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Focus on design, automate the rest

Focus on design, automate the rest

Apr 19, 2018 12:00 am (CET)

After 10 years at ATR Soft, I have realized something: It's not difficult to spot what a mechanical engineer could automate in his/her CAD related work. What is difficult, is to make him/her see that there could be more efficient ways to work. It could be done by automation.

When and what to automate?

Automation is an attitude. If you need to perform the same task twice or more, you should consider automation. Start automating if

  1. a lot of your time goes to non-design tasks or
  2. you want to avoid costly errors.

Automation is based on a standard way of working. If the tasks at hand always follow the same process, there's a good chance they can be automated.

How much automation will cost?

Automation is not free of charge, but you should consider it as a long term investment. When it comes to automation, the real question is NOT how much the automation will cost BUT how much it costs you not to do it.

Automation can be simple or detailed

Automation can be straightforward. For example if you need to create PDF files, you can define a process, which will automatically create the files and make them follow a storing and naming convention. You'll have your files and you can find them easily.

Automation can also be more complex. You can define rules or run some checks before running a task. For example based on specific custom property values, your files can be saved to a specific folder, or specific sheets of your drawings can be converted to DXFs or PDFs.

ATR Soft, Customtools, automation, seedlings in pots

What tasks are good candidates for automation?

The boring ones. Tasks that are time consuming, repetitive and have little value for your work. If you are a mechanical engineer, most of your work should go to solving problems by creating products or solutions. In real life a significant part of your time might go to non-design tasks. They may make your company happy, but not you. As a designer you should be able to focus on design. Automate all the rest.

Tasks that involve waiting are also good for automation: file printing, file conversion etc. Doing those tasks automatically will still take time, but during the process you are free to do something else, or you may let the tasks run during the night.

Automation eliminates errors and brings consistency

Automation is not only about saving time and reducing expenses. It will bring consistency to your design by eliminating errors. Money savings are not only coming from the time gained, but also from the time saved to fix errors.

With automation, you can guarantee that what is moved from A to B is correct. For instance if you have an integration to automate the BOM and item creation to your ERP, you can be sure that no items were forgotten during the export and no typing mistakes were made because of dual manual data entry.

Mistakes grow exponentially in a multi-user environment, when assemblies get larger and people involved follow their own rules. Automation can guide people to follow the agreed conventions.

ATR Soft, Customtools, automation, seedling in a pot

Start small, grow big

Focus your first efforts on the most critical issues, then address smaller ones over time. To maintain focus, don't try to automate everything at once. I would recommend doing automation in different phases and improving the processes over time. Automation has its own learning curve - in time you begin to see what needs to be automated and how.

Improve the processes and enjoy the results

As I said in the beginning, one of the biggest challenges with automation is to change the mindset to realize that processes can be improved. But once you see the automation opportunities, time and money savings are just waiting for you. Automate the things you can - and focus on design.

Writer:
Francois Simon, Sales Manager

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