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Keuka Studios Implements ANSYS Discovery Live to Simulate Projects That Can't Be Prototyped

2 Jun, 2019 By: Cadalyst Staff

A metal fabricator specializing in cable railings and stairs relies on instant simulation results, integrated with Discovery SpaceClaim geometry modeling, to ensure safety and performance.

After working as a design engineer at Xerox and receiving word that the company was closing down the division, Dan White decided it was time to pursue his dream of having his own business — and became president and founder of Keuka Studios. White yearned for something more creative than high-volume manufacturing. His artistic vision and experience working with injection molding, plastics, and sheet metal led him down the path of architectural metalwork. White followed his dream and formed Keuka Studios in 2002 out of Rush, New York.

Today, the company specializes in modern architectural stairs and railing systems, primarily cable rail, with an emphasis on design and workmanship. In addition to custom work, Keuka Studios offers its signature brand — the Keuka Style cable railing — as well as many other styles, such as the Ithaca Style railing.

Keuka Style cable railing in Medicine Lodge, Kansas.

Aside from an aesthetically pleasing set of stairs, there was one aspect to the puzzle that White needed to perfect: safety. It’s his top priority, but it can’t be addressed by physical testing. Keuka Studios doesn’t get the opportunity to build physical prototypes, due to the size and cost of stairs — they must get it right the first time. Plus, the company does a lot of custom work, so the “prototype” is the final build.

“We make a drawing and design, and go back and forth with the customer many times to get it right and then build it, it’s like a prototype, but it’s got to work right out of the chute,” said White. The company doesn’t create multiple prototypes, as is common in the mechanical design world: “It’s got to be ‘one and done,’” White continued. “We can’t afford to make mistakes.”

White reached out to ANSYS and was introduced to ANSYS Discovery SpaceClaim 3D modeling software, which helps with design, fit, and function for Keuka Studios’ stair designs. Keuka’s designers appreciate the direct modeling nature of ANSYS Discovery SpaceClaim, where it’s simple to construct 3D models and make one-off or drastic changes with ease.

Adopting Discovery Live for Simulation Challenges

In the design of architectural components like stairs and railings, the designer or architect has an aesthetic vision for the project. However, structural engineers are involved in these types of projects also, and generally have different goals that are often at odds with the aesthetic vision. White has always believed that strength and beauty should go hand in hand, so he decided to try ANSYS’s newest product, called Discovery Live, which brings instant performance/simulation data integrated with Discovery SpaceClaim geometry modeling. This enabled him to use the right amount and type of material by simulating actual loading conditions and material strength, all while meeting the customer’s demands.

Complex geometry is another challenge, and it is difficult to analyze. Prior to ANSYS, Keuka Studios would “do what everyone else does — overdesign it. This would make everything heavier, and it complicates rigging and assembly at the sites,” White explained. “We didn’t have a way to optimize the design.”

A custom Keuka spiral staircase.

Once Keuka Studios builds a staircase, it gets shipped directly to the jobsite, and because Keuka doesn’t perform the installation, it’s got to fit perfect. “It’s got to be beautiful, and it’s got to work,” White added. “And number one, it’s got be safe.”

White said in one instance, a customer wanted things to look visually lighter than what White had suggested for the build, and sure enough, he learned the hard way. At the time White didn’t have a way to analyze the design, so they built the spiral staircase as requested and it was wiggly because it had too little material. With 200 hours invested, White decided he was not going to start over.

Analysis Leads to Solutions

At that point, White imported the geometry into ANSYS Discovery Live to quickly perform a structural analysis and see what his options were. With the software, he discovered it was a relatively simple change to make the design work. The architect got the design he wanted, and Keuka Studios was happy with the rigidity of the design.

Keuka Studios has integrated 3D laser scanning and 3D modeling with ANSYS SpaceClaim to ensure a perfect fit. “No one designs their house around our railing; we have to design our stairs and railings around whatever they have built,” said White. “How do we know if the design is going to fit? That’s the challenge. We only get one shot.”

He said his laser scanner has basically been a lifesaver, along with the ability to easily make changes to a 3D design in ANSYS Discovery SpaceClaim. One project where the software helped White meet the demands of the customer was for a high-end home in Greenwich, Connecticut. The architect requested very thin stair stringer members — thinner than White was comfortable with. So White modeled the design in 3D and it looked like it was going to work, but he wanted a second opinion. Since he had just started using the software, he consulted a professional engineer (P.E.). Initially, the engineer didn’t think the calculations were going to work, based on White’s design, so White initiated a screen share and opened ANSYS Discovery Live.

Stress distributions in Discovery Live.

White assured the engineer that the model and the software were accurate. “This is the software used to design rockets, so I’m pretty confident; however, I am new to the software, so I would like to verify my numbers,” said White. After the engineer ran the calculations, he agreed with White.

For the Greenwich project, Keuka Studios was able to meet the architect’s request and reduce the stair stringer thickness from 7" to 2". This made both the architect and homeowner happy, and there was a significant material cost savings.

Stair stringers shown before and after using ANSYS Discovery Live. Simulation confirmed thinner materials, as compared to tubes, would be strong enough to support loads.

Since using ANSYS Discovery Live, White has been able to keep his customers happy and make more optimized designs. “There is a big risk for a fabricator to go into a design and start to make material thinner and shapes smaller to try and get it lighter.”

The Benefits of Optimized Designs

Along with simple hand calculations, and trusting his gut after 30 years of industry experience, White now has the software to help him get the facts to back up the direction he’s going. “My intuition is pretty good, but still sometimes things are counterintuitive when you’re dealing with complex shapes, and a lot of times you look at things and they are right where you think they should be, but once in a while you get surprised,” said White.

ANSYS Discovery Live has helped take the guesswork out of Keuka Studios’ designs and eliminate overdesigning, according to White. When designing the Keuka Style railing many years ago, he hired an engineer to help verify the design. The engineer suggested he “beef up” the design and increase material thickness. He recently ran those numbers in ANSYS software, which showed that he could actually reduce the thickness of the Keuka model by quite a bit. “You mean to tell me I can get the same functionality out of it? It goes to show how much money I have wasted over the years,” White said.

All in all, White has discovered that with ANSYS software, simulations behave like real-world parts. “It has given us the confidence to try more complex designs and reduce costs by optimizing designs more.”

Keuka Style spiral staircase drawing.

First Impressions

Overall, White said he has a pretty good understanding of using ANSYS Discovery Live, and that setting it up was “child’s play.” “The initial learning to set up a problem and run it was achievable in a few minutes,” White added. “It helps that I am already a SpaceClaim user.” When asked if he’d recommend ANSYS Discovery SpaceClaim to others, he said yes, without hesitation — and he has already done so.

One thing is for sure, White said: Since he began using ANSYS Discovery Live, he’s been sleeping more at night! “Now I can build a product and rest assured that it will be safe,” said White. “[With ANSYS Discovery Live] you’ve got direction on what’s going to work, and you build your product based on that.

“We only get one shot when we build it, and it’s not just a prototype, it’s the final product.”

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