John Panozzo John Panozzo
Sr Advanced Engr

GE Appliances’ New Zero-Distance Formability/Feasibility Process

June 22, 2023

ge-appliances-die-design-simulation-autoformGE Appliances (GEA), a Haier company, has undergone sweeping internal transformation since 2016, driven by a “zero distance” strategy: zero distance between what the company makes and what its customers want; between ideas and innovation; and between where products are developed and made. Toward that end, GEA has transformed its business model toward a seamless and digital supply chain—internally and externally. 

Here we’ll focus on what transformation looks like inside the process of designing and producing sheet metal parts, developed with attention paid to form and function, as well as to manufacturability, which has an eventual and overwhelming influence on final-product cost, quality, timing and profitability. GEA’s internal transformation as it relates to this sector was anchored in its early commitment to taking control of the cost-timing balance in the design and production of desirable and high-quality products. 

The Traditional Process

GEA designers develop products through multiple iterations or revisions over which form-and-function targets converge. When close to finalization, the design is released to external die shops for planning and cost estimates toward building dies to produce parts.

In the traditional process, this represented the first opportunity for the design to undergo a detailed assessment of its manufacturability, and an estimation of production cost. Product designs and sheet-forming behavior being complex, these assessments invariably would result in infeasible manufacturing callouts, and suggested changes to product designs to overcome them. Typically, not all of these suggested changes could be implemented, as they would affect mating components in complex assemblies. And, even once implemented, such revisions rarely are “once and done,” requiring multiple time- and resource-expensive exchanges over the supply chain before finalization.

GEA also understands that the later product changes are initiated the more expensive they become to implement. And they shrink the timeframe available to build dies capable of robust and quality-compliant production, while increasing overall cost.

To revamp this process, GEA developed the zero-distance approach—zero distance (time) between design releases, starting from early milestones, and assessments of their manufacturability, with such assessments being executed internally at GEA by manufacturing experts using state-of-the-art digital tools.

Focused on Formability and Feasibility

The revamped design process in place at GEA bypasses all of the redundant exchanges between the design and die-shop teams for a variety of GEA products. They set up a simulation team at GE Appliance Park in Louisville, KY, tasked with analyzing part designs with formability and feasibility in mind before product designs were released for manufacture. 

autoform-design-simulationThe design team’s responsibilities remain largely the same, working either from Appliance Park or other locations. And while this team still designs parts with a focus on appliance appearance and functionality, part designs now go through the simulation team for formability before being released to the die shop.

The simulation team, then, acts as the bridge between the design team, tooling engineers and the die shop. They receive parts from the design team(s) and analyze them for problematic features. Their job primarily is dealing with Class A parts, as they are the most challenging to manufacture, but they also occasionally work on interior parts. Simulation-team members have a background in tooling and therefore can recommend process changes if needed.

Software for Process Layout and Simulation

The GEA simulation team uses AutoForm software to evaluate proposed part designs by developing a process layout and running simulations to confirm design feasibility in the context of the proposed process. They already may know the intended press line for a part and work to ensure that the part can indeed be produced on that press line. If they find design inconsistencies or process limitations, they go back to the design team. Using AutoForm, they explain all of the hotspots and features requiring modifications, and why they are necessary.

The design team, then, will either make the recommended modifications themselves or allow the simulation team to do so. This guided modification process eliminates needless communication between the design team, tooling engineers and die shop, and considerably reduced the time needed to develop and release parts that can be manufactured to GEA’s stringent quality standards.

On to the Die Shop

Once the simulation, tooling, and design teams have developed an acceptable part design, they release the design to the die shop for tooling quoting, design and build. At GEA, the die shops must perform further detailed formability analyses and develop the final process layout based upon the initial general guidance of the simulation and tooling teams. These detailed secondary analyses ensure that released designs and finalized processes conform to the die-shop requirements, so that they can take ownership of the manufacturing process layout.

Note: The GEA awarded die shop has never had to make major changes, such as modifying the material type, since the simulation team already has completed as much as 90 percent of the upfront work, including geometric dimensioning and tolerance assessments. And it also has applied very tight margins on safety, thinning and other quality metrics to ensure seamless assembly along with manufacturing. This largely has eliminated late-stage surprises at the die shop during confirmation analyses—or worse, during tryouts. That said, the die shop still can make small changes, such as optimizing blank size or adjusting draw-bead height and configuration for the right pressures.

Thus, the simulation team plays a key role in expediting the manufacturing process. It coordinates with tooling and design engineers to achieve a product with optimum appearance while staying within the limits of the processes and other fixed factors.

Benefits of the Newly Refined Development Process  

GEA’s newly developed zero-distance process delivers unprecedented benefits compared to the traditional process. 

  • More systematic approach

This new process makes the entire workflow for design and manufacture more cohesive and systematic. The die shop can take the released part design and immediately begin to cut the steel, build the tool and initiate tryout, all in a shorter time frame.

  • Time savings

The time needed to carry out the extended interactions between the design and die-shop teams often is underestimated. When the die shop receives only a dimensioned part model and must work with the Tooling Engineers and product designers to make a change—a radius change on the part, for example—that process can take a long time. However, outlining the entire process, in minute detail, can save weeks or even months of time needed to move from the concept phase on to production. GEA estimates at least a 50-percent time savings compared to the traditional process.

  • Better financial margins

The GEA team builds what was validated over the simulation-centered process. This has reduced scrap and increased throughput, ultimately improving financial margins. The man-hours saved on each project also translate to considerable gains.

Bottom line: By doing 90 percent of the engineering work up front results in a minimum 50-percent overall time savings. MF

Industry-Related Terms: Blank, Die, Form, Functionality, Manufacturability, Model, Scrap, Tolerance
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms


See also: AutoForm Engineering USA, Inc.

Technologies: Software


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