The Space Between Engineering and Manufacturing

The Purpose is to Make Things

“The Millennial Engineer is twice removed from the
highly successful standard engineering process pre-3D MCAD!”

I wrote the article below a while ago. As I pondered on this problem I thought I would show how the engineering documentation gets to manufacturing.

Engineering documentation is released to a document control archive. If the manufacturing is done in house there is direct access to these archives. This makes any problems with the design easier to handle.

But most manufacturing companies use outside suppliers. It is more cost effective to go out and purchase the expertise than to manage the expensive equipment and the added employees. But this created a space between engineering and manufacturing. 

Many large and small suppliers were established locally to support Industries like Automotive and Aircraft manufactures. My personal experience started with selling Boeing and all of their suppliers CADKEY, IronCAD, ZW3D and other CAD/CAM software in the Great Northwest.

So what Documentation did Engineering make available to Manufacturing?

Pre-CAD we delivered drawings. A drawing included everything manufacturing needed to make the part. There were no other documents except references to the relevant industry standards. They were checked and signed off by engineering (designer, draftsman, checker, specialty engineers, lead engineer and supervisor).

Engineering's total purpose is to make concise, complete and unambiguous documentation available to manufacturing.

The drawing package would be released to Document Control, which would create blueprints and deliver them to the appropriate departments and blueprint counters where they were archived and readily available to all.

Standard Cloud Based Engineering Document Control

Standard Cloud Based Engineering Document Control Part II

Manufacturing planning would access the archives and get the documentation and deliver the specific requirements  to purchasing to proceed to get quotes from the relevant supplier. They would mail the quote package or have the supplier stop by. Rarely did the supplier meet with engineering. The parts were quoted and scheduled for delivery. Like I said everything they needed was on the drawing. If they had to come back for clarity, the process was not designed for it and the lead engineer would face some serious questions.

The engineer was "not" involved in the release of the engineering drawing package. That was totally in the realm of the drafting group. The drafting group was responsible for the sign off, release and maintenance of all of the drawings.

My First 17 Years or "How did we do it without 3D CAD!"

Enter 3D CAD

I had been a contract engineer for well over a decade when I was introduced to 3D CAD.

The 1980's - 3D CAD - The Beginning

It was Computervision CADDS 4 (Computer Automated Design and Drafting System). There was no CNC at the time. These CAD systems were 3D wireframe and included a drafting module. The selling point was they could make drawings faster by just dimensioning instances of the 3D wireframe model. If you changed the part all the views would change. This was a bit time consuming since you had to actually blank, change line attributes and trim the object lines.

Look at the lower image, are you look up or down at the part?


This was the end of drawings as we knew them. We created what, I have coined, the AID (Associated Information Document). But at the time they were still plotted and treated like a drawing. The 3D wireframe model was more or less useless for anything else. I think it was around 1987 that I noticed that they were using IGES to translate the model for what was called 2.5 axis CNC.

The Death of the Drawing

I was introduced to PC Based 3D CADKEY in 1986 while on contract at Boeing. We were working with Catia 3 exchanging the 3D wireframe models by IGES. The engineering documentation was plotted on large plotters and delivered as prints. They were storing the files in a HP plot format. In the late 1980’s surfacing and solids showed up along with 3 axis CNC. By the mid 1990’s we were delivering the 3D model and the prints.

The 1990's - 3D CAD/CAM Moves to the PC!!

It wasn’t until the late 1990’s the PDF showed up and we could deliver the 3D model and a PDF as an email.  

Many purchased Acrobat or a Acrobat clone and were instantly creating the PDF documentation. The mid-range 3D system started including direct PDF creation in their systems. The high end systems always seemed so far behind them and still are. By 2000 all of the major 3D CAD systems were on the PC.

But at the same time the PDF was made available Boeing was moving to Catia 5 and were incorporating the MBD (Model Based Definition) PMI (Product Manufacturing Information) format. I am not sure this decision was because they were still delivering the prints and the PDF technology was just becoming widely available and they were not aware of it. But the prints were costly and they thought PMI would solve the problem.

In the beginning the PMI included most of the dimensions, but it was soon realized that it was just to cluttered and time consuming to use it.

The decision was made to only put the basic dimensions and cover the other dimension with profile feature control. This was even too cluttered and it became more minimized where only the limited dimensions are now included with complete GD&T. Look at the simple part below. Imagine what a complex part would look like? Yes, a mess! It is very confusing to the designer and short cuts are taken and assumptions abound!

I had sold virtually every Boeing supplier a seat of CADKEY to interface with Catia 3 and 4. When they moved to Catia 5 an implemented this MBD PMI solution they were delivering native files forcing the suppliers to purchase a seat of Catia 5 or a current compatible seat of Enovia to view these PMI. This threw the suppliers into a tizzy. They didn’t know what to do.

Many of the programs could import the native Catia 5 file but there was no way to view the PMI. PMI is not a standard, it is a native format used inside the CAD system. It is delivered as a native CAD file. This is very problematic. You have to have each of the CAD systems, a specific CAD supplied viewer or a 3rd party importer. As you can see this is a can of worms trying to keep 3 or 4 systems native PMI files current. This is a big problem for those suppliers that work with large companies that have implemented this system.

Free PMI Importer?

The MBD and PMI is incredibly costly and convoluted. It takes a complete PLM system to manage. That includes a staff of InfoTech folks and expensive module in the native CAD system or expensive 3rd party PLM solutions. All complicated and requiring expert training.

The PLM solution has same amount of those doing real work and the doubling of the InfoTech staff creating statistics that makes sure the work appears to be more productive.

The Worst to Best 3D MCAD Systems Expanded!

The smaller companies cannot afford these high-end CAD systems. 

They use the more cost effective mid ranged systems. They create fully detailed AIDs (drawings)  as PDF and deliver it with the 3D model in a neutral (STEP) or native file. There is very little complication. The CAD/CAM systems the suppliers use can read most of the native files of the popular systems plus all of the neutral formats and with the free adobe reader they can view the documentation. No special equipment or software required. Can you imagine the additional costs the large companies that have incurred by basing their complete operation on the PLM included in a high end CAD package? It is truly shocking.

This article shows an actual released PMI (shown above) from a large aircraft company. It violate so many standards of the past. It is like someone with virtually no engineering experience did it. I can send you the original Catia file, if you can even read it. This is a sample file for their suppliers. It is incredibly embarrassing.

PMI vs. AID (Associated Information Document)

Here is another that shows how out of control the MBE system is.

PLM/MBE/PMI Absurdity!!

When a designer creates a completely detailed AID it serves as a second check on the design for errors or a better design. It is a format that is easily reviewed and checked. As compared to the PMI, that today just requires the minimum limited dimensions and GD&T plus a seat of the native software. If you look above, you can see how the PMI looks.

Here is a comment from a BSME PE forced to use MBE and PMI.

"The big problem is, any failure will be blamed on the responsible engineers and not an unworkable system. MBE is already being backstopped by drawings in many organizations that are forced to use MBE, but the drawings are frequently not in the release control process because they are not the "primary" data driving fabrication. A fine mess.."

Trust me the smart companies are creating completely detailed AIDs (drawings) to be delivered as a PDF with the 3D model. The cost savings can not be denied!

This PMI information with the other required information is adequate for manufacturing to create the parts. But this is where engineering documentation seems to becoming inadequately defined. Manufacturing is now having to go back to the companies to get clarity as described in this statistic. Sadly, this is becoming a normal process. This was "NEVER" an accepted practice in the past.

Engineering Documentation Today!

So what has eliminating complete detailed AIDs (drawings) accomplished?

It has not streamlined engineering, it has made the documentation less defined, the document control much more convoluted, access to the information requires special software, demanding a complicated application of dimensions and annotation in a non-user friendly 3D environment and making review and checking of the documentation virtually impossible.

The PLM folks are now trying to bring their complicated process to manufacturing.

Here is the space that they are trying fill in a nutshell

  1. The basic of all engineering is the part or inseparable assembly
    consisting of one-part number.

  2. Engineering finishes the design and creates complete documentation.

  3. The engineering is checked and put in a package and made available to manufacturing.

  4. Manufacturing has all of the necessary information to make the part.

  5. They deliver the part.

  6. That is all there is to it.

  7. Now, do the parts fit?

We do not want to get into engineering changes here. 

The problem with engineering to manufacturing is the InfoTech industry of which the high end CAD companies have now put in charge with their complex PLM systems. The funny thing is they "think" they actually know something.

PLM and the Infotech world work top down,
Engineering to Manufacturing, it is the
quintessential bottom up process.

Dassault more than likely told Boeing they could do the engineering, PDM and document control.

Can you imagine a company that has been building airplanes without CAD for 70 years listening to a company with unproven technology to make such promises? Then actually put them in charge.

They could automate everything. All parts would be associated to the assemblies. Everything could be easily accessed with PDM and PLM. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I have worked with Boeing and Catia for over 30 years. Dassault is responsible for keeping Boeing, and I suppose Airbus, a couple of the most ignorant and isolated manufacturing companies. Their lack of interoperability is beyond belief.

Engineering is very simple. It is not a living body of data. The truth is, the faster the data dies (moved to archive) the better. Once manufacturing uses the engineering documentation for CNC, tooling or other planning the engineering is never accessed again. When the product is delivered all parts and assemblies should be put into one file. Like a refrigerator, once built the engineering is put away. Yes, it may be used for the basis of new products, but that product is done.

Reusing 3D CAD Models for a New Product

It doesn’t have to be associated except maybe in the beginning of the design, even if it matters then. The documentation should have the used on information and the assemblies still have a parts list. All parts have part numbers. Simple search program should be all that is necessary to find a part. Hell, we could go to the blue print counter or microfiche to find them. Assemblies are all in one part number.

The Secret of Part Numbers

The Embedded Title Block! A PLM Solution!

But this concept completely escapes the data only focused IntoTech professional and the millennial engineers seem to have no idea. This was a fact that was well known by only the draftsman and board engineers. Sadly, with the introduction of 3D CAD, soon the draftsman was not needed anymore and their responsibilities were given without any transitional preparation to the 3D CAD engineer.

Engineering Documentation - A Primer for the PLM Guru!

The Death of the Draftsman or “Where has all the talent gone?”

Educating the New 3D CAD Engineer - 2015

The Millennial 3D MCAD Engineer

Can you image a process that was standardized and totally controlled by one profession slowly disappearing? All applicable knowledge has also disappeared and now engineering is trying reinvent the wheel, even though the wheel is sitting right in front of them with the drawing archives of the past. Boeing InfoTechs wanted drafting gone so badly that it renamed draftsman, engineering technicians, a horrible misnomer. The draftsman, knowing the supreme importance of documenation was the enemy of BCS (Boeing Computer Service), now the InfoTechs! Drafting lost!

 Engineering Technologist? Engineering Technician?


So will engineering get its ducks in a row enough to realize how simple the process is?

I truly think that engineering has become overly digitized to the point it is costing more than the manual process it has attempted to replace. We used to have drafting, engineering and document control all working in an industry based standard process.

Today, just the myriad of 3D CAD systems virtually making standardization impossible. Then add the incredibly unworkable PLM and MBD document management efforts. I have said this before, there is just not enough applicable knowledge and too much vested interests to bring a cost effective standard back to engineering.

So What "HAS" Gone Wrong with Engineering?

So what "HAS" gone wrong with Engineering? Part II

So, what "HAS" gone wrong with Engineering? Part III
We haven't made a Drawing
Since 3D CAD was Introducced!

Manufacturing has escaped this onslaught of amateurs. They basically work around any of the requirements that are coming out of engineering today. WHY? They are not based on academic or CAD vendor based management. There are no "know it all" PHDs, MSMEs and InfoTechs getting in the way. Most are hands-on professionals that have to get the parts delivered or they don’t get paid. Very A to B.

Update 3-1-19

This is now changing with the introduction of Industry 4.0. This is an attempt for the InfoTech to put their ineffective processes into manufacturing led by who? The WEF (World Economic Forum), yes, the Davos people! I am not sure who is in whose pocket! McKinsey, Siemens or the WEF! Google it!

This is where the rubber meets the road.

Engineering needs to take charge of the process and put the 3D CAD companies and InfoTechs back in a subservient role where they belong.

The Purpose is to Make Things that Work!

Why TECH-NET Sells IronCAD and ZW3D

With 53 years of experience in engineering, 17 years in manual board design as a contract engineer, 36 years in 3D CAD sales, support, training and providing engineering services, I have a high level of understanding of today's 3D CAD engineering world. For many it is in chaos. If you are having problems or just interested in this subject please feel free to call and we can discuss them. There are so many simpler solutions available that will save you frustration, time and money.

TECH-NET Engineering Services!

For more information or to download IronCAD or ZW3D

This the first a in a series of articles that introduces a career defined by the introduction of 3D CAD into industrial/mechanical engineering.

My First 17 Years or "How did we do it without 3D CAD!"

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Joe Brouwer