing equipment availability, configurations, and limitations. The software can currently perform certain sanity checks based on established Design for Manufacturing (DFM) rules, but Dassault Systemes (SolidWorks’ parent company) CEO Gian Paolo Bassi reported that in 2017 the company plans to go much further in allowing the software to make and optimize such decisions. In particular, SolidWorks plans for its software to keep track of what kinds of manufacturing equipment a given user has available, along with the capabilities and limits of that equipment, and even parts that are available off-the-shelf commercially, in order to determine whether a given design can be reliably made in a given manufacturing environment. The company plans to let the designer input the performance parameters for the part, which will allow the software to modify designs to make them manufacturable. Once a design is finalized, the same software will be able to configure equipment to manufacture the part. The goal is to make the design and manufacturing process as seamless as possible by identifying and fixing potential problems earlier in the design process, and to notice issues human engineers miss.
SolidWorks noted that due to the large and growing volume of available materials and manufacturing process data, the demands on engineers have grown beyond traditional mechanical and electrical engineering. Taking advantage of the part design possibilities afforded with such a software ecosystem while simultaneously meeting design and manufacturing constraints will require complex systems engineering. The company is betting that its software will handle these challenges better than current methods. While theoretically possible, such a feat faces enormous challenges ranging from limits of scientific understanding and usability of existing data to user interfaces and computer processing limitations.
It is unlikely that SolidWorks will achieve “fully digitized design to manufacturing” in 2017. That phrase suggests a fully integrated digital thread – a complete, nearly-automated solution, from idea to design to production to finished part, as defined by NIST. Nevertheless, SolidWorks’ approach has tremendous potential, even in the near term, if the company can enable part designers to gradually shrink the gap between design and part.
By: Anthony Vicari