Sculpting Better Sound

3 Dec, 2008 By: Cadalyst Staff

Rodin, a designer of audio components, switches from AutoCAD to 3D Inventor and finds it can produce better products faster.

Formerly known as Phoenix Gold, Rodin has specialized in sound engineering and system design since 1985. The company considers the design of speakers, amplifiers, and cables an art. Pushing the boundaries of innovation became easier once Rodin moved from 2D AutoCAD to 3D Autodesk Inventor software.

The Challenge
To reduce costs, Rodin relies on selected partners to manufacture its products. But when communicated as 2D drawings, the company's designs are often lost in translation. "With AutoCAD drawings, people must use their imaginations to 'see' the shape of a design," said Phil Eichmiller, industrial and mechanical designer at Rodin. "Before moving to 3D, we typically went through several physical prototypes before our manufacturing partners got it right."

Difficulty communicating wasn't the only thing clogging Rodin's design pipeline. Using AutoCAD for sheet metal design proved time consuming. "For example, to perfect bend deductions, you move things around by small degrees," Eichmiller said. "It takes a lot of diligence and manual manipulation to get it right."

The Solution
By moving from 2D AutoCAD to 3D Autodesk Inventor software, the company reports it has reduced manual design tasks, produced fewer physical prototypes, and now communicates more effectively with manufacturing partners. As a result, the company spends more time on creating its designs.

Autodesk Inventor lets Rodin create lifelike renderings of products for review, so decision makers and upper management can sign off on designs before even viewing a physical prototype.

Automating Sheet Metal Design Tasks
The sheet metal functionality in Inventor simplifies the complex math that designers once labored over in AutoCAD. "In the 3D model, you know that you're getting a consistent flat pattern without performing manual mathematical calculations," Eichmiller said. "With Inventor, you just have to view the screen to know things line up."

Because the software automates precise calculations, the sheet metal design process is not only faster, but also less error prone. "For the first time, the shop can replicate finished parts on the first try," Eichmiller said.

Fewer Physical Prototypes
Digital prototyping plays a role in Rodin's improved design process, and it has convinced Eichmiller that migrating from 2D to 3D was a smart move. The company's manufacturing partners no longer produce several physical prototypes before they manufacture a design correctly. "3D digital prototypes are very easy to interpret," Eichmiller said. "Inventor models facilitate instant and clear communication -- even between teams that speak different languages."

By transitioning from 2D to 3D design, Rodin brought imagination to life in a digital environment and created the final design with fewer physical prototypes.

Rodin has also been able to reduce physical prototyping by using digital prototypes to make design decisions earlier in the design process, and get approval on lifelike rendering of product alternatives. "Inventor lets us produce realistic images of products for review by decision makers," Eichmiller said. "We can easily run through various iterations, making minor changes to color or texture before we spend a dime on tooling. Upper management now signs off on designs with confidence, without viewing a physical prototype."

Precision Designs Realized
Because sound quality is determined by the precise shape of speakers, the geometry of designs is critical. With Inventor, the company says its designers can focus on the functional requirements of their design, rather than manually figuring the mathematics behind the geometry. As a result, the designers can validate their innovations by rapidly creating digital prototypes.

"A tweeter horn needs a special shape to disperse high frequency," Eichmiller said. "With Inventor, it's easy to perform the mathematical calculations required to achieve innovative horn shapes."

According to Eichmiller, the most important benefit of the switch to Inventor is that the innovations the designers achieve in the design phase are not lost during manufacturing. "We've increased quality because we can send models to our manufacturing partners with confidence that they will build them without misinterpretation," he said. "They simply plug our 3D model into their CNC machines. Within a few weeks, we can test the sound of our innovative speaker shapes precisely as we've designed them."

Rodin used the Studio environment in Autodesk Inventor to create illustrations that portrayed this real life product set up. By producing the images in Inventor, the company saved several days and thousands of dollars by not having to hire a professional photographer to capture the same arrangement.

The Results
Eichmiller also points to vast time savings since the software change. Whereas it once took a week to develop a full set of sheet metal designs for a line of products, it now takes one day. Before, product manuals always followed far behind production. Now, they are completed six months before production.

According to Eichmiller, the company is even using the software to save time and money on trade shows. "Inventor helps us plan the trade show floor layout and create realistic renderings of our booth. Because Inventor works well with large assemblies, I can design booth fixtures down to the last nut, using products from my manufacturing database. We can output the drawings required by the trade show's electrical and lighting contractors, and even design booth pieces so they fit into smaller boxes that are less costly to ship. By bringing trade show design in-house, we're cutting our expenses in half," he said.

The software is also helping Rodin create more innovative designs. "Putting a tweeter where it needs to be involves making a horn shape that's mathematically defined," Eichmiller said. "Doing this in 2D is nearly impossible. With Inventor, we're achieving excellence in every aspect of our designs, from defining the precise shape of a horn to determining the best way to mount the speaker on the wall."


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About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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