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Coping with collaboration: software helps parties communicate a product to market.

Every design team has experienced the difficulty of collaborating with different in-house departments and outside vendors. There are usually numerous CAD systems in use and, as Murphy's Law would have it, your next project relies on one with which your team has no experience. Converting CAD designs into a format you can work with, or quote from, can turn into hours if not days. If that isn't frustrating enough, there's the cost incurred when sending revisions back and forth between design and production.

For Eifel Mold and Design, this problem was especially acute. The company tackles over 200 different custom jobs per year, creating design models, production molds, fixtures and performs prototype tooling, with a long history of applying practical use of advanced technologies. "As you can imagine, we work with a lot of different CAD file formats," says Sean Halpin, design engineering manager at Eifel. "Even more important, we deal with different customers who have different styles of doing business. We needed a system that not only let us view any CAD file, but made it easy to comment on and share comments with our customers."

Purchasing Decision

Eifel used to have a high degree of frustration dealing with CAD design communications. Then, one day a client introduced Halpin to Actify 3DView by pointing him to Actify's website. "We had no idea a product like this was out there," says Halpin, "but once we saw it, we could immediately see how it could drastically improve our bottom line."

Halpin downloaded the free trial version of 3DView, and loaded several of the designs Eifel was then producing. All of them loaded quickly and easily, prompting Halpin to purchase 3DView on the spot. In the years since then, Eifel has added several licenses to enable more participation throughout its organization. Halpin hastens to point out that 3DView paid for itself the first time Eifel used it.

Eifel recently used 3DView to facilitate the collaboration process and shorten design time in working with Power Corporation to design the PowerCope electric coping saw. The machine would be a motorized version of the hand coping saw, allowing professional or amateur craftspeople to maneuver through any angle for the intricate cuts required in the art of coping. To do this they needed to house the tool's components, including a 5A variable speed motor, in an ergonomic package. A comfortable pivoting and swiveling handle allows an operator to make the artistic turns and accurate cuts necessary while sawing, while eliminating the hand and wrist fatigue that occurs from manual coping.

In designing a complex tool with so many variables, 3D design visualization is a must. Because a diverse group of professionals are involved in design and manufacturing, collaboration is a must as well.

Estimating and review

3DView first came into the process in the estimating phase. Power Corporation submitted their request-for-proposal design in its native CAD file format. In order to put together the proposal, Eifel used 3DView to examine the design's dimensions and mass properties. Rather than training salespeople on a half a dozen different CAD systems, or having to pull designers off of a job they are working on, 3DView allows anyone to produce an estimate for a potential project. According to Halpin, 3DView's computational capabilities allowed him to compute volume, surface area, distance, radii and angles. "3DView allowed us to get an accurate quote to Power Corporation in minimal time," says Halpin.

3Dview also saved Eifel and Power Corporation a considerable amount of time during the design review process. When the initial design came in, Eifel's designers had several questions about different parts and several requests for clarification. The native design was converted into a 3DView file, and notes were added to the various parts -- essentially putting post-it notes on a virtual 3D model. Security and accuracy are maintained because direct changes can not be made to the drawings. Using 3DView's email capabilities, Eifel was able to send a highly compressed version of the design back to Power Corporation, with all questions attached. "While this was not a problem with Power Corporation, sometimes we run into customers with very slow networks. 3DView's file compression saves us a lot of time," adds Halpin.

An uppermost concern in designing PowerCope was how to package all the internal components like the motors, wire harness, switches, and gears and still make the final product ergonomically friendly (the product ultimately required about sixteen plastic components). For Ethan Dean, the man behind the PowerCope saw, assembly trees enabled him to have selective view of parts of the entire product so he could hone in on a particular problem area. Real-time cross sectioning allowed all users to examine specific sections, as well as conduct measurements or view a particular section in 2D for manufacturing purposes.

Ease of learning

Dean admits to not being the most computer literate person on the team, but a laptop PC was all he needed to interface with Eifel concerning the product's look and functional design. 3DView adheres to popular Windows interface standards, which reduces training time to become proficient. Dean says learning the software took him about fifteen minutes, which Halpin backs up, adding, "That's why we use 3DView. I tell all my customers that after fifteen minutes of training, they're certified. They can put it on their resumes."

One of the most crucial steps in design is sign-off. Sometimes the process involves multiple people on the customer side, some of whom may not only not be familiar with CAD systems, they may not use computers very often at all. "Getting involved in signoff was easy," says Dean. "Downloading the software was a cinch, and everyone who needed it could get it directly from the Web. Our IT department never even had to touch it." Using 3DView, the final design was passed around, and reviewers were able to put their approval directly on the design.

"The PowerCope design process is an excellent example of why we use 3DView exclusively," says Halpin. "3DView makes our process for delivering high quality products fast and reliable. We collaborate with hundreds of people at a time, and 3DView makes that collaboration easy. We let others spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a rigid collaboration environment. We have found that 3DView's communications provide the advantages of collaboration without the price-tag."

For more information:

Circle 345--Actify, or connect directly to their website via the Online Reader Service Program at www.rsleads.com/205df-345 (Note: evaluation copies of 3DView can be downloaded for free from this site)

Circle 346--Eifle Mold and Engineering, or connect directly at www.rsteads.com/205df-346

Circle 347--Power Corporation or connect directly at www.rsleads.com/205df-347 (Note. a PowerCope saw video on this site)
COPYRIGHT 2002 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Designfax
Date:May 1, 2002
Words:1118
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