Case Studies

Sheet metal manufacturer improves design cycle by 50 percent using Solid Edge

Zerong Hardware Factory is a small manufacturer that primarily engages in the design and production of cold punching molds, vehicle-mounted products, electronic and electric appliances, and sheet metal punching fittings.

Facilitating innovation, competitive advantage
In 2006, Zerong set up its own research and development (R&D) department, transforming itself from an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to what is known in China as a “technical enterprise,” a new generation, innovative, high tech company. During that time, Zerong focused on upgrading from 2D computeraided design (CAD) to 3D CAD, and transitioning from only designing with CAD tools to conducting R&D in conjunction with its product lifecycle management (PLM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

Since adopting Solid Edge® software from Siemens PLM Software, Zerong has greatly improved its sheet metal design capabilities.

“The sheet metal capabilities of Solid Edge provide our engineers with a highly efficient design environment,” says Ou Zemin, general manager and chief technology officer at Zerong. “In fact, it has helped us reduce our design cycle – including flat pattern development, bending, materials removal, chamfering, punching, automatic unfolding, and engineering drawing creation – by 50 percent.”

The use of Solid Edge also facilitates design remodeling, as the sheet metal expansion function effectively integrates the expansion drawing with the design model, which greatly expedites design re-use.

Weathering the financial storm
Zerong is located in the Foshan Sanshui Industrial Zone, which houses nearly a hundred small hardware manufacturing enterprises. These companies typically have an annual output of less than 20 million yuan and less than 100 employees and, like Zerong, face fierce competition.

In China, the international financial crisis hit small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) hard. In 2008 alone, more than 15,000 SMEs were declared bankrupt by the Bureau of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises in Guangdong. In 2011, the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce surveyed the SMEs in 17 provinces and municipalities throughout China, and found out that SMEs were just as troubled – if not more so – than they were in 2008. With material and labor costs on the rise and the potential for domestic sales dropping, the challenges faced by SMEs were increasing.

In 2011, the interest rate for private financing in Guangdong was over 30 percent, more than double the rate of previous years, and the rising financing costs drove many SMEs to focus primarily on cost control and productivity.

Most of the SME manufacturing enterprises in Foshan Sanshui Industrial Zone started as OEMs, and then attempted to enhance their business models by becoming more innovative. Most price-driven firms did not survive this harsh economic and highly competitive climate. Typically, only advanced companies with sound product development practices endured.

In fact, more than 80 percent of the small enterprises went bankrupt during the financial crisis. Most of them lacked a recognizable brand and core competitiveness. Therefore, it was imperative for such enterprises to become more viable by improving their ability to innovate and to become more flexible in the way they deployed their personnel to meet market demand.

Providing a solid alternative
In 2006, prior to the financial crisis, Zerong initiated an internal restructuring. During the initial stage, Zerong employed 2D CAD software for design R&D, which proved unsatisfactory in terms of efficiency, remodeling and product management. Moreover, since electronic and electric hardware products have shorter lifecycles than most products, and require quicker updates as well as higher product quality requirements, Zerong needed a productive solution. Zerong chose Solid Edge software to address its challenges and replace its 2D design software. Solid Edge is especially recognized for helping companies accelerate design, make faster revisions and improve re-use of imported CAD data.

The results were impressive: Use of Solid Edge helped Zerong reduce its design cycle by 50 percent and facilitate design-re-use, ensuring that the company doesn’t need to repeat steps or be concerned about the possibility of errors. At the same time, the company was able to keep productivity steady while cutting labor costs in half. These measurable process improvements significantly enhanced the company’s competitiveness.

Analyzing effectively
Sheet metal products are characterized by one-time formation and low-cost production. They are also difficult to rework. These traits impose higher quality requirements in the design stage, and make product analysis and verification an integral part of the R&D cycle. The Solid Edge Simulation tool’s built-in finite element analysis (FEA) capabilities, based on FemapTM software from Siemens PLM Software, have been very productive for Zerong. Easy-to-learn and use, with a pre-configured verification process wizard, Solid Edge Simulation enables designers to quickly conduct an accurate series of analyses on products, guaranteeing high quality while effectively reducing costs.

The 2D drafting function of Solid Edge, including drafting design, diagram annotation and dimension control, enables real-time updates of 2D drawings and 3D models. “The introduction of Solid Edge has elevated our design efficiency to a new level,” says Zemin. “It has been critical to improving our information-based management platform in order to construct a comprehensive development system.”

Zerong introduced its 3D design and PLM software simultaneously, facilitating the effective operation of Solid Edge within the enterprise information management structure. “I appreciate the close data integration between Solid Edge and our PLM system,” says Zemin. “These two systems seem as if they are made for each other. Even though Solid Edge is from Siemens PLM Software, it is highly compatible with our PLM system.”

Investing wisely
Typically, Chinese SMEs don’t spend significant time trying to perfect their enterprise information technology (IT) system. They prefer to focus on design R&D, with the intent of gaining process efficiencies and innovation breakthroughs. However, Zemin notes that personnel redundancy not only reduces an enterprise’s labor productivity, but also increases its production costs enormously, weakening its competitive edge. He adds that Zerong’s design and R&D departments once accounted for more than 20 percent of the company’s staff. After the implementation of Solid Edge and its PLM system, Zerong has maintained its level of productivity while cutting its R&D department in half.

Zemin notes, “The use of Solid Edge has fundamentally changed the way Zerong works, and that is helping the company maintain its position as a mainstay in sheet metal manufacturing, even when times are tough.” Moreover, the company is expanding. In 2013, Zerong plans to add a new laser machine and an NC machining workshop to expand its range to large-scale sheet metal work.

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