Watchmaker Saves Time with CAD

Someone once said, “If you spend too much time thinking about doing a thing, you’ll never get it done.”

Who was this man? It seems like he gets the gist of engineering and project

Citizen’s first venture into CAD-assisted sportswatch design. (Image courtesy of Citizen Watch Company.)

management. Was it Isambard Kingdom Brunel? Or maybe Henry Ford? Nope, it was actually Bruce Lee. He wasn’t much of an engineer, but his words still ring true.

Modern CAD packages and integrated product lifecycle management(PLM) solutions allow companies and designers to do just that—spend less time thinking and more time doing.

And that is exactly what timepiece makers Citizen Watch Company have done by investing in SOLIDWORKS and ENOVIA SmarTeam and adopting a concurrent engineering philosophy. Because, you see, concurrent design helps accelerate the design process (compared to traditional waterfall development methods) and helps save on that most precious of assets…time (which is highly desirable for a watchmaker).

Founded in Japan in 1918, Citizen has long been in the business of manufacturing functional timepieces. But as technology has improved through the years, the focus has switched from merely functional devices to actual fashion accessories, and Citizen has had to adapt its strategy to reduce the time to market for its goods. As we all know, fashion is a fickle mistress, and what may have been trendy at the start of product development may become as outdated as tribal armband tattoos by the end of the project.

Rapidly changing fashions and constantly evolving technologies spurred Citizen into moving from traditional 2D design to 3D. To help the company decide which CAD platform was the most optimum for its needs, Citizen looked at three different criteria

  • Intuitive product design: It’s all well and good having a team of excellent designers, but it’s counterproductive if everyone on that team needs to spend a decade relearning their skills in order to move from 2D to 3D. Licensing costs and training costs are a big decider here too. There needs to be a trade-off between training costs, software costs and time taken to train engineers for the software.
  • Integration with CAE and CAM applications: The company’s chosen platform should have a wide variety of file types that are widely accepted throughout industry at the design level and also for manufacturers who use the exported files for CAM systems.
  • Automated output of 2D drawings: Just because a company uses 3D modeling doesn’t mean that they are through with 2D drawings! Most companies still require legacy 2D drawings for technical documentation, hard copies, bill of materials (BOM) generation and assembly instructions, and Citizen is no different in that respect.

Citizen chose SOLIDWORKS as their 3D CAD solution because it best satisfied the above requirements.

After training their designers and installing 27 new design positions in their office, Citizen was able to quickly design and bring to market a brand new sports watch. Shortly after gaining experience from this project, the company then went on to design another 27 new products off the back of it.

Watches, by definition, are fairly complicated machines and have a large number of parts. SOLIDWORKS assembly mode came into play here by enabling Citizen to model, visualize and even simulate movements of the watch parts with SOLIDWORKS motion analysis and assembly analysis (to check clearances, etc).

So that’s how they design the many numerous parts… but how do they keep track of them in terms of BOM and documentation?

That’s where the PLM software came into play.

Because the ENOVIA SmarTeam platform is owned by Dassault Systèmes anyway (the same company that owns SOLIDWORKS), it made sense to go with a platform that had native compatibility between the CAD and PLM software products.

And because the SmarTeam software had concurrent design functionality included, it was a natural choice for Citizen.

Concurrent Design: What Is It?

Traditional watchmaking companies utilize what is known as a waterfall (or sequential) design methodology. Citizen used this method before switching to concurrent philosophy.

It is called sequential, because the various steps are completed sequentially (see Figure 1). That is, one step in the process must reach completion (and nominally some form of design review) before advancing onto the next phase. This can be very time consuming, especially where different systems must be designed and tested. In a manner of speaking, you could say that horology was the first systems engineering discipline. And the more systems involved in a product, the longer the development sequence becomes.

Figure 1. Waterfall development (on left) versusconcurrent development. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)
Figure 1. Waterfall development (on left) versus concurrent development. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Concurrent/collaborative design, on the other hand, throws the linear waterfall model out of the window and replaces it with one giant, holistic iterative loop, where changing one system element can automatically inform another designer to make changes to his own part, which may be affected by the first system’s output.

The ENOVIA SmarTeam package has both Web-based and Windows-based functionality and allows users to manage the concurrent design elements. The package also offers a platform for annotating documents, managing BOM elements and adding Microsoft Office documents into the product lifecycle as well.

This is handy for large assemblies, as the native SOLIDWORKS compatibility allows designers to access SOLIDWORKS assemblies and part documents from within the SmarTeam platform. This allows users to manage assembly hierarchies from within, without disturbing various part dependencies within the assembly. I can say from experience with managing my own assemblies from within folders on a USB stick that this feature is a blessing for sure!

And as any designer of multiple revisions can tell you, without a suitable platform for version control, keeping track of revisions can be a headache. And the more parts in an assembly or system, the bigger the headache. SmarTeam provides detailed revision histories for users to keep tabs on changes and also allows distribution of the 2D drawings generated in SOLIDWORKS to other users as they are updated.

So there you have it. That’s how Citizen has taken one of the oldest mechanical disciplines (see: Antikythera mechanism for details of 2,000-year-old clockwork mechanism) and optimized their products using modern software solutions and design practices for the 21st century.

And as any engineering department manager can tell you, design reviews, document control, configuration changes and all that jazz can be a massive drain on resources without the right PLM and design tools. It looks like Citizen has made a wise investment here and will save both money and time with their new processes in place.

About the Author

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Phillip Keane is currently studying his PhD at the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His background is in aerospace engineering, and his current studies are focused on the use of 3D-printed components in spaceflight. He previously worked at Rolls-Royce and Airbus Military and served as an intern for Made In Space and the European Southern Observatory.

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