How Auto Factories Are Saving Millions with Modern Simulation & Collaboration Tools

The only thing more frightening than a spooky haunted house is an automotive factory cursed by machinery going bump in the night because it was installed incorrectly. The foreboding rattling of expensive equipment colliding into other equipment, walls and ducts is a prophesy that millions will soon be spent in factory floor retrofits causing startup date delays and additional operation costs.

The screams of terror you hear from the factory floor are from the automotive OEM’s plant manager and VP of operations. who realized too late they’ve made an expensive mistake introducing new machinery without consideration for the facility architecture and floor design.

There are numerous stories of automotive factories spending tens of millions of dollars in avoidable factory change costs due to communication mishaps between OEMs and vendors.

But in this fast-moving automotive market, many very smart automotive factory
stakeholders simply overlook the impact that the architecture of the building has on the operation of machinery. And that doesn’t mean just knowing the physical dimensions of the factory space, but also the supporting systems, such as electrical and pneumatic piping, fire suppression, and water supply. For example, newer machining processes require temperature-controlled environments, which brings things such as your sewer and storm water systems and the location and fan speed of your HVAC systems, heating and cooling systems into play.

Knowing your factory architecture is the first step of the solution; the second part is to facilitate collaboration across both factory and manufacturing teams. When it comes to managing the operations of the automotive factory, communication problems frequently occur inside the OEM (factory layout, manufacturing engineering and worldwide facilities) as well as outside with their contractors and architecture teams.

So how can the operation and manufacturing managers of automotive OEMs prevent factory failures, such as unexpected machinery collisions, scrap and rework, from becoming costly nightmares? The answer: a smart two-pronged approach that includes modern factory simulation tools combined with a cloud-based collaboration platform for information and data sharing.

Autodesk offers Automotive OEMs the Factory Design Utilities solution to simulate test layout designs in a virtual environment and then share that data real-time in parallel with internal and external teams through BIM360, a secure cloud-based collaboration platform.

The power of factory simulation, especially in auto manufacturing, is virtually designing the factory layout to meet throughput – both on an individual line as well as a higher-level, plant-wide basis. These benefits can be reaped by any manufacturer that does volume manufacturing with frequent product changeover that requires factory re-configuration.

For installation, machine to machine conflict represents about 40% of machine collisions.

The other 60% are with the factory or components of the building. Common problems are machines that won’t fit through a door or under screen guarding when transporting it to the line; or stopping production equipment and moving it to make room for new pieces. Another common oversight is forgetting to leave room for maintenance crews to safely service the machine after installation.

These oversights are more common than most people are willing to admit, and they are costly. Autodesk helps you not only simulate machines, but also simulate the factory prior to installation. In essence, you’re given the answers to the test before taking it.

Let’s face it: solving problems in the virtual world is a lot cheaper than the real world as one recent automotive OEM discovered. 

Here’s how an automotive OEM’s communication problems with a vendor ended up costing them tens of millions.

Due to a design change, the machine supplier made a change to the spec on the machine that changed the machine layout footprint, which also required a modification to the concrete pad underneath the machine. This change was not communicated to the General Contractor, who poured the concrete using the old specs.

Once the mistake was realized, they had to demolish a large area of concrete and repour it, adding significant cost and putting the launch date at risk.

And guess what? Mistakes like this happen all the time to automotive factory operations.

On the other hand, another automotive OEM relied on Autodesk’s simulation and collaboration tools to save an estimated $38 million dollars in avoided change orders. Specifically, the company was faced with a large retrofit project on a tight time schedule — basically gutting a huge area of a plant and installing an entirely different assembly process for different product lines.

The automotive OEM first laser scanned the factory, and then overlaid their new design data, found design issues, and corrected course early. This has now become their standard methodology for every project – large or small. In today’s competitive automotive market, automotive manufacturers are so consumed with defining production capacity and the analysis of the computers to control machine tools and the time it takes to cut a part, that they forget to consider how the machine itself will fit in the factory.

It’s a classic tale of two automotive OEMs. For one, it was the best of times; for the other – it was the worst of times.

Autodesk’s simulation tools and cloud-based collaboration platform allow you to stop virtual factory operation problems from becoming real-world machine-rattling horror stories.

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