Build Competitive Advantage into Your Design Department

14 Dec, 2004 By: Kevin Schneider Cadalyst

Follow these examples of companies making the most of 3D technology

Every month, I write about tips and techniques to help you get the most from Autodesk Inventor Series, Autodesk's 3D design technology. As 2004 comes to a close and manufacturers prepare to introduce new products and new models in 2005, it's a good time to take a look at what companies are doing with Autodesk's 3D product design tools.

Perhaps the most dramatic development these manufacturers report is a drop in the amount of time required to create and document designs. Engineers use 3D solid modeling to test designs for issues and opportunities -- without requiring additional documentation. Some companies are designing new products to use fewer parts. The companies profiled in this column are using Autodesk Inventor Series to improve speed and accuracy of drawing, design quality, time to market, and cost.

Make Accurate Drawings More Quickly
Past success or failure may have given you some ideas about how to improve on a product's performance or appearance. If you're a seasoned engineer, you may be very adept at using 2D software to draw really complex parts and surfaces -- large assemblies, routed tubes and wiring, or gears -- in multiple views (figure 1). But you may not have the time to do it, and your colleagues may not have the experience to help.

Figure 1. 3D technology automates complex drawing tasks.

These are some of the reasons China's Unicorn Industrial Sewing Machine Company decided to use Autodesk Inventor Series. The company makes the world-renowned Brother brand of sewing machines, as well as industrial sewing equipment. Containing as many as 1,000 parts each (figure 2), its products demanded design engineers with a minimum of seven years' experience for elements such as the arm and bed, which contain the mechanisms that stitch fabric.

Figure 2. Unicorn Industrial Sewing Machine cuts product design time by one-third.

Software for 3D solid modeling automates many complex drawing tasks, and even detects interference and calculates weight and mass. With technology to take care of the more challenging and time-consuming aspects of drawing, Unicorn has been able to assign complex projects to engineers with less experience -- who take less time to complete them. The Adapko sewing machine, a new model, was developed with Autodesk Inventor in six months instead of the typical 12-month timeframe.

Create Better Designs and Improve Quality
Adjustments to product design are just part of the process of improving on product performance and appearance. Your customers may be like Sonardyne's, a company that makes equipment for underwater navigation, communication, and other uses. Its customers tend to specify a product and order modified versions to suit their needs. Like Sonardyne's engineers, you don't want to start every product configuration from scratch. And design changes must work in conjunction with the components that have proved effective.

For Sonardyne, 3D design technology's appeal lies in its ability to create and check associative relationships among parts. Sonardyne is using this software to model product form and function, including new design elements, along with components or design features that are to remain standard.

This capability also makes product quality consistent and new designs faster to produce. That's why Genlyte Thomas Group, parent of commercial lighting maker Lightolier, is using 3D technology to standardize core design components across 29 brands.

Other companies such as pump maker Haskell International use 3D design software to improve products. Haskell tested a virtual model of an existing product and found a simple but fundamental flaw. Now the company has a near-perfect track record of product function for just about every pump that comes off the line.

Make Fewer Mistakes and Save on Prototypes
Most companies can't afford to find out that parts do not fit properly as they are assembled -- or worse, after goods are sold. When you can see during the design process the impact of changes on related design elements, and even model designs' performance, you can see what works -- and what doesn't -- well before you generate production documents.

Those drawings that you create so quickly can be modified just as rapidly, and tested with stress-analysis software until you've refined a design to the point where your virtual prototype works well. That's what Energy Absorption Systems does with designs for highway safety equipment (figure 3). Unicorn engineers use 3D software to make the first prototype one that's almost always production-ready, and they've cut design errors from 5% to just 3%.

Figure 3. Energy Absorption Systems analyzes virtual models using stress-performance software.

Other companies are using the technology to boost productivity. Lightolier gained 35% within less than a year of using 3D software and collaboration technology.

Resolve to Compete for Business More Effectively in the New Year
Software for solid modeling makes a difference in manufacturers' business as well as in production. In addition to productivity and innovation improvements, companies using 3D technology are seeing sales improvements and post-sale cost reductions.

For example, Energy Absorption Systems uses 3D images to bridge the gap between complex technical specifications and performance. It shows customers how its products will work with compelling, intuitive, animated models. Revolving door maker Boon Edam is using the technology to spend less on after-sales maintenance, by generating drawings automatically from customer specifications.

If you're not using 3D design technology, you may want to resolve to give it a closer look in the coming year. You just may find you can get more out of your design process, and more from the great work you've already done.

About the Author: Kevin Schneider

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