New design tools: The Technical Office revolution

Some years ago, we asked ourselves a question: Why should we continue to do repetitive jobs without any added value? That was the question that opened our eyes and made us ask ourselves further questions, which has led us today, at AMPO, to have a Technical Office that is fully incorporated in the production process by means of a CAD-ERP integration, to have fast response time in generating customized valves for our clients, and to have information available in an orderly way, with single and efficient data.  Do you want to hear about our experience? Come with us. 

When we first opened our eyes, we were a team with a moderate structure, and we saw that the Technical Office could become a bottleneck in the efforts to meet the needs of the exponential growth our production was experiencing. Furthermore, our clients demanded, and continue to demand, a tailor-made, high-quality product that is manufactured in a short space of time. For us, this meant that we had to overhaul our processes and see how we could improve them, and achieve the level of competitiveness for which we all strived.

That phase of analysis forced us to look inwards and realize, among other things, that:

  • If a client needed a special solution, and bearing in mind our structure, our response time was longer.
  • Having our CAD/PDM solution separate from our ERP gave rise to many production incidents. This management system was not simple, but it was made even more complicated if, once the design had been sent for manufacturing, the client requested a change or we had to correct any errors that had not been detected during the design phase.
  • We had the company’s know-how focused on people, instead of being stored and managed in a single place that could be shared by everyone.

The strategy derived from this analysis and re-engineering is based on the following pillars:

  • Integrating our CAD tool and our ERP software to achieve agility and capacity in our response.
  • Setting the parameters of our standard products to enable our engineering team to focus on the projects’ key differentials and on the continuous improvement of the company’s processes, products, etc.
  • Clearly backing standard, not particularly customized, tools that offer autonomy to any user as regards their maintenance, which are integrated between them to ensure flexibility and to be able to be up to date at all times (a very important factor for us). 

With these clear principles in mind, we established our CAD tool (SolidWorks) as the base/eco-system on which to pivot the tools used for product automation and integration with our ERP software (SAP). And…  Why did we choose our CAD tool as our base? Because this is where all the product information is created and generated.

We have already mentioned that we had a lot of incidents due to not having our CAD solution integrated with our ERP, and we saw that the key to success in this integration was to remove the information silos, i.e. to achieve a single data model. To do so, the solution to integrate the CAD world and the ERP world that we chose was the ECTR platform. This tool brings together CAD data and the product data in the ERP, so that the information procured by the tool is single and complete, both for us and for the production, purchasing, commercial and logistics personnel. This automatic translation of the engineering data into manufacturing instructions enables us to save a lot of time, as it reduces the input of redundant data and the possibilities of human error between the different areas of the company.

However important the CAD and ERP integration is, we cannot overlook another, equally significant point, and that is design automation. Maintaining the criteria to clearly back standard tools, our preferred option was a product configurator that was fully integrated with our CAD (SW) eco-system. The main feature of our configurator is that it is an open platform that enables us to do the following: create rules in a simple way, without the need to programme any language (an Excel user can operate it), connect with different databases and ensure full integration with the CRM and ERP. Furthermore, we have managed to pass the repetitive tasks on to the configurator, and deal more with improving our valves, adding value.  Lastly, and by no means less importantly, we have managed to store the technicians’ knowledge in the tool: Nobody forgets anything, and the information is available to everyone in the most updated version in line with international quality standards.

In short, what have we achieved with the integration and automation of our designs? We are now able to develop a good product that is competitive as regards price, deadline and quality, in a “make to order” work environment, in which every AMPO team, including commercial, engineering, supply, assembly, dispatches and after-sales, are integrated, thanks to the single data model in place across the organization. Single data that is saved in a secure controlled manner.