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"The most significant difference for TopSolid compared to other CAD systems is that the evolution as a CAD system is steadily getting close to what the designers demand." Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., best known for its Panasonic, National and Technics brand names, is a most comprehensive worldwide electric and electronic product manufacturer whose products range from electronic components to consumer electronic products, home appliances, factory automation equipment, information and communications equipment, and housing-related products. Based in Osaka, Japan, the company recorded consolidated sales of $51.70 billion (U.S.) for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2002. In addition to the Tokyo and other Japanese stock exchanges (6752), Matsushita’s shares are also listed on the Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, New York, Pacific (NYSE/PCX “MC”) and Paris stock exchanges.

Network Business Group at Panasonic AVC Networks Company, which develops, manufactures, and sells and provides service engineering of AVC devices, introduced 3D CAD system TopSolid from Missler Software to organize an environment for a new innovative way of designing and manufacturing by collaboration with part manufacturers, and mold base manufacturers.

70% labor reduction and big cost of the mold base

In 1996 Network Business Group (at the time AVC Company Audio Business Group) at Panasonic AVC Networks Company started reviewing the introduction of 3D Solid CAD Systems. This group was organized by unifying number of groups related to radio, stereo, and audio, etc… and developed many products in a wide range of categories with several thousands of employees. As the reformation of the organization progressed, the number of employees has been reduced to the 30% of the peak time, making it necessary to improve the designing efficiency. There was also another big challenge coming from the mold base cost, which pressured the operation. The cost of the mold base is largely influenced by the economic activity and the exchange rate, making it a high-risk and high-cost investment expended before the sales of the actual product no matter how the sales record had been in the past. At the Network Business Group, the mold base cost kept rising as the number of their products increased, eventually reaching more than \4 billion annually. For example, the mold base cost for a mini stereo system was more than \100 million. It was becoming a burden on the designers who was responsible for the mold base cost, and a challenge for the group to find an effective solution.

In order to find this solution, 4 engineers rose to the challenge with the objective to “Organize a system which can produce the mold base with the shortest amount of time and the least amount of money in the world”. These 4 engineers were Mr. Yoshiaki Miyazaki, Mr. Yoshio Yamashita, Mr. Toshihiro Kaneo, and Mr. Kohichi Motoyama from the Network Business Group. However with a conventional method of ordering the mold base, which consisted of providing 3D CAD surface data for the cavity and providing the 2D drafts for the core of the part, they could not come up with any possible solutions enabling them to create mold bases quickly at low cost. In order to design the data that base manufacturers can trust, the investigation of 3D CAD systems had begun.

Introduction of TopSolid

Mr. Yamashita and Mr. Kaneo, who were the central figures in their 3D CAD system introduction, focused on mid-range CAD systems that were coming out one after another, rather than focusing on high-end CAD systems. Of those mid-range CAD systems, they placed a priority on a modeling capability to allow designing the part that can be used in mold base designing. The winner was a system called TopSolid developed by Missler Software in France and distributed by KODAMA Corporation in Japan.

In the beginning, Mr. Kaneo had 2 concerns within himself. By introducing a 3D CAD system, there was a concern that they would need to change the familiar designing method of using drafters and 2D CAD systems. Another concern was whether still developing 3D CAD systems (including the high-end 3D CAD) have the potential to make the satisfactory functionality enhancements in the future worthwhile to continue the use. Because TopSolid allows users to perform modeling by solid, surface, or wireframe in one space in one file, for one product, they were able model part by part using the 2D design as the basis, starting with where they knew how to model or where the 3D data was necessary, designing step by step completing the modeling process. As for the development capability of Missler Software, they were able to see the improvement by examining the software in its development stage to see the innovative functionalities of TopSolid applications more than a year in advance of the actual release. By the introduction of TopSolid, they also met mold base manufacturers who shared the same idea to “Create mold bases which can still be profitable even when cutting the cost by half”. This was the moment when a new innovative way of designing and manufacturing begun at Network Business Group of Panasonic AVC Networks Company.

Effect of 3D designing

Mr. Kaneo remembers, “A first mold base was completed from the 3D data designed in TopSolid. Even though we were able to decrease the cost of mold base a little bit, the lead-time for the mold base manufacturing became longer than before. This led to problems for the production schedule at the mold base manufacturers and factories. There were even demands within the Network Business Group to discontinue the use of TopSolid. We were at a junction to whether to continue using the 3D CAD systems or not.” Instead Mr. Kaneo and the others in the group tried to find out the cause for the longer lead-time.

After discussing with owners of the mold base manufacturers, designers, and personnel in charge of machining, they figured out that longer lead-time was due to the method of ordering the mold base. They found out that even 3D data had been provided, the formal order of the mold base was done using the 2D drawings. Before designing the mold base, the mold base manufacturers who received the 2D drawings and 3D data needed to carefully check them. This was interfering with the reduction of lead-time for the mold base creation. Although there were some demands to discontinue the use of TopSolid, they performed the designing with 2D CAD and Mr. Kaneo gave up his days off to create the 3D data for ordering the mold base.

Before ordering the mold base, they asked the part manufacturers, mold base manufacturers and factories to verify the data, and asked for their opinions on how to create mold bases at low cost and quickly. First, they aimed at reducing the machining time by modifying the shape to make mold base quicker, having detailed meetings for parting surfaces creation, etc…, and by trying to minimize the use of electrode machining. For the core part, they set the modeling rule for the fillet radius and draft angles to be able to machine using existing end mills. Also in order to eliminate the need to modify the data at the site of mold base manufacturers, they decided to perform designing using the mean tolerance value. By knowledgeable designers creating the database consisting of common shapes and parts according to the modeling rules they set, they were able to share the knowledge with other designers, organizing a system that can provide data, which take the ideas of partners and related department into consideration. As they moved from 2D to 3D designing, they also announced to the mold base manufacturers, if there were any mistakes made in machining by following the data exactly, Matsushita would pay for all the cost to correct the mistakes. The money saved for the cost of the mold base was just \8 million in 1997 fiscal year, but it steadily grew to \42 million in 1998, \100 million in 1999, up to \150 million in 2002. The lead-time for the mold base has also decreased from 55days down to 29 days for the front panel of the small stereo system, and 45 days down to 24 days for the portable CD player. Except for cases of human mistakes such as electrode machining, there was no need to modify the mold base due to the incorrect data anymore. At the present, the number of TopSolid installed at Network Business Group is 55 and they are providing the data to factories, parts, mold base, press, die cast companies. Mr. Yamashita says, “At the end, the most important thing is human relationship. Beyond the companies and status, when we exchange opinions freely and provide data that incorporates one’s opinion, the responsibility and attachment comes into existence. This leads to the improved quality and reduced lead-time.”

Progression of TopSolid along with designers

In TopSolid v6.2, which started the sales in Japan in 1998, the parametric modeling functionalities had been improved, and the functions to automatically modify the model using mean tolerance from the tolerance information was added. It also became possible to automatically create the data that can be used at mold base manufacturers using the existing dimension. In TopSolid v6.3 it became possible to choose from “Associative mode” that keeps the high associativity, “Free Design mode” that does not keep the associativities between models, and “Non Associative mode” that does not keep the history information, allowing users to choose the modes accordingly to their needs.

Also even though ordering the mold base was now being done using the 3D data, they still needed to check the part shape using the 2D drawings, therefore they still could not eliminate the use of 2D drawings. TopSolid did not possess adequate 2D drafting functionalities in the beginning, but through the collaboration between KODAMA Corporation and Missler Software, TopSolid has made significant improvement. As a result, TopSolid now matched the section and dimension functionalities of 2D CAD systems. Also now it was possible to create a 2D drawing that was linked to 3D data, making TopSolid more powerful in the drafting area.

There are also functionalities developed through the collaboration with Network Business Group, KODAMA Corporation, and Missler Software. The “Mounting animation” function to simulate the assembling and exploding of the product, and “Draft angle analysis” function were adopted as standard functionalities from TopSolid v6.5. TopEpas takes in the data outputted from the electrical circuit designing CAD and automatically places the corresponding 3D parts from the parts library. TopEpas confirms the mounting condition and performs the collision checking between parts, achieving the link between electrical circuit design and mechanism design. Mr. Yamashita says, “Looking back to 1997, TopSolid at the time did not possess sufficient functionalities, but we were more focused on learning how to use 3D CAD because we were under tremendous pressure to master using 3D CAD. As Missler Software and KODAMA Corporation listened and answered to us, the designers’ requests, TopSolid has gone through a several evolutions. The most significant difference for TopSolid compared to other CAD systems is that the evolution as a CAD system is steadily getting close to what the designers demand.”

Promoting the collaboration by using TopSolid data

At Network Business Group, each personnel tackles to improve each duty, and successful examples are shared as the “Champion Road” among the group. “Of course the fact that Mr. Kaneo and others were modeling on their days off was not acceptable for the organization. However, the achievement has been recognized now, the organization is spreading the designing and manufacturing methods by utilizing the 3D data.” says Mr. Motoyama.

Concerning the prototyping, they had been using stereo lithography from the delivery time and cost standpoint. However they were not fully satisfied because these prototypes required finishing and lacked durability on protruded parts such as buttons when putting them together or taking them apart, and checking. By using the prototyping service started in 2001 from KODAMA Corporation, they were able to achieve the similar short delivery time as stereo lithography. This service allowed them to send the data in on Thursday and receive a working model on the following Tuesday with finishing using TopSolid and TopSolid'Cam. The material is very close to the real product and it allows them to perform the drop test at the prototyping stage. For example, they can check to see if a boss shape breaks or not, enabling them to test the strength of the product at an early stage. This lead to significant decrease in remodeling after the mold base has been completed. This reduction in development lead-time was an unexpected return from installing TopSolid.

Also in 2001, they started running the e-DR (electronic Design Review) system, which links the TopSolid installed at Network Business Group in Osaka and TopSolid installed at Panasonic Fukushima Factory 600 km away by the Internet. This system allows the engineers at the factory and the designers to perform a real-time design review using TopSolid data. It allowed them to clarify the problems before the prototyping and ordering the mold base, by analyzing the collision between parts, investigating gaps and assembly structure. At the Fukushima factory, they were able to reduce the required preparation period for mass production by creating the Design Drawing and the animation to describe the assembling using TopSolid. Today, in order to achieve the effectiveness among other groups, they are pushing for 3D designing of portable CD players and mechanisms, etc. They continue to expand the area of 3D data use, for example by utilizing the Parts Inspection System which incorporates the data from 3D measuring instruments and data from TopSolid.

Since the 2002 development model such as DVD player “DVD-F85” and others, introduced at CES 2003, there have been collaborations with Asia Pacific Design Center (APDC) of Panasonic AVC Networks Singapore Company (PAVCSG). For PAVCSG, technical instructions such as designing methods were given in Japan, but for an overseas company with heavy personnel flow, it was difficult to have common designing ideas and to improve the 3D modeling techniques. In order to improve the designing of models developed overseas, the Network Business Group is supplying the database consisting of CAD data from models developed in Japan and standard shapes, which is the accumulation of know-how of designing, as well as kinematical animation of mechanisms designed in TopSolid.

Even though they have been trying people in designing and manufacturing to accept their idea of “Creating the data that can be used at the mold base manufacturers”, it has been difficult to convince everyone. This is partly due the temperament of designers who do not consider it is their responsibility to create the data usable at the mold base manufacturers. Also there is a resistance among the experienced designers to switch the CAD systems, or continue designing in 2D, which can be completed with some vagueness. With this present situation in mind, Mr. Yamashita says, “What we have been doing may not be accepted in the globalization process. But if utilizing the 3D CAD as a tool to realize the new way of designing and manufacturing, rather than just a replacement for 2D CAD, it will result advantageously in operations. I would like to spread this way of thinking to overseas as well.”