3D CAD’s warm embrace

Tom Shelley reports on some dramatic business benefits achieved by 3D CAD users and new capabilities in the latest versions of software

A specialist automotive company now takes on five major projects per year, instead of one or two – and with the same number of engineers. Another firm reduces tasks that typically took eight hours to just minutes.
It’s all down to fully embracing 3D CAD and PLM. Most critical is the ability to be able to show realistic representations of designs to customers at an early stage, securing orders that might otherwise have gone to competitors and avoiding the need to change designs that have already started to be manufactured.
The company undertaking the five major development projects at the same time is Wrightbus, which makes nearly 1,000 buses per year in what director of IT Martin Graham described as a “cottage industry” in Ballymena, Northern Ireland.
“We have customers who constantly change what they want,” said Graham, speaking at the recent PTC World event in Solihull. Recent major projects include tri-axled double decker buses for Hong Kong and hybrid bendy buses for Las Vegas, driven by 450kW of electric motors, with the engines only used for battery charging and an acceleration capability of 0 to 30mph in 10s.
Two of Wrightbus’s 30 engineers added that development projects included accommodating legislation changes, including those relating to end of life.
“We have to look at recyclables; the buses do not externally look very different, but inside they are,” he said.
Hybrid technology, they acknowledged, brings its own set of problems.
Wrightbus has been using PTC’s Pro/Engineer since 2000, starting with just two seats, and also uses PDM/Link V8. Graham explained that a PLM philosophy had to be adopted.
“Engineering did its own thing in its own way and our processes wouldn’t sustain our planned growth. We needed to reduce cycle times.”
There was also the imperative of getting to market more quickly, as well as the need to give visualisation to others who needed it in the business.
“We want the customer to see the design at an early stage, not when 30 buses are already at various stages on the production line,” said Graham.
The process of transformation is still very much ongoing, he adds. “We are going to do more about change management in our work flow. We have a complex design process; we want to get to a simplified system. Have we got all the beneficials? No, because we are not finished yet.”
Where next for Wrightbus? Graham lists ERP integration, documentation control, 2D integration, a visual audit of BOMs and visualisation for the (largely unskilled) shop floor, so it would be an advantage to provide something better than the hard copy job cards used at present.

Sky-high orders
Adrian Plant, project design manager for Sony Professional Solutions, later described how his company had contracted PTC to develop a rack assembly utility for the mobile studios they produce for Sky and other television networks. The studios, built in Basingstoke, sell for 2 to 8 million euros and business is expanding, but customers want them quickly. The good news is that a rack build used to take eight hours to design, whereas now they are being completed in three minutes.
The utility includes a number of clever tweaks. So if, for example, it can’t find a particular unit in the database, it generates a dummy box that can be given a text label.
“We shouldn’t lose too many deals, because we can show the customer what he can expect for nine million euros,” said Plant. “We are now working on the next stage to improve the process further.” Hearing how they generated models in 3D to secure orders, it was a little surprising to learn that cabling was not included. “We use very skilled wiring crews,” he explained. “The ultimate deliverable is a 2D drawing. The technicians work to 2D drawings, but the customers need to see a 3D mock-up.”

Wildfire for the future
Due to the importance of visual appearances and visualisations to show to potential customers in order to secure orders, PTC has put a lot of effort into surface handling and visualisation in the forthcoming release of Pro/Engineer, Wildfire 4.0.
It will, for example, be possible to take a scene image and set the system to light the object, based on the lighting seen in the image. In the words of PTC’s Paul Sagar: “You can take an image of a courtyard and a model of a car, and the car will be in the courtyard.”
As regards creating surfaces, a ‘ghost curve’ shows what a curve was like before it was modified; and, by creating a small or narrow feature using a small-sized mesh, and then increasing the mesh size, it is possible to adjust a surface, while the smaller scale features remain unchanged.
Other enhancements in V4.0 include a simplification of assembly workflows: the part to be attached can be added to the onscreen cursor, then the software indicate sites to which it can be attached. The sketcher facility now has four diagnostic tools, so a user can quickly discover the causes of problems in sketches produced by others, while part modelling includes an Auto Round facility. This was present in version 3, but, if invoked, applied fillets or rounded corners to everything. It can now be applied to selected corners or edges only; or to everything except selected corners or edges. A lot of attention has been paid to the automatic generation of holes, which can now have various threads, tapers and ends. There are also 28 enhancements to 2D drawings, while 3D annotations are now said to have become highly usable. Granite Cross Release Interoperability allows exchange of models to and from versions 3 and 2, and there are interfaces for all the usual major CAD packages, including 3D PDFs.

* Wrightbus used Windchill to help it take on five projects a year – up from one or two – with no extra engineers
* Sony Professional Solutions can now design a rack assembly in three minutes, rather than eight hours
* New features include simplified workflows, so products can be ‘attached’ to an onscreen cursor

Tom Shelley

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