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Making mechanical design fast and reliable

For delivering well designed and reliable products, using what we already have and constant search for improvements are key. Every R&D project involves reusable pieces and repetitive actions that are easy to conduct but require time – here is where automation becomes useful.

While an engineer’s main task, inventing is not something they do eight hours a day. Next to creative challenges, they face menial and uninteresting problems, such as filling-in forms or inserting dozens of bolts. Scripts, macros, journals, program, applications, or add-ins can be a solution for that. All are tools to make a CAD program follow a routine. Usually “hidden” behind a new button, a key shortcut or in a new toolbar, they allow the user to perform tasks in no time and focus only on what’s important. Most of CAD applications expose access to their functions. This is known as API (Application Programming Interface). By using an appropriate language, the functions can be combined in more complex scenarios in order to perform required tasks. 

Every time when a set of operations can be described by an algorithm, a script or an add-on can be created, which can both be reused for the same task in the future. In other words, every time the result is obvious with given inputs, it is easy to propose an automated solution for the problem. Here are three benefits you will gain by choosing automation.

1. Efficiency

An increase of efficiency is particularly noticeable when automating complex activities that are composed of multiple operations, or operations that have to be performed multiple times. Additionally, there are activities that are relatively short but need to be executed very often during everyday work. These examples are not the type of jobs that drive R&D engineers. They are not challenging, rather monotonous and in many cases anybody, as long as they are properly instructed, could complete them. They are, however, part of the workflow that can’t be skipped, so developing a tool for their automation appears to be an obvious solution. Time reduction is certain and significant in all cases.

2. Reliability

Once created, a routine will always result in the same output – this is the beauty of automation. It never gets tired, so its performance is always on the same maximum level and makes no mistakes. Even with complex data management solutions, there are occasionally areas where, for example, data must be entered manually. A human doing this hundreds or thousands of times is bound to eventually make a mistake. These pitfalls might be easily remedied with new tools which take care of such problems faultlessly. Ensuring data consistency in different places with scripts makes sure there are no longer doubts in its accuracy. 

In projects where automation is not an option, preparing a validation tool might be a good approach. Implementing it for a complete project could easily reveal common mistakes and non-compliance with defined standards. That might save time on data checking and avoid sending incorrect data into production. Automation solutions enhance reliability in countless more applications, these include proper naming convention, saving files in correct locations, copying entire projects while changing filenames or properties according to an algorithm. Possibilities are limitless.

3. 100% LEAN

Incorporating automation into development workflow helps engineers focus on what their actual job is – solving problems and coming up with new ideas. That way most of the effort is spent on adding value for a customer, not struggling with time consuming activities.

Development processes might be difficult to understand when they are not structured. Injecting the idea of automation might help even before new tools are incorporated. Identifying actions that are unique, important and add value is the key in optimization. Noticing them and treating with special care will be beneficial for the final product. Automating processes which are known bottlenecks will speed up the work and ensure continuous flow of product through development steps.

Drive for constant improvement and will for process optimization (as well as will for making everyday work easier) result in a better product, free of mistakes and rejection. Processes become more enjoyable and allow engineers to spend their stamina on being ingenious and innovative. A team that decides to employ automation in their workflow begins a journey to free itself of “side tasks” into LEAN – where they do just that – their job.