Dec 20, 2018 Corporate blog

Technology keeps opening new possibilities for product design

Communications team
Communications team
The first versions of many of our products were designed decades ago. We have seen them evolving and upgrading, but what about the design work behind them? When we look back, we can see how technology and customer-centricity have driven a change in product design.
Old design room in Metso's Lokomo factory in Tampere, FInland.
Old design room in our Lokomo factory in Tampere, FInland.

Our aggregates equipment expert Pasi Kyyhkynen, senior manager for tools, process and modularity and valve expert Bruce Wetherbee, engineering director for intellectual property, shared their views on the development and future outlooks with us.

From paper to data

As in many other industries, paper was the king at Metso. For valve design, as which is tightly controlled, our Engineering Standards group used to have only one controlled paper copy of the rules and regulations. Thus, when an engineer needed to check that their design is compliant with the rules and regulations, they had to leave their desk – to go to the other side of the room, to another floor or, in some cases, to a different city.

Product designs, updates and changes were drawn on paper and sent to different parts of the world. New crusher drawings travelled from France to the USA by mail to our American colleagues, possibly weeks later. Nowadays, when a change to any product is made, it is immediately visible to everyone who has access.

In the 1980s, CAD (computer-aided design) was introduced for the first time, allowing automation and efficient reuse of existing drawings. Even though we continued to print and copy the drawings onto paper until the 2000s, in design work, technology enabled things that would never have been possible if done manually.

From product to customer performance

The increased intelligence in software allowed us to verify the quality and performance of aggregate processing equipment before commissioning. Also, the actual data of how the product is performing is now available almost immediately after commissioning. Modern product engineering has been digital for some time. Using 3D models allows the designers to focus on details that were not possible in 2D. A well-designed product helps the customers to maximize the uptime through many aspects.

Moving from manual to automated work has freed time in valve manufacturing as well. Previously, when a valve test was running, someone had to manually keep checking the results, pressure, temperature etc. A shutdown was required every night and every weekend, and testing was limited to the working hours of available laboratory personnel. Now with digital data collection, tests run 24/7, provide more data in less time, and are monitored only by a data logger and the software.

New technology and increased data availability have enabled us to design optimal performance into our products.

A lot of historical treasures are stored in files in Tampere factory.
A lot of historical treasures are stored in files in Tampere factory.

The future holds more

We expect that in three to five years, all the aggregate product information will be integrated in the systems and easily available to everyone who needs it, including our customers and distributors. We are building intelligent product designs: In the future, all engineering disciplines will be closely integrated together to form digital replicas of a product in a 3D environment. This will open many possibilities for digital technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality and the IoT.

Product lifecycle management (PLM) is one of our key focus areas in aggregates equipment design today. PLM is about integrating people, processes, data, and systems to manage product data throughout its life, as well as easily and securely sharing this data within and outside the company. PLM covers the entire lifespan of a product, from the business plans and requirements that drive product development, to product disposal and end-of-life. These phases are universal to all products, but are often described differently in different industries. The PLM approach allows us to utilize common end-to-end processes in various locations and eliminates redundant work, delays, legacy data and varying ways of using it.

In both valve and aggregates product design, we are currently adopting rules-based design. All of the rules that govern the design of various components are being programmed into software, which will enable us to meet customer expectations a lot faster than today. In the future, a new valve variant design will require only changing a couple of rules in the software, and a new design variant will be born.

One thing is for sure: technology and digitalization have changed and are continuing to change product design significantly. We are excited to be on this journey and and develop new solutions together with our customers to make their operations more efficient and safer.