Fanton improves design speed and innovation across extensive product portfolio using Solid Edge; early collaboration based on 3D is significantly improved
Fanton reorganizes research and development around the use of Solid Edge; automatically transfers product data to manufacturing
Different distribution channels, different points of view
Fanton is a highly successful, small-to-medium size Italian enterprise that stands out among its competitors with an extensive portfolio of diverse products. With 160 employees, Fanton is headquartered in Conselve, in Italy’s province of Padua. The company provides electrical equipment, special cables and structured cabling to five distribution channels, including distributors, electrical wholesalers, hardware wholesalers, mass-market food dealers, and non-food and specialty item brokers. The company also has a channel dedicated to industry and foreign sales.
“Offering these five sectors a range of products dedicated to meeting their individual needs is a challenging task for our research and engineering departments,” says Michele Fanton, the company’s owner. “For each project, we have to define detailed procedures and flows, evaluate the product from five different points of view and take into account the fact that the different distribution channels may also have reciprocal trading relationships. Our marketing department is responsible for defining each product’s positioning, while the engineering department focuses on development.”
The company competes against distributors of low-cost imports with freshness, dynamism, flexibility and highly streamlined working procedures. “For a company like ours, it is essential to be flexible in our ability to understand the demands and trends of both the market and the clientele, and to translate this understanding into a suitable range of products for a wide audience, from traders in the construction industry to buyers in the large-scale retail trade sector,” says Fanton.
“To achieve this goal, we frequently meet with our entire sales network to discuss concerns, as well as any difficulties and demands presented by the market. We also continuously make investments in certification, research and development (R&D), and actively participate in defining standards,” he says. “Finally, we are constantly prepared to customize our products. Over time, this decision has proved to be quite rewarding, as it has allowed us to maintain thirty-year business relationships with customers that were added by Renzo Fanton, the company’s former president.”
From market research to R&D
The information gathered from the market is transmitted to the R&D group, triggering a reciprocal process in which R&D, in turn, provides marketing with information and support materials. It’s a real team effort in which, once the market’s demands have been identified and the object or the series of products to be realized have been defined, the idea is presented at a meeting attended by all of the appropriate company representatives.
“Starting with the list of the requirements that have been identified for the new product, our research department determines whether or not the product can be produced at the requested price, as well as verifies the necessary investments, which can amount to hundreds of thousands of Euros,” explains Fabio Luise, Fanton’s CAD (computer-aided design) manager. “Today, the most significant ideas and stimuli for our innovation process are still proposed by Renzo Fanton, who has entrusted his sons Fabio and Michele with the company’s management, so he can focus his attention on product development. He is constantly coming up with new ideas and challenges for our designers.”
A tool for the future
Until 1997, Fanton entrusted the design process to external partners. When research and development was identified as a strategic factor for the company’s expansion, an internal technical department was created and Fabio Luise was entrusted with the task of selecting a suitable CAD tool.
“Back then you still had to choose between 2D and 3D,” recalls Luise. “Three-dimensional software was considered to be a bit extreme in those days, but I was convinced that it was the right choice, above all, for the future. Since the company’s owners had no qualms about supporting my decision, we went on to compare the various solutions available on the market and eventually opted for Solid Edge. At the time, the software already had a simple and intuitive user interface and was more intuitive than other software products. Thanks to its continuing development, it also offered the assurance of a program that was increasingly evolving in accord with user preferences. In fact, the Siemens PLM Software development team was highly attentive to user feedback.”
Luise notes that the immediate advantage offered by Siemens PLM Software’s Solid Edge® software was its ability to work in a 3D modeling environment. “Thanks to the ability to manipulate a piece in three dimensions, turn it and observe its contours and holes, our meetings and discussions with company management and the production department became much more efficient and productive,” he says. “Working with 2D tables is much less immediate and intuitive. By contrast, the 3D environment eliminates many steps and reduces the risk of errors and rework. If you need a table, it can be obtained directly from the 3D model.”
For a company such as Fanton, which has facilities and partners in various geographical areas, the use of Solid Edge also offers the advantage of being able to transmit precise and reliable mathematics for those involved in the construction of prototypes or molds.
“Fanton has a mold workshop with specialized personnel and machinery, but we only produce molds internally on rare occasions,” says Luise. “At the moment, for example, we currently have 2 ongoing projects, for a total of 60 molds, which are simultaneously occupying 4 to 5 different suppliers, to whom we have provided the files for the models created using Solid Edge. To complete our product development process, we are also planning to implement a mechanical workshop by integrating CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) tools to manage the machinery. In this case, of course, we will also have to handle the mold design internally.”
“It takes a lot of skill to construct a mold,” says Luise. “We certainly possess that skill, but our specialized suppliers have already identified solutions that we cannot even fathom, and have even put them into practice. That’s why we give them their due freedom, restricting ourselves to providing the mathematical models and to requesting feasibility analyses. In the end, we examine proposals by three selected suppliers, and figure out which solution works best for us. We draw up the technical specifications and create the mathematical model, producing precise tables with specific tolerances, drafts, surface finishes, materials, extractor types, cooling systems, etc. At that point, we can freely choose where to have the mold built, because using Solid Edge means exceptional reliability in exchanging files with suppliers. Even if suppliers don’t use the same software; the STEP (Standard for the Exchange of Product Model Data) format generated by Solid Edge is sufficient 99 percent of the time.”
Fanton is also utilizing Solid Edge with synchronous technology. Fanton’s technical department has even tested the efficiency of synchronous technology. “For our design needs, the advantages offered by synchronous technology are quite evident,” says Luise. “We have experimented with synchronous technology upon a number of pieces for which we have required more flexible and advanced control, and have obtained excellent results with respect to the traditional design methods.”
Looking towards the future, Fanton has expressed a need to improve its data management, so as to ensure defined benefits in terms of integration, collaboration and information sharing. Progress is underway. About two years ago, Fanton implemented the SAP® software solution, which is now directly linked to product data for use by the technical department. “With this integration, once the product specifications and the bill of materials have been prepared, the codes are inserted directly into the management software, without the possibility of error, and any subsequent changes are reflected automatically,” says Luise.
Plans for managing product data
Fanton plans to further improve its management of product data, which was traditionally entrusted to the individual designer. Over the years, the record keeping systems became inconsistent. Moreover, there was no single, integrated repository from which to share information. “I presented the problem to company management,” says Luise. “And we immediately turned to our partner CCS Team, which drew up a detailed work program for the management of the archive.” Serving Fanton since 2008, CCS Team is a Siemens PLM Software partner. Luise concludes, “I have been working with CCS Team for many years, because I also had a number of experiences with them at other companies. CCS Team is a reliable partner that’s always available, offering advanced support services and courses administered by qualified personnel.”