Since the 1950s, computer-aided design (CAD) software has transformed product design, making it faster and more accurate than ever before.
However, CAD still relies on many slow, laborious processes. The complexity of the software creates a long learning curve, even for experienced designers.
Modern design automation is changing all this, removing much of the manual work accompanying traditional CAD workflows. It’s reducing barriers to innovation by making state-of-the-art design tools available to more people and breaking down silos between sales, engineering, and manufacturing teams.
This article provides an in-depth look at design automation–explaining critical concepts like CAD, CPQ, and generative design. We’ll also explore how manufacturers can leverage these tools to improve productivity, quality, and innovation.
Let’s dive in.
Che cos'è l'automazione del design?
Before design automation, experts created physical designs and drafts on paper.
These blueprints would then be developed into physical prototypes, costing time and resources.
Automation first came in the form of computer-aided design (CAD)—a method of using software to help create, edit, test, or improve designs.
However, CAD systems are still complex and demand specialist knowledge and skills to use effectively. In other words, they don’t provide a complete design automation solution—manual work is still interwoven with the CAD design process.
Design automation represents further advancement in CAD, bridging the gap between traditional methods and the future of design.
How Design Automation and CAD Interact
CAD software and design automation are intrinsically linked, working together to streamline and enhance the design process across industries.
As CAD programs have advanced from 2D drafting to complex 3D modeling and generative design capabilities, sophisticated automation has played an integral role at each step–accelerating workflows, reducing repetitive tasks, and allowing designers more time for R&D.
Here’s a closer look at how automation transforms four foundational areas of CAD:
1. 2D CAD
2D CAD is ideal for creating flat drawings for architectural drafting, mechanical drawings, electrical plans, and landscape architecture.
- Role of Design Automation: Design automation streamlines 2D drafting tasks, reducing manual input and accelerating the creation process. This shift allows teams to focus more on one-off designs and less on mundane, repetitive work.
2. 3D CAD Enhanced by Automation
3D CAD adds depth, enabling lifelike modeling for product design, architectural visualization, and mechanical engineering.
- Role of Design Automation: Design automation accelerates complex modeling processes, facilitating faster iterations and more accurate visualizations. This automation is pivotal in reducing time-to-market for new designs.
3. Freeform CAD with Automation
Freeform CAD assists in designing non-geometric shapes used in industrial design, automotive styling, and jewelry design.
- Role of Design Automation: Design automation employs advanced algorithms to simplify the creation of complex shapes, allowing designers to quickly iterate through different form explorations and refinements.
4. Generative CAD
Generative CAD uses AI and algorithms to generate designs based on user inputs and constraints. Accurate, viable designs can be created with text prompt inputs at scale, enabling designers to innovate and iterate at lightning speed.
- Role of Design Automation: Generative CAD is the ultimate manifestation of design automation, enabling designers to exponentially increase their creative output by leveraging AI. Viable designs that meet specified parameters can be generated instantly and at scale.
How Design Automation Solves Challenges in CAD
Design automation advances the capabilities of traditional CAD, alleviating common bottlenecks and bridging gaps between design and manufacturing.
Let’s take a look at some entrenched CAD challenges and how design automation helps overcome them:
1. Overcoming Complexity and Enhancing Accessibility
Traditional CAD systems often require specialized knowledge and a deep understanding of technical design principles, making them difficult for those without formal training in CAD or related fields.
- How Design Automation Helps: By offering more user-friendly interfaces and automated features, design automation makes CAD technology accessible to a broader range of users. It simplifies complex processes, ensuring that the full potential of CAD is not confined to a small group of expert users.
2. Bridging the Gap in Process Integration
Integrating CAD systems into traditional business processes can be difficult, especially when translating digital designs into practical, manufacturable products.
- How Design Automation Helps: Design automation facilitates robust integration between design software and manufacturing systems. This is crucial for linking sales, design, and manufacturing departments that traditionally struggle to communicate and share product ideas and information.
3. Addressing Customization Demands
As all manufacturers know, the market shows a growing preference
for personalized, customizable products. However, designing and creating CAD drawings for one-off products is slow, labor-intensive, and prone to errors.
- How Design Automation Helps: Companies can rapidly generate customized 3D models and manufacturing drawings that meet each customer's unique specifications. This reduces design time from hours to seconds while minimizing errors and expensive change orders. The result is faster time-to-market for personalized offerings without inflating costs.
4. Streamlining Operations Across Sales, Design, and Manufacturing
Traditional CAD slows down sales, design, and shop floor operations. The longer it takes for customers to receive proposals, the more likely they are to turn to your competitors.
- How Design Automation Helps: Design automation significantly reduces manual effort by automating repetitive tasks and encoding engineering knowledge. This translates into faster and more accurate presentations of designs at the sales stage and speedier production cycles.
5. Integrating Sales Channels
From 2016 to 2021, the number of channels used by B2B buyers doubled from 5 to 10
. This highlights the need for technologies that consistently integrate multiple sales channels with manufacturing.
- How Design Automation Helps: Design automation creates a unified system that allows seamless design modifications, updates, and customization across all sales touchpoints. Such tight integration ensures consistency in how products are designed, customized, and sold across platforms.
6. Solving Skills and Job Shortages
The manufacturing industry faces long-term skills shortages. This can lead to bottlenecks in production and limits the capacity for business innovation and growth.
- How Design Automation Helps Design automation democratizes CAD by simplifying the skill requirements needed to operate design systems. For example, with automated design solutions like CPQ (see next section), sales teams can collect customized designs directly from customers and pass them to manufacturing, complete with auto-generated CAD files, bills of materials (BOMs), and other design assets.
Integrating Design Automation and CPQ
In today's market, B2B customers want customizable products that they can tailor to their specific needs. The closer they can align the product with their particular requirements, the better their return on investment from the purchase, and the higher price they are willing to pay you as the supplier.
However, selling complex, customizable products requires a tightly integrated sales model where companies can collect custom orders and pass them to manufacturing teams with minimal friction and delay. This is where CPQ (configure, price, quote) software comes in.
Advanced CPQ software enables a fully automated engineer-to-order model when implemented effectively. It captures customer requirements through a visual configurator and translates these into a physical product, connecting the custom designs directly to manufacturing teams for streamlined production.
Here’s a breakdown of the CPQ-guided workflow and the role of design automation at each stage:
- Configure: First, the sales rep or end customer configures a product using a visual product configurator. During this process, augmented reality and 3D modeling enable customers to visualize true-to-life simulations of their designs.
Simultaneously, design automation works behind the scenes to create technical CAD drawings in real-time.
- Price: Throughout the entire design process, the price of every aspect is calculated by the CPQ software. This price can be displayed in the configurator, guiding the customer or sales rep to the optimal design for the budget.
- Quote: When the design is completed, a quote is automatically calculated from the pricing. A single click is all that’s required for a proposal with auto-generated CAD files to be sent to the engineering team and customer.
How CPQ Revolutionizes Design Automation for Manufacturing
CPQ software enables speedy custom product designs with accurate quotes. For sellers, it means happy customers, cheaper processes, and the ability to stand out in a crowded market. For customers, it's empowering–they can visualize and produce the exact product they want with transparent pricing and faster development times.
Here’s how these factors come together to alleviate current challenges associated with design and manufacturing processes:
Connecting Sales, Design, and Manufacturing
CPQ software connects sales, design, and manufacturing teams onto a unified platform. This breaks down previous silos and facilitates collaboration across departments. Sales reps can instantly access design capabilities, engineers have visibility into order details, and management has a single source of truth for the entire custom product process. This connectivity speeds up internal processes and reduces errors from miscommunication.
Reducing Complexity in the Product Customization Process
The CPQ platform drastically simplifies the configuration and customization process with guided workflows, 3D visualization, and dynamic pricing. Customers can easily configure products to their specifications without needing expert knowledge. Interactive 3D models allow them to preview designs visually. Automated rule-based pricing eliminates surprises and confusion, which reduces complexity for both the customer and the sales rep.
Improving Collaboration Between Sales and Engineering Teams
CPQ software gives sales reps self-service access to design automation and engineering tools. Reps can initiate and manage custom designs directly with customers, only involving engineers for specialized requests. This facilitates better collaboration through clear task organization–reps handle standard customizations while engineers focus where their expertise is needed most.
Maintaining Product Quality and Reducing Errors
Since CPQ platforms standardize and guide the customization and design processes, they inherently improve product quality and reduce errors. Design rule validation ensures customer specifications stay within manufacturing guardrails. Production-ready BOMs, CAD drawings, and quality documents are automated based on the approved custom configuration. This increases product quality control, drives manufacturing consistency, and reduces scrap.
Supporting Omnichannel Sales Strategies
A CPQ system supports omnichannel sales across in-person, web, and mobile mediums. Customers can self-serve online or be guided in person. The same guided selling workflows, pricing, and design standards carry over seamlessly. This creates a scalable sales process as businesses expand across sales channels, whether online, in stores, or from distributors.
Design automation represents a massive leap forward in the fields of engineering, product development, and manufacturing.
Leveraging advanced technologies to automate complex design tasks streamlines the design process and increases accuracy. Automation allows design engineers to concentrate on more strategic and innovative tasks, enhancing creativity and innovation.
CPQ software like Epicor CPQ democratizes CAD design, making the benefits of speed, accuracy, and innovation available to the engineering team, customers, and sales reps. It could be the missing piece in your businesses' end-to-end production workflows.
Design Automation FAQ
What exactly is Electronic Design Automation (EDA)?
Electronic Design Automation (EDA) is a category of software tools used for chip design, specifically designing electronic systems such as integrated circuits, chips, and printed circuit boards. It is crucial in designing, simulating, and producing complex electronic components and circuit elements.
EDA tools are fundamental in developing devices like semiconductors, ensuring accuracy and efficiency in designing these highly sophisticated and essential components in modern electronics. Leading EDA software such as Siemens EDA has revolutionized this task, creating a growing EDA industry.
What is an example of design automation?
An example of design automation is the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software to create a building layout in architecture.
This process automatically generates detailed floor plans, 3D building models, and other architectural elements based on specific input parameters.
The software can optimize design decisions for various factors like space utilization, materials, and compliance with building codes, streamlining the design process significantly.
What does a design automation engineer do?
A design automation engineer specializes in developing and implementing software solutions that automate aspects of the design process. Their system design work often involves programming CAD software, creating custom algorithms for design optimization, and integrating different design tools into a cohesive system.
They play a critical role in industries like automotive, aerospace, and electronics, where they help streamline design workflows, reduce errors, and accelerate product development cycles. Design automation engineers also build templates and refine design processes to cater to modern manufacturing.
What are the best CAD tools?
Several CAD (Computer-Aided Design) tools are widely recognized in the industry for their capabilities and features. Here are some of the top CAD software options, along with Epicor CPQ, which is a solution for configuration, pricing, and quoting:
- AutoCAD: Developed by Autodesk, AutoCAD is one of the most well-known and widely used CAD software. It's used for various applications, including architectural, engineering, and construction drawings.
- SolidWorks: This is a solid modeling CAD software developed by Dassault Systèmes. It's prevalent in the mechanical engineering field for 3D design and is used by professionals across various industries.
- CATIA: Also developed by Dassault Systèmes, CATIA is known for its advanced surface modeling capabilities. It's commonly used in the automotive and aerospace industries for complex, intricate designs.
- Epicor CPQ: Epicor CPQ integrates with CAD systems to streamline the quoting and ordering process. It allows users to configure complex products and automatically generates the necessary documentation, including detailed CAD drawings.