Look around you. Even if you’re in a place as mundane as an office you’re surrounded by things. There’s probably a telephone to your left, a stapler in the drawer and even a bottle of water next to the keyboard you spend thankless hours pounding away on each week. Chances are all of these items were designed, tested and manufactured in computer software long before they ever went into physical production. On the forefront of this digital revolution is a company called Dassault Systèmes, a global corporation that’s practically synonymous with product development.
“We’ve got 11 different brands of software” said Michael LaLande, Automotive Business Consultant Director for Dassault Systèmes. These products cover a wide-range of areas from 3-D modeling and manufacturing simulation to fluid dynamics and collaboration programs; they even offer software for geologists and miners. Probably their most well-know products are CATIA and SOLIDWORKS, benchmarks in the industry.
LaLande said “In mechanical CAD (computer-aided design) we’re absolutely No. 1,” noting that 14 of the top 16 automakers use CATIA. Interestingly Dassault Systèmes’ first automotive customer was Honda back in the early 1980s. Before that they catered to the aerospace industry.
The way companies develop and manufacture products has changed drastically over the last few decades. Before the advent of powerful computers and 3-D CAD software in the 1970s legions of draftsmen in neatly pressed slacks and skinny ties toiled away pushing pencils and crunching numbers. Slide rules and T-squares dominated the process; high costs and slowness were the result.
“Way back in the day you had to physically test every vehicle and component” LaLande said, adding “With 3-D modeling and 3-D simulation tools we can do all of that virtually.”
A perfect example he gave was crash testing a new car. It could cost an automaker $25,000 or more just to build a physical model for one test. The costs add up quickly with each design iteration. But since software and computers have come into the market “You’re benefiting every single day,” he said.
Designing and engineering in a virtual world also makes it easier to share institutional knowledge and reuse information from past projects, something that could be very difficult with physical blueprints.
Dassault Systèmes’ latest software offering is designed to help automakers and supplier companies head off potential defects before a vehicle or component goes into production. It’s an end-to-end solution that’s designed to work from a product’s conception straight through to manufacturing. Appropriately the name of this software is Target Zero Defects.
According to LaLande “It’s a very tightly defined package” that’s comprised of many Dassault Systèmes products, but it’s actually more than the sum of its parts. New capabilities have been baked in that allow companies to “Find problems way ahead of time” and nip them in the bud.
“[This] could save an OEM or supplier millions of dollars,” LaLande said. Depending on the severity and number of vehicles sold, recalls can cost a fortune. If companies can detect problems in “cyberspace” opposed to physical prototypes they can save bucket-loads of cash. Additionally, issues can crop up during manufacturing. Production delays can be “a very costly endeavor” he said. Target Zero Defects can prevent these setbacks as well. As the old saying goes an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
The system works by leveraging existing corporate knowledge and by connecting design, engineering and manufacturing; it lets them to communicate and collaborate in new ways.
Target Zero Defects allows for easy traceability of electrical and mechanical systems. In simple terms this ensures that bolt holes line up like they’re supposed to and the windshield wipers work when the switch is activated… and not the horn or high-beams instead.
Suppliers and OEMs are under constant pressure to bring new features and technology to market as quickly as possible. This speed increases the likelihood of trouble. Something like 80 percent of warranty issues crop up at interface points – where two parts come together, where electrical connections are made or where different systems interact.
For automotive executives and product planners reading this article Target Zero Defects goes on sale in a week or two. For the average consumer don’t go looking for it at your local Best Buy next to boxed copies of Microsoft Office. This is a highly specialized product, but a very important one for the automotive industry.