Management

On the Road with Remtec

11 Jul, 2006 By: Kenneth Wong

Ultimately successful, the 2D-to-3D journey of a petroleum tanker-trailer maker is not without a few potholes


Andre Bourgault, director of research and development at Remtec, a maker of petroleum tanker trailers, can tell you that not all shapes are created equal. Take, for instance, an oval-shaped trailer and a cylindrical one. Because of its lower center of gravity, the oval vessel is less likely to roll over. But it's also the more challenging of the two to model -- especially the elliptical tanker head on each end.

Several years ago, when Remtec considered migrating to 3D, the company evaluated a number of modelers, including Autodesk Mechanical Desktop, Pro/ENGINEER, SolidWorks and Solid Edge. After ruling out those that were priced beyond the company's budget and those that failed to execute the desired modeling tasks, Remtec narrowed its choices to two finalists.

Bourgault contacted both through local representatives and asked them to show him how to model several complex parts, including that tanker head cap. One company's repeated unresponsiveness tried his patience. By contrast, representatives from Solid Edge replied in two days, inviting him to see how the parts could be designed using their software. He took this experience as a clue for what he could expect of Remtec's relationship with Solid Edge. It's been six years since, and Bourgault says the relationship is still going strong.

figure
An elliptical tanker is less likely to roll over, but is more complex to model, than a perfectly cylindrical one.

A Tanker on the Move
Remcor, Remtec's parent company, operates several autonomous business divisions in British Columbia, Nebraska and South Carolina. Perhaps you have seen one of Remtec's metallic giants on the highway, towering over your own family SUV. You might have also noticed the wide maneuvers these enormous petroleum tankers must make to negotiate busy roads. The vehicles' size and configuration present design challenges as well.

"If you want to detect interference between parts, it's not easy to do in 2D," Bourgault observes. Here are just a few of the design considerations: Will the elliptical head clear the tractor during sharp turns? Some models have self-steering axles to guide the tanker during turns. Will they collide with the frame, the fender or the tires? How about the 2" pipe that must be inserted between different compartments of the tanker? Can it go through the narrow gap between the separating barriers? Can it retain the right curve without touching the parts? These issues have to be worked out in 3D in Solid Edge before the road warriors get near the assembly line.

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Remtec's switch to 3D led to easier interference checking of its tanker trailers.

Lessons Learned
As Bourgault recalls, installing the 3D software and training the staff were both accomplished with little or no unpleasant surprises. But switching to the 3D-thinking mode was not instantaneous. Sometimes, the new modeling paradigm collides with long-established operations, producing headaches that only become laughter in retrospect.

"It's our own ignorance of 3D," Bourgault readily confesses. "Our people who issue quotes for pricing are used to working with kits -- for instance, a fender kit, which comprises the fender, all the hardware that holds the fender, including the brackets that connect the fender to the suspension frame." But in the 3D workflow, the brackets are welded to the suspension frame, and other parts belong to other assemblies. So the 3D novices at Remtec had a quandary when they were asked to produce a BOM (bill of materials) for the entire kit. Eventually, with the help of a local Solid Edge reseller -- Automadesign of Bromont, Quebec -- they were able to create a configuration that displayed all the components making up the kit. Extracting the BOM was once again possible.

What's In a Name?
"It's not the best practice," Bourgault admits, with a chuckle, "but we used to end up giving the same name to more than one subassembly in the management software. Since some parts of those subs were custom-fitted on each trailer, once installed, they were not identical any more, but they kept the same part number -- a Remtec part number." It was a practice that stemmed from the casual atmosphere of a relatively small team.

Bourgault and his staff have since abandoned their old naming scheme because they realized that, in 3D design, "you cannot have the same part with two different lengths. ..." They now give each unique part or assembly a unique part number. The staff has not begun using Solid Edge Insight, a data-management tool included with the software, because Remtec's server is not properly configured for the task, but they hope to take advantage of it in the future.

Responsiveness
It's now up to Automadesign, designated to support Remtec, to keep up the high expectations established by the 48-hour turnaround that propelled Bourgault to choose Solid Edge over its competitors in the first place.

"When I call for technical support, there's always someone to answer," Bourgault reflects. "Usually they can give an answer during the first phone call. If they are unable to -- maybe because it's something they've never seen before -- they do whatever it takes to find the answer. Sometimes I send them a copy of the model or a part, or try different things to replicate the problem. I don't have to wait."


About the Author: Kenneth Wong


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