Conversation with: Bill B.
Topic: Design for Automated Assembly (DFAA)

Traditionally, when it is time to design a new product, the Designers focus on the product itself, and on the end-user experience. Companies that work smarter know to bring in Automation Engineers who can help the team consider the design of the individual components that make the assembly. They can bring one more level of thinking that ensures the product is designed for automated assembly and cost effective to manufacture.

Bill, Director of Applications Engineering at Wes-Tech, has a great deal of experience with and a wealth of knowledge about Design for Automated Assembly (DFAA). He discussed why it is such an important topic, and why it’s key to get an automation team involved early in the product and process design.

What is DFAA?
Manufacturers are facing growing concerns over the ability to increase output, making it more important than ever that product designs are optimized before they ever go into the manufacturing process. Since the origin of the Assembly Evaluation Method in the late 1970s, the concept of ensuring a product’s design was manufacturing-ready has gained traction globally and across industries. From DFM (Design for Manufacturing) to DFA (Design for Assembly) and DFX (Design for X=everything), manufacturers, engineers, and product designers have been working on ways to ensure maximum product value. More recently, the idea of DFAA – designing products specifically so they can undergo automated assembly, sometimes even co-designing the assembly equipment along with the product – has gained traction.

Factors for DFAA success
The most important factor to ensuring your design is optimized for automation is to get the automation team involved during the design process. When there is still time to change the design, small tweaks can result in low-cost ways to improve manufacturing and assembly.

“Be sure to get an automation engineer involved as early as possible – while you can still make changes to the design (before molds are made, for example). We can help you find ways to reduce your overall cost, time, and waste.”

Here are just a few of the assembly and manufacturing factors that an automation team will consider:

  • How will the product be put together, and can it be easily assembled? You may have designed it to be inexpensive to manufacture but it still may be difficult to assemble, especially if you don’t have designers experienced in the automation process. For example, a product that requires assembly from the top and the bottom – if it is assembled from the bottom up instead, reducing the number of times it needs to be turned over by a robot, that will save a great deal of time.
  • How many types of fasteners are you using? You may have different types of fasteners that look nice in the design, but adding them into the assembly process would require an equipment changeover; therefore, finding a way to use the same type of fastener while maintaining the design would make a huge difference to the manufacturability.
  • Can you add features to a part that would end up reducing the overall cost? That may sound counterintuitive, but a feature in this case might just mean a pre-drilled hole as a locating reference for installing multiple components. Depending on the application, this could make the process faster and more reliable, allowing you to use different equipment, and saving money in the long run.
  • Are the part features common, allowing for accurate positioning as part of the manufacturing process? This would make your subsequent process more repeatable. For example, a car manufacturer we recently worked with (see the full case study here) has asked for our input on the manufacturing and assembly process when working on new iterations of the product designs so we can help them determine how to ensure control, repeatability, and product quality for newer models without sacrificing the look of the design, and how to optimize the use of existing equipment.
  • How do you ensure quality throughout the entire process? Can you employ simple error-proofing steps throughout the process to catch and correct potential failure modes before adding value to the work in process? Adding in-process testing at strategic points can greatly reduce risk and rework, and increase the first-pass yield of your assembly process.
  • What is the user experience from the equipment side? A machine should be user-friendly for the operators and mechanics (easy to maintain, smart enough to let the team know if it needs maintenance, easy to use). The equipment and systems that work the best are the ones that the team on the floor has a good experience with, that they can maintain easily, that are comfortable to work on. If the team likes the machine, they feel some ownership over it, and they understand it, they will take better care of it and the machine will run well for much longer.

“The Wes-Tech mindset is to build quality and value as we go from design forward. We become part of your team, understanding what is important to your product and helping you make the best DFAA-focused decision.”

For example, when two parts are held by a screw, the engineers would ask whether it is cosmetic or functional? How long will it need to last without wearing out? What kind of tolerances are needed? Or is there another fastening method available? And then they can make recommendations from the start about how to get from that single screw to the end of the manufacturing process in the most cost-effective, optimal way for your manufacturing operation.

How can we help?
Ideally, as mentioned above, the automation team should be brought in early in the product design to help ensure you are set up well for automation when the product gets to the factory floor.

“The Wes-Tech team can get involved at any stage in your product and equipment design process, but the best outcomes often happen when we are involved as early as possible. We become a part of your team, and we want to help you save time and money in the long run.”

Wes-Tech has broad exposure to many different industries, which allows the team to call on best practices and processes from many areas. That creates a wider toolbox of ideas to work from – for example, in this recent case study the Wes-Tech team used manufacturing equipment from the automotive industry to apply to a consumer goods line, saving the organization from a big pain point that was causing downtime and waste, and ultimately saving them money.

When you want to make sure your product design is optimized for manufacturing automation, Wes-Tech engineers are here to leverage their knowledge and help you gain a competitive advantage by ensuring you are DFAA-ready. Get in touch and we will be glad to help!

Team Wes-Tech

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