Disruption Equals Opportunity for Paragon D&E
Autodesk (San Rafael, CA) and Paragon D&E (Grand Rapids, MI) hosted the Smart Manufacturing Celebration, April 26-27, at the newly-expanded Paragon D&E facility in Grand Rapids, MI. Attendees heard from industry experts about disruption factors manufacturers are facing, including in the automotive and aerospace manufacturing sectors, and how manufacturers can not just survive in disruption, but thrive in it.
David Muir, president of Paragon D&E, knows firsthand how manufacturing businesses can work through challenging times and evolve. He described the history of Paragon D&E and how the company came to partner closely with Autodesk.
In 1962, Fred M. Keller, Muir’s grandfather, purchased Paragon Die & Engineering for $1. Then, in the 1970s, Keller invested in emerging computer technology and focused on building industry relationships and a dedicated workforce. In the late 1970s and early 1980s Keller shifted from producing aluminum die-casting tools to molds for plastic parts used in the automotive industry. Paragon’s technology cut mold-building time in half, which was crucial to automotive customers.
“He followed the logic of the famous movie quote ‘There’s a great future in plastics’ and moved the business into injection molding in the late 70s,” said Muir. “There were great opportunities for injection mold builders in the area to accelerate their businesses. Grandpa was very conservative in how he grew this and laid a nice foundation for it, not going into debt.”
In the 1990s, Paragon’s entire cost system was automated, resulting in faster and more accurate quoting, materials pricing and project tracking. Then, in the 2000s, engineering and manufacturing teams implemented process improvement systems and begin working with a supplier to record activity of every machine.
The next step Paragon D&E made was to move into certification and the aerospace sector. “It was new and challenging for all of us,” said Muir. “This made teammates nervous since it was different. At first, we didn’t know how to handle this. We started becoming a ‘Master of None’ since we were spreading ourselves thin.”
But the team at Paragon D&E rose to the challenge, creating more innovations to understand the different technology. “No longer could we build just one thing—we had to get into tools that were more complex and higher accuracy, and the technology in the paper work of AS9100 was extreme,” said Muir. “We learned a lot.”
Throughout Paragon D&E’s history, the company evolved with changing technologies and processes, and more transformation is underway, such as industry and product diversification.
According to Muir, building business relationships and working with innovative people have always played a crucial role in making the company successful.
“It was all based on relationships, finding people that wanted to be partners, and then solving problems and creating solutions for our partners/customers,” said Muir. “This type of culture was embedded and engrained years ago from my grandpa. Innovation is strong in our company culture.”
The Paragon D&E, Autodesk Team
About 10 years ago, Paragon D&E decided to ramp up its capabilities and focus on technology and software, such as program management, scheduling and data management.
“We had challenges with machine tools, keeping them safe and being efficient with them,” said Muir. “In 2009, we started wondering how to handle all the technology we were getting into. At one point we had five different softwares to program a machine tool path—this was a challenge.”
Paragon D&E sought out one supplier to do all its cutting toolpaths. “In typical Paragon style, we decided we needed a relationship,” said Muir. “We just weren’t going to program from the front side of screen—we needed a company that wanted to work with us. In 2011 we found DelCam [now Autodesk], and we started to create a relationship with them.
“It’s very wonderful to see the technology that has come into play,” Muir continued. “The capability to be innovative and have technology and smart manufacturing to implement is what this Autodesk team has brought to Paragon. We went from a few people running technology code to having more than a dozen people involved in technology.”
By working with Autodesk’s PowerMill CAM software, Paragon has increased job accuracy and quality; improved safety—the hardware is safer, therefore the employees are safer and there are not many crashes; and the company can leverage employees better. The benefits of PowerMill have enabled Muir to grow the capacity and capabilities of Paragon D&E.
Digitization of Everything
According to Callan Carpenter, VP of global named accounts & digital for Autodesk, there is a common theme across all three Autodesk sectors—manufacturing, architecture and construction, and media and entertainment; they are all on the verge of “significant disruption brought about by the digitization of everything.”
“Once you have digitalized the real world, the world has become computable,” explained Carpenter. “Processes that couldn’t be computed can now be computed. Industries can change the basis of how they create value. Another implication is automation. Once you make it computable you can automate it. This has profound implications for all of us.”
Carpenter said that a recent study from Oxford University and the Wharton School of Business found that in the next 20 years, 47% of tasks humans do today will be automated.
“When we talk about automation many people think that means replacing the operator of a machine, but that is not what we are talking about here,” explained Carpenter. “We are talking about freeing up the operator and freeing the human imagination and creativity by replacing the repetitive non-value-added motions from a manufacturing process with automation, giving us greater capabilities to make all types of things we couldn’t imagine 10 or 15 years ago.”
Automation not only has an impact on the shop floor—it has an impact on the design process. Traditionally CAD tools were documentation tools—they captured the intent of designer and engineer. “Now, with the almost limitless computing power in the Cloud, we can start computing in different ways, not just to capture human intent but to augment human capability via a set of algorithms and methodologies,” said Carpenter. “Now the linkage between design and manufacturing is tighter. Not too far off in the future you [will be able to] manufacture exactly what you design.”
An example of this is Autodesk’s Fusion Production, which brings together many manufacturing disciplines. Design data can be sent directly to the shop floor. “This allows us to plan and monitor the manufacturing process and monitor individual machines,” explained Carpenter. “Since this is done in the Cloud, all data is available on a mobile app. [When] we learn about the production of the part, we can feed that information back into the design process, making a closed loop out of production and design.”
According to Sean Manzanares, senior industry manager of manufacturing products US for Autodesk, there have been many changes in the way design and manufacturing is done. “You would come up with design, review it, and then decide what design would work best. This is taking the hard knowledge and inputting it, so there is a finite amount of designs we can come up with. But there could be another design or concept out there that we just haven’t thought of. Now we are changing the game with AI and the Cloud—they will be our co-designers to help us get to phenomenal places we have never been to.”