Taking 3D learning to another dimension

3D is a vital design tool – but it takes some handling, as Tom Shelley finds out



Designing in 3D is becoming increasingly essential – especially if the product is to be designed in conjunction with, or for, others. But there is still something of a learning curve to be gone through to design with efficiency in solid form, even with some of the easier-to-use packages.
It is certainly a must-have tool for designers at the Portuguese Martifer Group, which designs large structures for airports, stadia and renewable power generation. Jorge Martins, vice president and founder of the group, told a gathering in Barcelona recently that both markets and customers demanded its use now.
Domingo Ochoa of GTA, a small Spanish racing team that has designed a 800HP sports supercar, explained how it had started with 2D sketches, but quickly had to translate them into a 3D design, in order to solve problems such as designing the integral glass roof, which, he said, “has to be a perfect fit or it will leak”.
The team could not afford much access to a wind tunnel, so all the initial aerodynamic analysis had to be simulated. This was undertaken using SolidWorks Flow Simulation, while parts were stress analysed using the FEA package. All the surfacing was also done in SolidWorks and the team are going straight to a pre-production car. The only hardware prototypes are a scale model and a cockpit mock-up to generate orders.
Meanwhile, a humanoid robotic waiter, developed in Barcelona for Pal Robotics in Abu Dhabi, boasts thousands of components, including more than 1,000 aluminium alloy mechanised parts, and depends heavily on 3D CAD. General manager Davide Faconti cites as reasons for working in 3D: “Easy data sharing with manufacturers and collaborators using eDrawings” and “easy CAD acquisition of commercial elements from on-line libraries”.
He was able to demonstrate his REEM B robot sitting down, standing up, walking about, grasping a can of fizzy drink and handing it to him in response to voice control. While the machine is clearly a toy for the rich person who has everything else, Faconti insists it is something that will be turned into product. However, he adds: “The first robot we commercialise will have wheels”.
Some of the machine’s mechanical engineering is impressive, including the fact that each arm only weighs 7kg, yet can lift 6kg, and, if pushed, can recover its balance. Walking speed is 1.5km/h and battery life two hours.

Shaping up to the challenge
During the visit in Barcelona, Eureka had the opportunity to try out some of the new features of SolidWorks 2009. While it wasn’t too difficult to generate solids based on rectangular and circular blocks without previous instruction, we quickly ran into problems generating more complex shapes.
Using ‘SpeedPaks’, for example – the Solidworks method of reducing very complex models with large numbers of components into something that can be quickly loaded and handled on screen – was extremely challenging. So was setting up an FEA analysis.
The new PhotoView 360 rendering package, however, really is intuitive. The user only has to click on materials and colours and textures, and drag and drop them onto the appropriate parts of the assembly, and the software immediately starts to show how things are going to work out. And, if you don’t like what is happening, there is no need to wait for it to finish: you can drag and drop something else and try that instead. If only the rest of 3D CAD were as easy as this.

Pointers

* 3D CAD is being increasingly seen as essential by collaborators and the market

* It greatly eases the setting up of finite element and computational fluid dynamic modelling to evaluate possible designs before committing to hardware

* Solidworks 2009’s ‘SpeedPaks’ were difficult to set up, but the rendering package was intuitive

Author
Tom Shelley

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