Shop Collaboration and Communication in the Modern Age

By Chris Joren on

Manufacturing technology seems to catch on much slower than other technological leaps; it’s 2019 and I still train students every month coming from 2D drafting into the 3D world! Is this because of the companies, the designers, the machinists or none of these? There is a huge difference in how a job shop, or even a large-scale production facility, work versus how we think. We’re going to take a look at this much too common disconnect and what options are out there to improve shop communication and efficiency.

Tech ClarityWhen smart devices first hit the shelves, many of us grabbed up an Amazon Echo or Google Home device to control a few outlets or play us some music because it was easy to set up and filled a small need we didn’t know we had. The same can’t be said in the manufacturing world. While it might be worth $100 to be able to tell my device exactly what light to turn on, it wouldn’t be worth the investment if I had to retrain every member of my household, if the light switches were gone, or if having a light not turn on would result in bankruptcy. This is too often the mindset of manufacturing companies.

SOLIDWORKS Manufacturing Package Tools

There are design tools out there that will make your job easier, more efficient and less error-prone. Whether we leverage these tools to our advantage, let the fear of so many options scare us back into the old way or go purchase-crazy and end up with a pile of unused software, is up to each of us. I’m going to paint a picture of what SOLIDWORKS and other tools can offer, and how each of these compare to the traditional route. If you decide this is a workflow you’d like to see, great, if not, that’s fine too – but at least you’ll know what your competition is using.

SOLIDWORKS Professional

We start with SOLIDWORKS Professional. I know what you’re thinking, why not the basic version? Professional gives us the gold standard in 3D CAD and tosses in some tools you might not know exist until you have them. After a very short acclimatization period, five days if you attend training, you’re able to produce every part that you were creating in 2D as a 3D model. You can use Toolbox SOLIDWORKS Toolboxto add in things like fasteners and O-rings without designing these simple, but numerous and varied parts. Now you’re pushing out drawings with direct model import of dimensions to the shop floor five times faster than you ever could in 2D, and all this comes with the intelligence and changeability that SOLIDWORKS is famous for. Need to change a tolerance? Do it once and change 300 dimensions, no need to change 300 different notes. Now, this is an easy solution, and one that’s been implemented in most areas by now (probably without the simulation, Toolbox and routing capabilities, however), and this is where most companies stop. They’re in 3D. But this is far from the end of our solution set.


Why are we printing out paper at all when everything we have is already digital? This is what MBD, or Model Based Definition, answers. SOLIDWORKS MBD allows us to add those same dimensions and tolerances to the 3D model itself. Every note bank, every bend table, every single bit of geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T) is right there on the 3D model. You might wonder how this helps the guy running the machine, he doesn’t have a fancy workstation out there. Well, the answer is simple: eDrawings and 3D PDFs. 

Both will allow the operator or programmer to look at the model and all its dimensions on a tablet, phone or junky old computer from 2008. With a 3D PDF template created by the designer in MBD, the operator can see every captured 3D view with its associated dimensions, any notes that need to be sent to manufacturing and even add notes of their own to send back for clarification or revision. Everything. In. 3D.


Why have a programmer using additional third-party software or hand coding G-code? (Yes, it still happens everywhere.) SOLIDWORKS CAM Professional allows the designer or programmer to use feature-based machining to create the code directly in SOLIDWORKS. All that needs to be done is to adjust the tool crib to what you have in the shop and get a post-processor for your machine. Now you’re turning and milling parts and even assemblies in the software they were designed with!

Everything is customizable of course: feeds and speeds, machining order, tool selection, but SOLIDWORKS can be tweaked enough to get these right for you every time. You can even watch a simulation of the part being milled or turned. Export to the machine and you’re done. This doesn’t eliminate a job, this gets you on the computer and expanding your skillset. This is job security, not a threat!


I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the guy with the red pen in the room: Quality Assurance. They’re still going to need prints because you can’t redline on a tablet (more than a few times anyway). This is where SOLIDWORKS Inspection picks up the ball. Instead of cumbersome Excel spreadsheets with critical dimensions listed and a complicated formula to figure out the standard deviation and averages – let’s just let SOLIDWORKS do the work here.SOLIDWORKS Inspection
Choose which dimensions are critical, input your measurements or directly import from a Capability Maturity Model (CMM) and everything is stored, dated and signed digitally. Oh, it’s also attached to the part itself! Do you still have 500 prints sitting around and don’t plan on 3D modeling them? Of course, you’ve probably been doing this the old way for a couple dozen years, but SOLIDWORKS Inspection can import scans and pictures of these prints directly, recognize dimensions and allow you to do this whole process without even needing to draw the part.

I know, this seems to easy. It seems like I’m painting some far-off future world of sparkly clean machine shops and robot QA inspectors – but this is the real world I’m describing. This is the system that Fortune 500 companies are using, this is design, manufacturing and inspection all in one package and without cutting down a single tree to do it! Use your greasy machine-oil stained tablet. Use that dusty old mouse with the USB connector taped on. This can happen in your shop tomorrow. It doesn’t take much, it doesn’t take years of implementation and an ISO inspection. It just takes one person, or one shop, to decide to make things easier, more accurate and more efficient. All of this leads to more profit, and with so much competition from overseas sources and larger manufacturers – maybe you can shave a bit off that quote and get the bid.

Need to know more about what SOLIDWORKS products would be right for your manufacturing needs? That’s our specialty. Contact TriMech today and one of our engineers can help match your needs perfectly. We can even arrange to come to you for an on-site evaluation.