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Feet First, Eyes Forward

Taking all of your designers and leaping from 2D design to 3D solid modeling all at once (and in less than a year) is like going from using a bicycle to maneuvering a space shuttle in one easy leap. It sounds improbable, but 3D Engineering, Inc. has proven that it's not impossible.

Die for a dashboard fascia
What you're looking at here is a die for a dashboard fascia. Using UG/Photo, 3D Engineering's system administrator Dave Dowlei has created a pretty accurate representation of what the finished die will look like.

 

Most companies switch from 2D to 3D design in baby steps. They use various systems that upgrade slowly to accommodate learning and technology curves along the way. Or they buy one seat at a time, taking sometimes years to get everyone up to speed. 3D Engineering, Inc. (Livonia, MI), however, has enjoyed a rare combination of having the capital, time, enthusiasm from personnel, and training from the provider, Unigraphics Solutions (Maryland Heights, MO) to make the switch in record time.

3D Engineering is a company that creates die designs for its parent company, Greenfield Die & Manufacturing. Greenfield, in turn, creates the dies for its parent company, Shiloh Industries. And they're not small dies. Drawings of die designs in progress can take up entire walls, even after they've scaled down to a quarter of the actual size.

After creating a basic die design from the CAD file of a part, a wireframe model would be created. Then pages and pages of dimensional data and drawings would be generated, and electronic CAD data file would be created. Then Greenfield would convert the 2D CAD program into a 3D solid model.

Not only was this a big duplication of work, but 2D design, by its nature, is open to interpretation in many areas. "Not everything was designed into them. Things like transition areas and hidden surfaces aren't considered in 2D design," explains Mark McQueen, one of 3D's designers. Surfaces not actually represented in the 2D models would be "interpreted" as the 3D surfaces created at Greenfield. Then any inconsistencies in trying to make the die resulted in lengthy stoppages as the correct interpretation was discussed among designers.

It didn't take a huge leap in logic to figure out that eliminating duplication and improving overall throughput would mean upgrading both the design software and hardware systems. And so the (sometimes) agonizing process of benchmarking began. Once it came down to it, Unigraphics was chosen both for its modularity, and for its comprehensive training services.

Once the system was in place, everyone went in for hybrid modeling training, for an overall view of the system. From there, each user was given additional training based on function (design, drafting, design for assembly, etc.). At this point, instead of getting cut loose to wreak havoc on the design world, an on-site mentor stepped in for further assistance. In this case, the mentor, Joe Carnaghi, an advanced application engineer at Unigraphics, worked with the staff to provide options, and different ways of thinking about how to attack projects. "We had a lot of brainstorming sessions, where we would say `This is what we want in the end,'" says process engineer Dan Kardel. "Joe would help us decide which way would be best to go. He'd be there to say, `Well, if you want to do this, here's what the result's going to be. Try going down this path.'"

"Basically we do this so that people don't get stuck in a rut of doing things just one way," says Carnaghi. "Eventually that leads to a lot of `can't do that' attitudes, when the reality is, you can do it, you just have to consider a different way to get there."

At this point, all designers have pretty much made the switch from the old system to Unigraphics. "Really, it happened much faster than I thought," says Ken Schmid, design manager. In fact, they were five months ahead of schedule. Why so fast? The main reason is enthusiasm. It seems that once the designers started taking a look at what was being done with the Unigraphics system, they all wanted to try it.

The other is research. Not only did the company spend a lot of man hours benchmarking software, but hardware as well. They wanted to make sure that the system failures and glitches were as minimal as possible. "The equipment we've got is outstanding," says systems administrator Dave Dowlei. "We haven't seen many hitches at all."

Ten months into the changeover, and things are going very well. Carnaghi has worked his way out of 3D Engineering altogether, and they are on the way to being back to their original turnover time for getting designs out the door. "I've seen a steady slope back down to where we need to be," says Schmid.

"Once they had a basic idea of the system, they grabbed the bull by the horns and attacked current projects," says Carnaghi. "I give these guys a lot of credit. Not only did they go from 2D to 3D, but from one system to another system. And from wire frame straight to solids. Not many companies make such a dramatic shift in thinking all at once, and as successfully as these guys have."

Learning curve aside, there have been improvements made in the over all scheme of things, but so far, not at 3D Engineering, but at Greenfield. "The real improvement so far has been at Greenfield. They've eliminated a whole step in the process. They're pretty much ready to go when they get the solid model data from us," notes Schmid.