AutoForm COO Detlef Schneider Talks AutoForm’s Future

Assembly Next for AutoForm Says AutoForm Board Member

In this revealing post Detlef Schneider, AutoForm Board Member and COO, talks AutoForm’s future and gives insights into what new solutions AutoForm has in store for its customers, blowing wide open some of AutoForm’s never before seen strategies.

Right now in the automotive industry we are at a turning point. Increasingly, new platforms and car concepts are becoming more prominent with the automotive mega-trends of electro-mobility, new shared car mobility concepts and self-driving vehicles. Consequently, manufacturers must strive to achieve development in much shorter product life-cycles and operational excellence is highly sought after by improving production robustness. On top of that, more extravagant designs and new materials require more sophisticated manufacturing processes.

AutoForm is an enabler of such OEM targets. But how do we achieve this?

Our vision can be described through the four dimensions of 1) function, 2) cost, 3) quality and 4) lead time, which may be considered in a comprehensive way our engineering process. As our vision, we call these four keystones “comprehensive digital process planning.”

In understanding where AutoForm is going next one must first consider how far we have come from. Looking back some twenty years many will remember how simulation was then used only at single points along the process chain. At that time simulation was just used to solve particular issues at various points, and that was AutoForm in its early days.

At this early level of simulation our customers could achieve improvement of 1) quality, by the solving of cracks and wrinkles, which could be eliminated before the first tryout, 2) improving lead time by weeks or even months 3) cost, by significantly reducing tool cost and optimal material utilization and 4) function, by pushing designs and materials closer to manufactural boundaries. AutoForm helped the push towards more extravagant designs for automotive panels by enabling the very processes to actually manufacture those designs. This is the success behind AutoForm.

Fast forwards fifteen years, AutoForm introduced a comprehensive solution for the full tooling process. This started from early concept design and went all the way to supporting tryout. This is what we call the second step of digitalization. Our customers were then enabled to work with more consistent data between engineering and reality, as well as carry out a full cycle simulation thanks to our speed, do robustness analysis at an early phase, and further they could analyze multiple compensation strategies far earlier.

Fig 1: 2nd Phase of Digitalization of Sheet Metal Forming as of 2010.

It must be said, additional benefits arose out of this second phase of digitalization in terms of: 1) Quality, by improved dimension design that came with minimal risks for surface defects, 2) Lead time, by saving additional correction loops, and 3) Cost, by saving, on average, sixty to seventy thousand euros per correction loop. In the best case, the full impact can truly be observed when you consider how our Japanese customers have realized the ‘One Loop Tryout.’

In terms of our future there is great potential to make improvements in the real world of engineers. We are still seeing companies work with inconsistent data transfer along the process chain. We would also help our customers leverage all available, or easy to generate information, to speed up downstream tasks. Another next step is to help companies develop tools for parts beyond the part-by-part basis and to importantly have a view towards full assembly. In light of this, much time can be saved. Instead of doing compensation you can actually leave several parts in their relaxed state, and during assembly the parts will be pulled into dimension. A natural compensation will then take place, during assembly, whereby the parts are pushed into place, welded or tightened etc. The aim is to help customers have a view towards the end result itself, which is the complete body in white. In reality, it doesn’t matter how you get there, so long as it’s within dimension. This is how AutoForm will next create massive time savings.

As part of our new vision we are developing our products towards a full digitalization process, from early feasibility in product development all the way to supporting robust production processes. We’ll expand the use of AutoForm to include the BIW definition and its validation. In order to expand our existing process assembly will therefore be considered, reconciling assembly and part design. This means that an ongoing validation of assembly will take place throughout the process chain of part stamping itself. Data extracted from current AutoForm solutions will be used to directly to optimize downstream processes such as tool tryout and production.

The market knows what we have achieved in creating milestones for advancing sheet metal forming. Our expectations for what is to be realized next, from such a full digital process, are namely; 1) Quality, by experiencing no surprises on both the quality and cost, 2) Lead time, by overcoming assembly correction loops, 3) Cost, by having less scrap parts in the optimal use of materials, as well as having higher stroke rates, and lastly 4) Function, by having the BIW within tolerances, which is ultimately what everyone wants to achieve. 

So how would such a solution look in reality? There are several key elements to realize full digitalization. It uses consistent process data along the whole process chain. It connects systems together, such as CAD, PLM and ERP and in doing so allows for transparency between hierarchies and departments. This is essential in eliminating bottlenecks. Knowledge will be captured, so that they do not remain within the hands of a few experts within each field, but will be distilled into our system, and then put into the hand of the user. This will create effective standards that are repeatable. Aside from the accurate simulation AutoForm is known for, it will also mean bringing new digital tools to the shop floor. Then tryout has access to simulations, allowing them to make informed decisions. Instead of having to wait on another department they will get to work grinding the right beads, for example.

As already mentioned by our Corporate Technical Director Bart Carleer, in his recent interview, AutoForm is investing into the development of an additional solution for assembly simulation. In fact, this will work in close collaboration with AutoForm’s forming and hemming solutions, which shows how AutoForm is about to break into new areas.

Fig. 2: AutoForm software supports roll, conventional die and table top hemming, and will soon work closely with AutoForm’s Assembly solution.

Of course, there are still many barriers, even at our customer’s organizations, to implement all of this. AutoForm wants to help minimize these barriers, whether it’s dissolving the mentality of “It’s somebody else’s problem,” or updating the users’ qualifications with the latest technologies and processes. We might offer the best tools, but without the knowledge to use them effectively our users can’t gain the full benefit. AutoForm’s customer, Keylex Corp, demonstrates a nice example of how AutoForm can be used in an organization in a very efficient way in this article. They’ve achieved an 80% reduction in man hours thanks to using our strategies! To take things even further, we’ll soon provide innovations on how to adjust the master plan for building a vehicle, which, needless to say is a big deal for OEMs. Therefore, it’s not only about technology, it’s about developing the mindsets that prevail in our market.

On behalf of our audience thank you Detlef for this revealing interview!

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* Cover image courtesy of Weba.


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