Integrated Manufacturing Environment Delivers Services Faster, Smarter

To meet the accelerating pace of product design, major corporations are outsourcing high-level engineering and production tasks: subcontractors and service providers like Compression, Inc. find themselves bidding not just to provide parts, but to assist their customers in executing core functions of the product development process within ever tighter time frames.

Case Study From: 12/1/1996 Modern Machine Shop

The very name of Compression, Inc., expresses today's most noted trend in product development--the squeezing of engineering cycles to reduce time to market. To meet the accelerating pace of product design, major corporations are outsourcing high-level engineering and production tasks: subcontractors and service providers like Compression, Inc. find themselves bidding not just to provide parts, but to assist their customers in executing core functions of the product development process within ever tighter time frames.

Compression provides engineering services that cover the entire product development cycle--from engineering design and analysis to rapid prototype tooling and short-run sample production--and clients often hand Compression responsibility for several overlapping functions in the design sequence. Smart integration of these services--using cutting edge tools and careful data management--lets Compression focus on getting robust, fully-engineered product to market in a timely manner.

Compression started as a one-man office in 1993 and has grown to a staff of more than 180. Integrated product development services are offered at the company's six Product Development centers in Indianapolis, Indiana; Atlanta, Georgia; St. Louis, Missouri; Eau Clair, Wisconsin; Orange County, California; and Shelton, Connecticut.

While many of Compression's clients have invested heavily in workstation-based CAD for the design phase, the traditional split between design and production remains--engineers are still "throwing their designs over a wall." By contrast, seamless data exchange between the various engineering activities is a given at Compression.

Todd Ray, Compression's co-founder and Director of Technologies, insists that there is a natural sequence to the development process; concurrent execution of various functions is not always the most efficient path to a new product. He prefers to place the emphasis more on the unobstructed work flow that results from open access to information. "When all product information is gathered into a single database, and that information is transferred to everyone in the design process, we make critical decisions faster, and more accurately," Mr. Ray said. Open access to design data takes creative responsibility out of committees and places it in the hands of Compression's on-line engineers and machinists.

Cimatron (Burlington, Ontario) is said to be perfectly suited to this engineering environment. Cimatron's integrated technology architecture of modules united by a central database, together with Cimatron's accuracy at reading data from varied sources, dovetail smoothly with Compression's "product database" information structure. And Cimatron's ease of use lets Compression recruit staff with the special skills need for design and manufacturing, without being hamstrung by software training issues.

In Cimatron's integrated database structure, complex solid, surface and wire-frame designs feed directly into a very powerful NC machining module. Compression uses Cimatron for two- and three-axis milling of molds and other manufacturing tooling. So far, Cimatron's support for STL and other prototyping formats has not yet been exploited.

The impressive array of clients that Compression works with--among them Mercury Marine, Boehringer-Mannheim, and Harman-Motive--mean that data translation from all major design packages is crucial, and here again, Cimatron shines as a strategic asset. "Cimatron's data conversion is fantastic," says Mr. Ray. "We benchmarked all the major packages before selecting Cimatron, and we did not see anything that read data like Cimatron. The end result is much cleaner. And the NC milling was clean, too--equal or better than any other package." A minimum of file tweaking is essential for Compression to keep its operation efficient.

Another important advantage became readily apparent during the benchmark period: Cimatron's ease-of-use. "If the system could not be used quickly, it wouldn't be of value to us," says Mr. Ray. "A lot of systems say `we are robust' and can do all kinds of things, but when will they be up and running?" This accessibility is of particular importance to a firm that is growing fast and wants to remain flexible in hiring. Instead of letting software proficiency limit their talent pool, Compression is able to select skilled people from various disciplines, sure that they will be able to master Cimatron in just a few short months. So far, CNC programmers, tool and die technicians, engineers and designers--some of them computer novices--have all learned Cimatron and become productive in record time. Compression has added Cimatron seats steadily over the past two years.

As new approaches to development take shape in firms like Compression, it is clear that Cimatron plays a crucial role in automating the engineering process. Cimatron's unification of design and manufacturing data is at the heart of the new style of product development. Seamless handling of various formats and unparalleled ease of use add up to a powerful, open software platform that matches perfectly the need for fluid, flexible management of engineering to complete projects on time.

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