Ultrafab Steps Up Product-Life-Cycle Investments - InformationWeek

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Ultrafab Steps Up Product-Life-Cycle Investments

The manufacturer is adding to its arsenal of PLM tools from Autodesk.

Ultrafab Inc. produces weather seals, bulb seals, fin seals, and general weather-stripping equipment with as many as 9,000 components. To design such complex, multipart equipment and better manage product-related data, the manufacturer is increasing its investments in product-life-cycle management.

The $26 million-a-year company last month decided to improve the way it manages data and purchased Autodesk Inc.'s Productstream, which automates the design release process by managing engineering changes and bills of materials. The tool is the latest in a string of Autodesk implementations that help Ultrafab better manage product documentation and data and design products more conceptually, says Rich Arvidson, chief engineer at Ultrafab. In 2000, the manufacturer transitioned from two-dimensional to 3-D design by switching to Autodesk's 3-D mechanical design software Inventor and Inventor Professional. Six months ago, Ultrafab implemented the Autodesk Vault data-management system, which organizes all design and related data in one central location. The Vault also has been integrated into the Autodesk Inventor Series.

In some cases, Productstream can be implemented in less than a week, but it will likely take Ultrafab eight to 12 weeks, Arvidson says. "This not because of the software, but because we have to develop our processes around the tool," Arvidson says. "Productstream is changing the culture here. So it's about training individuals for a more mature approach to document management, a robust engineering change process, and managing data."

Productstream is only one piece of the puzzle, says Arvidson. Ultrafab already has seen tangible benefits as a result of using Autodesk Inventor's 3-D capabilities. Even though it initially takes longer to design drawings in 3-D than 2-D, it allows for more sophisticated design, says Arvidson. There also is a smaller chance for mistakes, because the data is created in a single repository. Traditionally, data is replicated in various places such as physical drawings, parts databases, and purchase-ordering systems. "Working in a 3-D-solid environment is like building the machine in virtual reality," Arvidson says. "You can also mitigate mistakes through visualization, and conceptualize much better in 3-D rather than in 2-D on paper."

Other general benefits that Ultrafab has reaped from Autodesk's data-management suite include reduction in the time it takes Ultrafab engineers to look for print data because all versions of a design and its associated data are stored in Autodesk Vault. The manufacturer is also able to better communicate with customers regarding product availability, and reduce the number of errors in bills of materials that list components necessary to build machinery. Now that Ultrafab has expanded globally and works with international partners in Spain, Japan, and Australia, as well as domestic partners in the United States, the company can share design information with the entire supply chain and partners worldwide using the Autodesk Streamline collaboration service.

Typically, such benefits were available only to customers of high-end PLM systems, but Autodesk's software is designed to bring them to small and midsize businesses like Ultrafab, according to Buzz Kross, VP of the manufacturing solutions division at Autodesk. "This is big news because we are targeting a different market; we want to bring a solution that was formerly highly customizable and very expensive to the mainstream market and we're making it less expensive, faster, and easier to install," he says.

This week, Autodesk unveiled the second version of its Productstream software. Now, companies can more easily share design data with partners by giving them access to Productstream so they can view designs and electronically provide feedback, additional requirements, and supporting data. Productstream 2 ranges from $500 to $1,800, according to Kross. Ultrafab is in the process of implementing the latest version.

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