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Customer Story: Unifabs speeds up sheet metal production using design automation

Friday May 29, 2020 at 3:41pm

Does your company create products that are the same but different?

Do you have repetitive design tasks that could be automated?

Could your products be defined by a set of rules?

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then Design Automation could be a real benefit to your business. The term Design Automation describes the process of speeding up repetitive and laborious tasks using software tools. In many organisations, such tasks are often found in the design department and can create production bottlenecks.

 

We interviewed our customer, Unifabs, to find out how Design Automation has freed up time for their designers and engineers, allowing them to work on product development and innovation instead.

Established in 2007, Unifabs offer an end-to-end sheet metal and fabrication solution to product manufacturers and OEMs. Adding value from the design stage all the way through to finishing, powder coating and final assembly.

Their business started as a manufacturer of sheet metal components in one small building with a handful of machines. Today Unifabs have around 100 people working across our fully equipped 50,000 sq ft sheet metal manufacturing facility in Nuneaton.

Aaron Tyrrell, Key Account Manager at Unifabs, comments ‘We design products from scratch for some customers and deliver fully finished goods to others. Our sheet metal fabrication capabilities include: CNC punching, laser cutting, CNC punch / laser combination, CNC metal bending and forming, metal fabrication and welding, powder coating and assembly. The speed of progress has been exciting but not without its challenges. We learnt early on that it’s vital to deploy the best machinery, software and systems to support our people and create an environment that enables us all to succeed.’

Key design considerations

Most of Unifabs’ work is made to order and based on their customers’ requirements. Aaron comments, ‘What’s important for us is that we design to manufacture. Working with our machinery and tooling in mind, we want designs to be as quick, as cost effective and as repeatable to manufacture as possible. We use sheet metal and weldment functions on a daily basis, these are fundamental for us. We also use SOLIDWORKS PDM Professional to manage multiple designers working on multiple jobs or parts at a time.’

Deciding to use Design Automation

Solid Solutions Design Automation tool of choice is DriveWorks. We offer both, bespoke and configured, solutions for companies that design and manufacture including other processes and departments within that organisation. Our team can help automate the push and pull of data into other systems such as ERP, PDM and CRM platforms. We can also create macros that work within SOLIDWORKS and DriveWorks to manage data through post-generative tasks to speed up design task even further or to meet very customer specific needs.

Aaron comments, ‘We started with DriveWorks Xpress to speed up the modelling process of similar products we make. Before that, we were held back by not being able to automate the creation of drawings and other manufacturing data. DriveWorks Pro was a natural progression for us.

By implementing Design Automation, we learnt how to intelligently model using equations, reducing the time needed to create different sized versions of the same product. Using equations to specify and constrain features and dimensions has sped the whole process up for us. We are now thinking of how we can automate modelling when designing new products to save time in the future.’

                   

Upgrading to DriveWorks Professional

‘One of the key benefits of using Design Automation for us was reducing the time required to change the size and dimensions of an existing design’, says Aaron. He continues, ‘This frees up the team to do more important and skilled tasks. It also enables us to speed up processes for our customers, getting us from receipt of order to production far quicker, making the service we offer more efficient and reliable overall. Our end goal is to setup Design Automation to remove the need for any design input on certain products and this is why we’ve also invested in DriveWorks Autopilot.’

An entirely new way of working and adding value to our customers

‘Design Automation has made our products and services more consistent, controllable and reliable and we have greater traceability through the process. It has enabled us to easily add features to products, such as sequential serial numbers, that would have been time intensive to manually control before’, says Aaron. He continues, ‘We’ve also been able to automate tooling selections within our CNC software. All of which reduces or removes the risks for human error inputs in the manufacturing process. DriveWorks Xpress uses around 20% of our design capacity with current workloads, which used to be 50% or more before Xpress. This has freed the team up to work on other projects and tasks, and with the introduction of DriveWorks Professional, we’re expecting to free up even more capacity to add more value elsewhere for our customers.’

Aaron continues, ‘Combining Design Automation and SOLIDWORKS PDM also reduces the amount of administration required in the design office to produce PDF’s and DXFs. It also means our production team can access the right information, preventing errors from old or conflicting data making it to the shop floor.

Another thing that helps us offer a better service to our customers is having the support from the Solid Solutions team, who are always available, reactive and helpful. The training we have had has been excellent and the products and services we have been recommended have always been a good fit for our business.’

To find out more about Unifabs, visit https://www.unifabs.eu

You might also want to watch Dolphin Bathrooms testimonial on Design Automation.

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