I recently met with a number of companies who are focusing on bringing their design engineers together with other members of their corporate teams. The circle of influence over the design process continues to grow. Often involved in this process are industrial designers, management, manufacturing engineers, electrical engineers, even customers and others with a stake in a design’s success.
The ability for members of the team unversed in parametric MCAD to contribute to the up-front design process has become a key component in the product-development cycle because it can shorten time to market and deliver a better product. The tools that are emerging in this area are easy to use and dramatically improve the design process. Developing a detailed model of a product and evaluating it before it moves to the parametric stage can now be accomplished easily and affordably.
I heard an interesting visualization story at SolidWorks World last month. Until recently, rendering was the domain of video and film production companies. Now, however, it is moving into engineering rapidly because of success stories like this: Maxwell Render has a client, Concept Center International (CCi), who demonstrated that investment in the upfront design process can return great benefits.
In 2007, CCi’s design team was proposing a new pressure washer to Home Depot. The proposal was different because the team believed the pressure washer could be sold on its design merits the way cell phones or music devices are, rather than on its specs and power ratings. The design team produced a pressure washer that looked like a big toy, right down to its “mag” wheels. They had the design completed, but had not yet built a prototype.
Historically, that might have been a problem due to the great differences between existing pressure-washer designs and CCi’s new concept. CCi decided against spending big money on making a prototype before securing the deal because they had access to emerging technology. Rather than simply present CAD screenshots of the design, CCi created high-resolution rendered images of the pressure washer developed from its CAD drawings using multiple, animated light sources. The results were so realistic that Home Depot signed the order and CCi completed a design that was quickly manufactured.
Using visualization software reduced the risk and shortened the time to market.
The same benefits are available from direct modeling software and other 3D tools that help facilitate collaboration and allow design engineers to eliminate bottlenecks in the design-analyze-manufacture workflow. Tools are emerging that enable moving simulation to the front of the design process, and free or low-cost 3D MCAD packages that are easy to learn are helping technically minded individuals to innovate before moving designs into a parametric process. All of this makes for a faster and more efficient design process, saving time in prototyping and manufacturing, and reducing operational overhead.
And it brings individuals who might not have been involved into the design process. Conceptual models can be shared and easily edited by all who have a stake in the design, and everyone can visualize it. In the long run, increasing the use of visualization will significantly expand the use of 3D modeling from the designer’s office to the boardroom and from the marketer’s desk to the manufacturing floor. Designs will improve and innovation will increase. Collaboration is the key to success in our engineering future.
Steve Robbins is the CEO of Level 5 Communications and executive editor of DE. Send comments about this subject to DE-Editors@deskeng.com.