The need for reducing costs and improving efficiency is especially true for companies involved in the design and manufacture of products. Cost reduction typically takes the form of material changes, component efficiency, re-sourcing components and extracting discounts from suppliers. While these reductions are definitely laudable, they tend to be based around tangible monetary savings and one area of design that is often overlooked is the efficiency of the digital files that nowadays beat at the heart of most modern designs.
More often than not, designers will rely on 3D CAD packages and the files they create to realise their concepts. As the design process progresses from concept to production these files will necessarily change form and function, and may pass through many different hands. Unfortunately, during this progression changes to the files will, more often than not, introduce inefficiencies and unnecessary complications to the CAD modelling. Parts and drawings for manufacture can still be produced from these files, but time is often lost dealing with complex models when changes are required subsequently to be made. The more these files need to be manipulated, the more time is lost.
As the 3D data is arguably the foundation of a design project it is, in many cases, best practise to invest some time at a point in the design program to completely remodel all the CAD files used. In a time restrictive program this may seem like effort that is best spent elsewhere, and from a consultancy point of view many clients will question why something that has already been bought and paid for should be revisited. However, there are good reasons why this should be investigated:
1. Optimisation: The files are optimised with only the correct number of relevant features included, leading to smaller file sizes, faster load times and files that are less prone to crashing and problems when exporting data.
2. Design Intent: The modelling steps and file structure can be based around the final design intent from the very start, meaning it is clear to anyone subsequently having to carry out modifications. Changes therefore become simple to implement for anyone who has to work with the files, regardless of their level of previous involvement in the project
3. Design Review : It acts as a good design review process; errors in the design are often highlighted and corrections simple to include in the new files
4. Contagion: The inefficiency of a CAD model is directly related to its age. As people realise they have to invest lots of time manipulating an inefficient design short cuts are often taken, introducing even more inefficiency
5. Professionalism: From a consultancy point of view it is a reflection of professionalism. Submitting poor CAD models can be seen as the same as submitting a report with spelling errors and crossings out.
6. Foundation: The 3D files are the foundation to a design. They are the basis to engineering drawings, tolerance analyses, Finite Element Analysis and tooling manufacture. A good foundation will assist in ensuring that a project is completed in a time efficient manner.
So, the big question is whether this process is required and when to carry it out. This will vary from project to project. The ultimate driver is the benefits achieved versus the time investment required to carry out this process. If a project is small, such as short run designs whose CAD files will need lminimal modification and are unlikely to be revisited once the physical parts are being produced then it can be argued that the files do not have to be recreated. However if the opposite situation is true, where the files are used by many different people in different departments and will be constantly modified and updated, then the time saved using good files will far outweigh the time spent working with bad ones.
In summary, as with so many other endeavours, the quality of finish can be related to the quality of the foundations. On the face of things for something as intangible as a CAD model this may not immediately seem to be the case, but hopefully the points raised in this post prove that it requires as much consideration as any other area within a complete, efficient, design process.