Product Design

3D All Around

13 Jul, 2006 By: Michelle Nicolson

Machinery maker KVAL discovers companywide benefits using Lattice 3D file-compression technology to share large SolidWorks files.


After 60 years in the woodworking machinery business, KVAL knows how to change with the times. This small, family-owned company specializes in designing and manufacturing heavy industrial woodworking machinery for door and window makers.

The KVAL product is a complex product: A single woodworking machine can have as many as 6,000 parts. The company creates, ships and installs more than 300 unique machines every year and maintains more than 10,000 in the field. But when it comes to communication with its customers, KVAL knows it must keep things clear and simple or risk negative effects not only on its own bottom line but that of its clients.

Petaluma, California-based KVAL is small in size, but thinks big when it comes to technology and has made the move to 3D design. Like many manufacturers, the company relies on SolidWorks 3D modeling software for its engineering design work. However, engineering work that benefited from 3D treatment proved difficult to share and publish given the enormous 3D files.

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One of the many woodworking machines produced by KVAL.

Sebastien Jame, KVAL's engineering services director, went looking for a solution. He found it in Lattice3D's XVL compression technology. "We did an evaluation, easily created our 3D files at a fraction of the size of [SolidWorks] eDrawings and tested high-performance viewing even on low-price PCs," Jame says. Lattice3D software publishes interactive 3D documents as well as print, digital and Web documents directly from CAD drawings. The compression technology facilitates easy file transfer for communication and collaboration.

From Engineering to Manufacturing
The ability to share these 3D files first influenced the key connection between the engineering and manufacturing departments. Previously, engineers sent CAD files to the production team as paper drawings. Team members on the manufacturing floor identified problems and sent the drawings back to engineering with changes marked in red ink.

Lattice 3D's XVL compression files dramatically changed the communication between these departments, making design and manufacturing a team effort. The manufacturing team now uses Lattice 3D's simple XVL animation tools and free viewers to check 3D files in digital form, bypassing the need for any new CAD training. Advice from the production floor about the easiest way to build an assembly is now immediately accessible by the designers. The result is increased productivity and reduced rework on both sides, the company reports.

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Sebastien Jame, KVAL's engineering services director, views a 3D XVL file.

From Manufacturing to Support
The bonus of sharing files in 3D went beyond engineering and manufacturing a few months later. KVAL's technical support and service staff found the XVL files a great resource when handling support calls. Often the customer looks at its installed KVAL machine while calling from a cell phone to order a spare part. To assist, the KVAL technical support and service staff would have to locate the correct paper drawing, including the variants for that customer's particular machine.

Now, using a desktop PC and Web browser, a support technician simply calls up HTML files displaying the 3D model, assembly structure and animated configuration. As the customer describes the problem, the technician can zoom and pan to see what the customer sees. Conversations are much shorter, delays are avoided -- and, most importantly, the support technician can locate the needed part number and get the correct part on its way to the customer.

From Company to Customers
KVAL doesn't plan to limit the use the 3D XVL files to the physical boundaries of its facility. "Our goal is 100% 3D," Jame says. "We want to give our customers, via the KVAL Web site or the online GoToAssist session [an on-demand Web meeting service], the ability to directly view and access a 3D model of their unique machine in order to identify problems and directly order spare parts. We plan to deliver KVAL machines, not with a paper user manual, but with a portable computer loaded with the Lattice3D viewer and the 3D XVL files (including disassembly and assembly animations) of the customer's machine."

The company also plans to link the lightweight XVL models to other information in its ERP system, such as price information and animated assembly models. HTML programming will incorporate the knowledge of KVAL assembly specialists so the technicians can use it for repairs in the field.

After just five months' use, KVAL saw the payoff of its investment in the Lattice3D XVL technology. "The combination of SolidWorks to create 3D models and XVL to share them has decreased assembly and reworking time by as much as 20%, reduced new technician learning curves to minutes instead of days and reduced spare-part service calls often by 15-20 minutes," Jame says.

And those savings are good for KVAL as well as its customers.


About the Author: Michelle Nicolson


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