How to Make an Enterprise Run by the Rules

ORBIS uses DriveWorks to automate estimating.

Parameters for package design are entered by salespeople using (Picture courtesy of Razorleaf.)

Parameters for package design are entered by salespeople using (Picture courtesy of Razorleaf.)

A product’s journey from where it is manufactured to the store shelf or to your doorstep can be long and tortuous. The packaging that ensures that the product reaches its destination unharmed has a thankless but critical job, as every packaging designer knows.

ORBIS Corporation, located on Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago, is part of the 150-year-old Menasha Corporation and is in the business of creating materials that are reusable packaging and containers. You may not know ORBIS by name, but you have probably ripped through the company’s packaging wrapped around goods from Amazon, Walmart and so many other shippers that the company may have no equal.

Our competition? Maybe some ma and pa shops, said an ORBIS spokesperson.

Business was booming and the company had a problem that other companies would like to have: too many requests for quotes. With several highly customizable product lines, every would-be customer was asking for packaging specific to each of their products. Each different bottle, each pill container, aerosol can, perfume bottle, and so on, had to be snugged up so it wouldn’t break or be damaged in transit, and survive drops and rough handling. How much would that cost?, the would-be customer would ask the salesperson.

All the requests would end up in a bottleneck as the salespeople waited for the design of the insert and the package—for only then could the cost be determined. Having designers devoted to custom design would take forever and be expensive.

Clearly, the process had to be made quicker and in 2008, the company started a long process to automate the design process. After the automation was complete, all the salespeople had to do to answer the “how much?” question was to take the necessary parameters for the product that was to be shipped, enter the number of the product that was to be in a container, and provide the nominal dimensions and perhaps a rough outline. The dunnage (the loose material that keeps parts from rattling around in a container) and the container were automatically created.

Automated, or rules-based design, such as just described, has been around for some time. SOLIDWORKS has been handing out a simple version of a rules-based add-on, DriveWorks, with every license for years at no cost. It’s a sweet deal for DriveWorks, Ltd., a little software vendor in the British countryside outside of Manchester, as long as SOLIDWORKS users upgrade to paid versions of DriveWorks.

“We needed to do something different. We knew this particular area of our business was a place where we could grow, but the systems we were using weren’t talking to each other,” said Deb Pitman, VP of Process Improvement for ORBIS.

A False Start

ORBIS began the internal custom design project in 2017. In 2018, the company tried to automate design with DriveWorks, the SOLIDWORKS add-on. However, DriveWorks turned out to be not quite the turnkey automation they had hoped it would be. The automated system based on DriveWorks was not creating a good experience internally for the company or for its customers. ORBIS had to abandon the project and start over.

As one person at ORBIS puts it, the automated system was “not ready for prime time.”

“It was painful [to pull the plug], but it was absolutely the right thing to do,” Pitman admitted.

A bit of soul-searching ensued. ORBIS admitted to not understating its own design requirements and the company’s end goals.

Vince Riha, ORBIS designer and integrations specialist, says the problem was expecting DriveWorks “out of the box” to be able to handle the company’s special situation.

“That is a good solution for some certain-size companies. We’re an enterprise, and we needed to scale up and interface with other applications,” said Riha.

The typical implementations of DriveWorks are when the data is self-contained and the design can be generated from it. But ORBIS had its data in a SQL database.

Riha did some research and found that DriveWorks could work with an SQL database, which its SOLIDWORKS reseller thought was impossible.

“I knew we either had the wrong product or the wrong people,” Riha said.

Changing Partners

In 2019, ORBIS hooked up with Razorleaf, a vendor-agnostic PLM services provider with considerable DriveWorks experience.

“Razorleaf helped us reframe our expectations—and absolutely has supported us to get where we are,” noted Riha.

Razorleaf jumped in with ORBIS and built ORBIS an interface that integrates with DriveWorks, SQL, and Salesforce as well as with ORBIS’ project management and costing application via web services. Instruction was provided during the process with the goal being that when the system was installed, ORBIS would be self-sufficient and able to maintain it themselves.

“We really have flipped the switch, where they were originally doing and showing to just really coaching and mentoring our team now,” Pitman said.

“We like to help customers by giving them a foundation,” said Paul Gimbel—author of that DriveWorks-SQL blog post that initially caught Riha’s eye—agrees that being able to maintain the system after the foundation is built is a measure of the implementation’s success.

A single face-to-face meeting in early 2020 got the ball rolling and after that, the work was done off-site because of COVID. So much remote work—from planning and status meetings, to software and server installations and updates, to training and project management—was now the new norm for ORBIS, but for Razorleaf, which was used to working with remote customers an off-site, it was business as usual.

How Does It Work?

When finished, ORBIS is able to use a DriveWorks system that lets its sales team determine a custom package design using Salesforce in real time and instantly generate a 3D model of the dunnage and the container—complete with an estimate of cost.

DriveWorks takes over from Salesforce and generates a few choices that the salespeople can present to the customer.

Can this be done at the customer site, in real time, we ask.

“That is something we hope to have in the future,” said Pitman.

Still, even seeing a few design choices will help sell the packaging, according to Pitman.

Once we show them the design choices, the product manufacturer response is often “Yes! I want you to manufacture that as quickly as possible.”

Once the final design is determined, the final step is manufacturing the custom design.

DriveWorks drives SOLIDWORKS to create a new set of design files. It also generates a BOM (bill of materials) and determines the manufacturing process, including CNC toolpaths. DriveWorks builds and stores the BOM and toolpaths in a SQL database. The SOLIDWORKS models and drawings are stored in ORBIS’ PDM system. All data is shared with the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, SAP.

At the time of this writing, the DriveWorks system has automated the design of two ORBIS product lines, each with an enormous number of variations.

“There are thousands of different products, because customers have a large number of features, sizes, materials, and construction options available,” said Riha. “When we started the first project, we counted 26,000 iterations of a single product. And since then, we have more.”

Shortening the Design Cycle

Because the sales team can generate preliminary designs, cost estimates, BOM and CNC routings, the design, estimation, and manufacturing teams have something to work with instead of starting from scratch.

“It’s compressing the overall timeline,” said Riha.

An automated design system standardizes the process. The information that was once handed over manually from team to team is being automated and sent, resulting in higher accuracy, quality and quantity of an enterprise’s data.

What’s Next

ORBIS is adding a third product line to DriveWorks.

“Because of where Razorleaf was able to get us, now we can continue to grow,” said Pitman. “If all of this continues to evolve, the opportunities are going to be endless.”

With ORBIS’ automated design system with DriveWorks, the design bottleneck has been eliminated. The work that would have tied the hands of designers, engineers and estimators now happens in short order and to great effect. The dazzled customer can’t help but sign the order, according to ORBIS.