09 Jul, 2015 / BY Neil Sharp

The benefits of 3D CAD within electronics design and manufacture

Following on from our post about Computer Aided Design (CAD) in manufacturing we thought it would be useful to look into some of the benefits associated with the 3D modelling options available through such software.

There are huge savings to be had by using these features, both for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) providers alike. In addition to stripping out unnecessary cost and time during the initial electronics design stage, 3D modelling can also help improve quality and delivery during the manufacturing process.

Let’s take a look how both OEMs and EMS providers can take advantage.

How OEMs can benefit from using 3D CAD software

As an OEM your business survives by designing and selling innovative new products into your target markets. Turning your designs into reality is an exciting step but can come with a whole host of challenges.

To start with you are going to need some prototypes. While your concept may have made its way onto paper via a sketch or diagram, the market is going to want to see a little more before they start investing their hard earned cash. For many years simple prototypes were made out of nothing more than cardboard and sellotape or balsa wood. But things have moved on and we all expect much more - which is where 3D CAD software can help.

Through using 3D CAD software packages early on at the design stage you can:

  • Create beautifully looking rendered 3D models. Not only will this bring your 2D sketch to life, but you can experiment with how things will look using different materials and finishes. And if you can’t find a particular finish you are after, simply create one yourself.
  • Present potential clients with a "virtual" product very quickly and then use this feedback to ensure their demands are fully satisfied. If the feedback you receive needs acting upon, updated models can be quickly produced.
  • Carry out a range of simulation tests on your product design such as drop, thermal, structural, vibration etc. and analyse how these could impact your device. While having working products out in the field is clearly a preferred option, the range of tests and analysis available from the comfort of the design room is impressive.  
  • Identify if your design suffers from tolerance issues. For example, the door on a cabinet not shutting correctly due to the positioning of an LCD screen or perhaps the way two machined parts fit together – or don’t as the case may be! The software automatically identifies where potential tolerance issues could occur, allowing you to correct them prior to build.    

And the best part? Not one piece of material has been purchased, modified or scrapped - potentially saving you thousands of pounds in upfront cost. You also haven’t spent precious engineering or manufacturing resources making prototype units, only to find that things don’t quite fit together as they should. Of course, at some point you will need to make this step and send the data over to an EMS provider. Clearly the use of 3D CAD software won’t eliminate all design or manufacturing issues, but it can certainly help reduce a significant number of them.  

How EMS providers can benefit from using 3D CAD software

EMS providers are able to use this software to enhance the build instructions they produce for you. By including exploded 3D images in their data packs, an increased level of clarity is provided to the assembly team. Any ambiguity over the build process is removed, resulting in a much more efficient assembly process.

By using such images it is also possible to reduce the number of documented build steps - particularly if your product is a complex cabinet, box build or electromechanical assembly consisting of hundreds of different parts and many hours of labour content. And if your EMS provider has its own low cost manufacturing facility, for example in Central Europe, this can really help when transitioning builds across from one plant to another. 

Your EMS partner can also use this software to help create bespoke jigs and production line tooling for you. Manufacturing aids are commonplace within EMS to support, for example, the alignment of LEDs within a front panel, a potting process or with press-fit connectors. While simpler jigs can be created in house, your EMS provider may require a third party supplier to produce some of the more complex pieces. By providing these suppliers with both 2D drawings and 3D models your EMS provider can guarantee that the jig they create for your product is going to be fit for purpose. 

So, what are the drawbacks? Well it’s worth noting that the initial outlay for the software and licences can be quite expensive. As with many software packages there are a number of "add-ons" - which can add up and be a little daunting when looking into the options. If you have a number of design/engineering staff and include training and maintenance, budgeting between £30-50k isn’t unrealistic. New hardware may also be required to support the software, as it can be heavy on graphics and therefore hungry on RAM.

There is also training to consider. Users will require a basic grounding in CAD and have the ability to accurately draw 2D diagrams. The good news is there are typically a range of helpful wizards and tutorials built in to guide you through most of the basic features.

Turning new ideas into virtual products is now more accessible than ever. Gone are the days of having to invest thousands of pounds in expensive tooling and other resources to get your prototype out to the market. And when you consider how accessible and relatively inexpensive other complementary innovations are today, for example 3D printers, it really is an exciting time for the world of design and electronics manufacturing.

Image by IvanClow


 New Call-to-action

Written by Neil Sharp

Neil has over 25 years’ experience in Electronics Manufacturing Services and Component Distribution. During his career, Neil has held a range of leadership positions in sales, marketing, and customer service. Neil is currently part of the ESCATEC Senior Management Team and is responsible for setting and delivering the overall Group Marketing strategy. Neil heads up the marketing department and is responsible for both the strategy and the implementation of innovative marketing campaigns designed to deliver high quality content to those seeking outsourcing solutions.