Reaping the rewards of moving from 2D to 3D

By taking the leap from 2D to 3D CAD, a manufacturer of cathodes is seeing a raft of benefits, including better productivity and a faster design cycle, writes Dean Palmer

"We expect to see a return on our [3D CAD] investment within 12 to 18 months and in the long term we hope to increase production volumes by at least 50% with the same five design engineers," explained Dr Dermot Monaghan, owner of Gencoa, a company based in Liverpool that designs and manufactures magnetron sputter cathodes for machine builders and end users in the CD, DVD and computer hard drives manufacturing industry.

He continued: "In the past, the bottleneck was always the design process and a major part of production costs was design time. Now that can be changed, enabling us to increase turnover and reduce production costs. Quality should also improve as it's more difficult to make mistakes in the new software."

Until 2004, design work at Gencoa's was done in 2D, using ParaCAD. Monaghan realised that to stay competitive, the company had to step up a gear. He explained: "Our 2D package was good but it required extensive re-drawing even for small changes to a product. Also, it was hard to visualise products and assembly drawings were only available at the end of the process, a stage when changes are hard to make.

"Although we could create everything in 2D, some complex geometrics took a long time and we were finding that more and more machine builders wanted 3D models to integrate into their complete machine design. So, whilst they're not an essential requirement now, the time will come when everyone expects them."

Gencoa felt the cost of moving to 3D was prohibitive in the past, but recently approached Birmingham-based reseller of PTC's Pro/Engineer 'Wildfire' 3D modelling software, Concurrent Engineering. After a demo of the software, Gencoa bought five seats, one for each member of the design team. Monaghan commented: "Two of our designers were already proficient in Pro/E, the other three received training and were up to speed within six weeks."

He went on to say that the design engineers had "become more productive very quickly" and that disruption was "much less than had been anticipated".

He concluded: "Wildfire cuts out a lot of repeat operations via mirroring and pasting, which speeds up the design cycle and ultimately reduces the lead time for our customers. It also makes it much easier for customers to visualise our products so there's a better understanding between us, especially during the proposal stage when we're discussing design options."

And internal communication has also improved at Gencoa. As Monaghan explained: "The designers enjoy using the software and are developing their modelling skills. Now it's easier for them to share work and transfer elements from one design to another, and they are finding the semi-automated nature of production drawings a particularly useful feature."

Tom Shelley

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