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Autodesk has released a novel cloud service called Forge, which is used for sharing 3D services and promises to streamline the development of new products. One big challenge is the dozens of different file formats and applications used for designing and configuring products as well as programming the factories that produce them. At the recent Forge DevCon in San Francisco, manufacturing experts explained how a 3D app and cloud integration service makes it easier for developers to create industry-specific apps for developing new products.
Autodesk's Amar Hanspal, senior vice president of products, demonstrated one implementation of Forge for creating new shoes. A consumer web application could use this type of application to choose from different soles, fabrics, colors and toe boxes for a customized shoe. This data integration service application could use a reality capture API to input a person's exact foot size, and back-end data management APIs to send a shoe configuration into production and coordinate shipment. Hanspal said Autodesk has no plans to produce a shoe app in particular. Rather it plans to work with developers to enable a new class of data integration service applications for producing different products.
Improving communication safely
Dorian Ferlauto, founder and CEO of BriteHub, created the company to help connect suppliers and contract manufacturers. She said, "A 3D app integration service makes it easier for designers to submit CAD files that can be connected to manufacturers to better understand the data integration service requirements." Typically a conversation about a new product starts with a file. An integrated product management hub makes it easier for manufacturers to vet designs and ask better questions.
A 3D app data integration service also makes it easier to share information with suppliers, while reducing the risk that someone will copy the design. Scott Miller, CEO of Dragon Innovation, said, "When an enterprise is doing an RFQ, they don't want to share everything. It is important to shares the right level of information to get an accurate quote, without disclosing proprietary intellectual property."
Experimenting with new production techniques
Another benefit of improved 3D app data integration is that it allows larger factories to experiment with new fields. This is important for factories that are seeing traditional business in building PCs slide, while more speculative businesses like the internet of things and drones are starting to grow. The challenge is that no one really knows which IoT products will be successful.
Lucas WangCEO, HWTrek
Lucas Wang, CEO at HWTrek, a collaborative platform for hardware innovation, said, "These products tend to have fewer components, but lack the architectures that were common with PCs. It is difficult to find standard solutions, so designers and manufacturers can spend a lot of time working out the interconnections between things. New integration services can help bring expertise together to overcome these gaps. 3D app data integrations services help share relevant information with experts in the appropriate domain."
For example, Foxconn, which manufactures the iPhone among other electronics, has launched several experimental business units focused on specific innovations. Wang said this kind of approach makes it easier for companies to build the expertise for the next generation of mass-produced products. Wang said they are not trying to steal the designs as much as understand all the dynamics of mass producing different classes of products.
Building the largest machine shop with 3D apps
Developers are already hard at work using the Forge APIs to create server applications to improve product development and supply chains. In the past couple of years, 3D printing has received a lot of publicity. But, today computer numerical control (CNC) production techniques are actually more mature and used for mass producing billions of dollars in parts like motors, car frames and screws. Special software translates a part design into a program that tells a given machine how to cut a piece of metal into the chosen shape. Cheaper CNC machines can adjust the movement of a raw block of metal along three axes, while more expensive ones can control five axes of movement with greater precision.
MakeTime has created an application infrastructure for connecting new product designs with unused CNC capacity around the U.S. from hundreds of different machines shops. Right now it has about 170,000 hours of milling capacity available, which is more than the largest commercial CNC service provider. Building the app to manage this supply chain has been challenging in the past because engineers, procurement experts and manufacturers use different file formats. Todd Pritts, chief product officer at MakeTime said, "There is an inherent flaw in that designers and manufacturers speak different languages."
The advent of 3D data web services enabled MakeTime to generate accurate requests for quotes for new product designs. CNC mills post information about their machines and available capacity. There can be differences between the quality of parts created by shops based on their workflows. Parts can expand and contract depending on how they are handled. Pritts said, "You can cut something that is within tolerance when it produced, but not by the time it is shipped and packet. There are a lot of control processes that higher quality shops take."
Simplifying design for manufacturability
Forge includes data service integration APIs that make it easier to automatically recognize design features that are challenging to create by machine. This allows companies to identify manufacturing design flaws earlier in the development process. Once a customer has generated an order, the data can be saved and reused to streamline the process of reordering the part in the future. But anytime there is a design change, MakeTime has to analyze the change to ensure that it is easy to manufacture. This approach means that enterprises don't have to hold as many items in inventory because they can reorder new parts on demand. Pritts said, "Machine shops did not want to get into the business of doing logistics and ordering materials. Our goal is to increase their utilization."
The Forge cloud service can translate across more than 50 design file formats on the fly. This allows designers to submit new designs directly from their tool of choice. MakeTime then uses the Forge service to translate these files into one format for estimation, and then another for driving each type of CNC machine. Pritts said, "We imagine a future where leveraging the Forge platform could convert a file into the format a particular factory prefers to keep the whole process running smoothly."
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