Configurator
Since 1991, Engineering Design Automation has been helping manufacturing companies dramatically increase their sales, engineering, drafting, and manufacturing productivity, keeping them competitive in tough marketplaces.

Clean Earth Environmental Group


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Custom trucks and related equipment for cleanup jobs such as industrial waste and municipal sewage


Since 1991 Clean Earth Environmental Group (CEEG) has manufactured custom trucks and related equipment for important cleanup jobs such as industrial waste and municipal sewage. Every truck that rolls out of CEEG must not only get the job done, but also comply with regulations from city level all the way up to federal level. Each level of regulations increases the complexity of the design, providing unique design challenges for each truck.


For years their designs were presented to the manufacturing shop as hundreds of 2D drawings. However, as the company grew, they found that persistent design problems were hampering company profitability. CEEG had no reliable means of detecting potential problems with new or customized designs.


Most customization time was spent rearranging the pieces of a truck, with a reliance on guesswork and trial-and-error. Even in the final stages of checking the truck, it was typical to find small problems that had to be fixed.


Each little piece of a Clean Earth truck that has to be remanufactured must be cut, welded, painted, and attached to the main truck. Even the smallest design error costs approximately $180 to fix, and major revisions could run into several thousand dollars. The company tried analyzing their 2D drawings to find the source of the errors, with little success. A solution had to be found. Paul Comstock, CEEG Director of Engineering, already had some familiarity with SolidWorks when he decided that 3D models would be the best way to eliminate their design problems. CEEG computer network consultant John Thomas of TKS recommended outsourcing the 2D to 3D conversion. He put CEEG in touch with Engineering Design Automation, Inc. (EDA).


EDA, a SolidWorks Solution Partner with a specialty in design automation, was able to complete a quick SolidWorks demo showing a simplified truck with a few moving parts that utilized SolidWorks collision detection. Since collision of truck elements was one of CEEG's recurring problems, this ignited their imaginations about the possibilities of a solid design solution. In spring of 2001, EDA began consulting with CEEG about their project. EDA President Hiroshi Takaki began by conducting a thorough evaluation of the current CEEG system. Some of the major problems he discovered:

  • Lack of company-wide design standards.
  • Missing sub-assembly drawings, resulting in incomplete data about how to put the trucks together.
  • Significant discrepancies between the Bill of Material (BOM) listing from their MRP system and the BOM listing from the engineering drawings.
  • Design bottleneck, where even a fairly standard truck took about four weeks to design.
  • Discrepancies between manufactured trucks and specifications indicated on engineering drawings.

The approach that CEEG and EDA decided on was to start by creating "base assemblies" of the SafeVac and SafeJetVac, two of CEEG's most high-end trucks. A SolidWorks design automation program would automatically assemble standard configurations of the base assemblies. The assemblies built by the automated program would become a stable, working foundation for later customization. EDA got to work building 3D models based on the 2D drawings that had been used to construct the trucks. Each truck model required more than 600 individual solids. However, the most difficult work began when the individual pieces were being joined into assemblies and sub-assemblies. Many necessary drawings were missing, or lacking sufficient detail for the assembly to be clear. There also turned out to be even more design errors than CEEG thought. "Things didn't fit," said Hiroshi Takaki. "We had to go back to Clean Earth to find out if the mistake was ours or in the drawings. We would go back to the shop and be told, 'yeah, we know this doesn't work, but we've been fixing it on the shop floor.' That was a typical answer I got when interviewing the production manager." For example, one hydraulic tank was engineered with sides that didn't actually meet up when manufactured, so welding was used to bridge the gap. But the welding would leak because so much of it was used--resulting in costly, inconvenient repairs.


"Also, it's a cosmetic issue--you see a big old line of weld going down one side, and anybody who knows anything about tanks knows what that is," said Paul Comstock.

Another tank, the SafeJetVac water tank, was being placed into a cradle with the same radius as the tank, which caused the tank to become deformed. The boom--a key moving part that swivels around to allow hoses to be placed where they are needed--was colliding with other parts of the tank.


This water tank is being forced into a cradle with the same radius as the tank, resulting in unnecessary wear.

The solid model of the same water tank shows interference lines indicating the design problem.


EDA staff found it particularly challenging to construct assemblies from SolidWorks pieces that didn't quite fit together. Easy mating strategies were often impossible. Instead, they had to create many customized planes and construction lines to join the solids. It took about two months to complete each truck design.


"This is the main benefit of outsourcing when you make the leap to 3D. Our engineers didn't have to stop production and learn SolidWorks. If they waited for that, they would never have gotten it done," said Paul Comstock. Also, he knew that EDA had the skills to build 3D models and assemblies specifically for use by automated programs.


"We really benefited from Hiroshi's knowledge and teaching of structure," he said.

The conversion from 2D to 3D is an excellent opportunity for companies to thoroughly examine their designs, to eliminate errors and redundancy, and to improve consistency. This is an important advantage of contracting a knowledgeable SolidWorks service provider, rather than using a bare-bones conversion service that will simply replicate all your 2D problems in 3D.


By late summer 2001, CEEG had their 3D base assemblies and automated program to dramatically speed development and customization time. The Truck Configurator program has a simple dialog box interface that allows even employees who don't know SolidWorks to create standard truck assembly variations based on tank length, truck chassis, and blower style. This program makes a selection using built-in SolidWorks configurations. For each sub-assembly the designer creates 2D drawings of three major views plus the perspective view. Then, the designer or another CAD operator uses AutoCAD to add detailed manufacturing information.


SafeJetVac SolidWorks assembly.


"When a customer calls us up, 9 times out of 10 he's going to order the truck in a configuration we've never done before," said Paul Comstock. This used to mean coming up with new assembly drawings from scratch. With SolidWorks, it means making modifications to existing base models. The designer uses the Truck Configurator to create an appropriate design variation, then copies the SolidWorks files to a different directory. The models and assemblies are modified as the client requires, and each modification is tested thoroughly for interference or other problems. Then, the 2D drawings are sent to the shop.


He estimates that his design time has been cut in half with the new system, allowing them to unveil new designs with a lot more confidence. "We know we're not going to be out there at the last minute hacking and burning trying to get stuff to fit," he said.


Other benefits include better documentation and communication with the shop, and with their customers.


"We've never been able to do exploded views of our sub-assemblies before," said Paul Comstock. They are creating a new manual for truck assembly, to increase the speed with which the trucks are built. They are also updating an owner's manual, which was five years out of date and not terribly detailed.


Moving to SolidWorks has speeded up company procedures, and also opened up new possibilities. "We have never done prototypes," said Paul Comstock. "We can't afford to build a truck that won't be sold. So if we had an idea for improving the truck design, we would be calling up our customers and asking, 'hey, can we have permission to experiment on your truck?'"


SolidWorks allows the company not only to build prototypes of new truck designs, but also to apply new and powerful analysis tools such as Finite Element Analysis with the Cosmos package.


"Right now we're making 140 trucks a year, and our owner wants to increase that to 200," said Paul Comstock. "He's bought another shop like this one, and wants to increase the total to 800. Last year if somebody had come and said that to me I would have quit. I'd be out flipping burgers.


"But now it's a possibility. We're already adding seven different product lines to our current menu--areas we would never have thought of a year ago. The fact that we have these tools is allowing us to say, 'yes we can do it.'"


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Blanking Systems Inc.


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Consistent, Reusable and Reliable Blanking Frames and Accessories

EDA developed the BSI Tool Designer (BSI-TD), a specialized CAD-based application that makes it easy to manipulate files created by die layout design programs. With BSI-TD, a user can quickly create a blanking tool based upon a specific die layout file. More than just a design and parts assembly program, the BSI-TD program creates a CAD drawing and bending instructions for grid bars and presser rails and generates output files for laser machines. It keeps track of all the components used to design the blanking tool and their pricing, so when the tool design is complete, the program provides a Part Summary Report listing all drawing components and their total cost.  A single click and this report is submitted to BSI as an order for their blanking equipment. 


In conjuction with BSI, EDA has developed software to control a hydraulic-bending machine for the purpose of bending the grid bars designed by the BSI Tool Designer (BSI-TD) program. This software takes into account both materal spring back and material lengthing at various bend angles, thus allowing grid bar material to be bent perfectly the first time, which in turn reduces both material waste and lost man hours.


Finally, EDA developed a a "Members Only" section of the BSI website where BSI-approved users can create an account and access the latest demos and full versions of the BSI Tool Designer software.


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LEWCO Inc.


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A complete line of conveyors and related material handling equipment

LEWCO, Inc. manufactures a varied line of pre-engineered material handling equipment for material handling system integrators and end users. They receive most of their orders via their conveyor catalog, which allows customers to specify the length, width, height and other options on their conveyor orders. LEWCO wanted to move their designs to a 3D environment, and also implement sales automation, next-day delivery of custom orders, fewer design errors and lower manufacturing costs. To meet these objectives, EDA developed an automated system based in SolidWorks (a 3D modeler) for over 80 models of conveyor frames listed in LEWCO's catalog.



Conversion from 2D to 3D

LEWCO's engineering department was using over two thousand AutoCAD master drawings, each of which contained design rules for that model's specific lengths, widths, heights, sections, etc. As an initial step in the automation process, EDA converted those two thousand AutoCAD master drawings into just over two hundred master solids, with all of the possible configurations for that model embedded in it. In this conversion process, many design formula errors and inconsistencies were uncovered and standardized.


A quick tour of the automated system

EDA integrated SolidWorks, Access, Excel, AutoCAD LT, and Optimation software for a seamless and efficient automated system. The system begins in Access, with configuration questions based on the sales database LEWCO had already developed. As the sales specifications are entered into the product configurator, the program uses LEWCO's design logic to automatically eliminate choices that would result in incorrect conveyor configuration.


Once the conveyor has been configured, the automated system converts the sales specifications into exact engineering specifications and sends them to an Excel program for engineering calculations. Excel applies design formulas to the specifications and calculates the locations of all the holes in the conveyor frame. The results of Excel's calculations are passed via EDA's Solid Design Controller program to SolidWorks, where they drive parametric solid models and assemblies. The result is three-dimensional parts and assemblies created based on engineering design rules. Using SolidWorks' sheet metal feature, corresponding 2D layout drawings in .DXF file format are also created from these solid models. AutoCAD LT and the Optimation program then prepare these .DXF files so they can be used as laser cutting machine-ready files. This entire process-from sales order to laser machine-ready file-takes less than five minutes. LEWCO is now promising 24-hour delivery on any of their conveyors which can be processed by the automated system.


The Solid Design Controller

Our programming team developed the Solid Design Controller (SDC) program to externally manipulate SolidWorks to build models on the fly. The SDC program keeps track of paths and program settings, opens and runs the design programs, and uses API calls to create SolidWorks part and assembly files.


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M. D. Henry


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Steel poles and lace tower structures for power transmission lines

EDA worked with the staff of the M.D. Henry Co. of Birmingham, Alabama to develop two distinct automation software applications: the Rapid Product Configurator (RPC) and the M.D. Henry Pole Flat Pattern Program. The first application, the Rapid Product Configurator, allows M.D. Henry staff to configure their steel structure products and to automate their Bill of Materials, Shipping, Material list, and other reports. This highly specialized software:

  • Automates the creation of the Bill of Material (BOM) Lists and Shipping Lists based on product configuration.
  • Automates the creation of other reports, such as Cut lists, Revision reports, Shop material order reports, etc.
  • Increases the speed and accuracy of AutoCAD drawing production.
  • Calculates the weights of all required pieces based on their material ID and the length specified during product configuration.

This customized RPC software generates reports based on job number, automatically making all calculations necessary for the reports. It also places the BOM and Shipping list into the working AutoCAD drawing, ensuring consistency and eliminating the need to manually re-type data. After just a few weeks of using the customized RPC software, M.D. Henry reported that their drafting staff had reduced their manual drafting hours by 50% or more.


One of the biggest time savings came from the weight computations that are now being automatically calculated by the program. The customized RPC program is capable of calculating the weights of each piece of the steel structure based on a material ID number and the length of the pieces. It then summarizes the total weight by shipping structure, making their shipping arrangements more efficient.


Automated Flat Pattern Creation

M.D. Henry also needed EDA's help to deal with a design bottleneck in generating flat patterns for their special steel poles. These poles, which are commonly used in power transmission and cell phone tower applications, can be configured to have eight, twelve, or sixteen sides, and assigned virtually any height and bottom diameter. In addition to these variations, several types of hole cutouts could be added to the poles on any of the flat faces and at any height, making almost every flat pattern unique and its creation both time consuming and complicated. Furthermore, mistakes in the flat pattern could lead to costly manufacturing errors, since the poles were fabricated from massive steel sheets. In response to this bottleneck, EDA developed a SolidWorks automation program which allowed the engineering staff to configure the poles using simple drop down menus and text entry boxes for each specification. Then, with a click of the mouse, the automated program would locate the appropriate SolidWorks model, apply length and diameter specifications, and add cutouts to the appropriate face as necessary before unfolding the sheet metal part and saving it as a 2D flat pattern file ready for use by the company's steel bending machines in less than one minute. The automation program developed by EDA delivered both speed and accuracy, eliminating the design bottleneck.


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TRAMCO, Inc.


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Custom engineered conveyor systems

TRAMCO, Inc. is a Wichita, Kansas-based manufacturer specializing in chain and belt conveyors used in a variety of industries such as grain, chemical, coal, food, municipal solid waste, mining, plastic, paper, pulp and rubber. Faced with an engineering department that was already incredibly busy with orders, and a highly customizable product that required considerable engineering knowledge to quote and design, TRAMCO contacted EDA looking for a way to automate the production of 2D layout drawings that could be produced along with their proposals with little or no involvement from their engineering staff.


TRAMCO Sales Estimating Program

The Web-based estimating/engineering programs developed by EDA enable sales staff to create fully-engineered custom conveyor proposal reports and conveyor layout drawings based on customer specifications in minutes-- whether they are traveling to customer sites or doing proposals in-house. These drawings and proposals can be generated without the participation of company engineering staff, reducing the time required to submit proposals from days to minutes.


All proposals and jobs are stored in an enterprise-wide database. All purchased part cost, material cost, labor rates and time estimates are stored in the database and can be updated easily through the user interface.
View a Screen Shot --- View DataBase Schema


TRAMCO Engineering & Manufacturing Automation Programs

The SolidWorks program that EDA developed for TRAMCO automates the designs for six different conveyor lines, producing 3D models, 2D assembly drawings, and DXF flat pattern files for thousands of unique parts used in the conveyors. The engineers simply fill out conveyor specifications (conveyor type, width, height, incline, curve, shaft sizes, etc.) and click a button to start creating SolidWorks models and drawings using EDA's automation software. Each assembly can be built to spec in a few minutes, saving engineers hours of modeling and drafting time.


TRAMCO Spare Parts Program

Stores all quotes and orders in an enterprise-wide database that is web accessible. Calculates all cost for custom built to order spare parts. Controls flow of information to all parties. Reduced average time for spare parts order by 90%. All purchased part costs, material costs, labor rates and time estimates are stored in the database and can be easily updated through the user interface. View a Screen Shot


TRAMCO Web Site

EDA developed a secure 'Members Only' section of the company's web site to allow TRAMCO customers to log in and view detailed specifications for equipment they have purchased in the past, including spare and replacement parts. This information comes from an enterprise-wide database and has proven to be a great tool for both staff and customers in providing support for equipment sold by the company. The 'Members Only' section also features detailed product information, downloadable 3D interactive models and drawings for all TRAMCO equipment.


TRAMCO Online Conveyor Design Center

EDA created the groundbreaking Online Conveyor Design Center, which gives TRAMCO's customers the freedom to design and order complex conveyor systems over the Internet. TRAMCO customers can now visit the interactive iBluePrint- powered Design Center, enter their conveyor requirements, select options and instantly download approval drawings. View layout drawing created by the Design Center website


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Tsukatani Hamono Mfg. Co.


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Equipment for automating the steel die production industry

The Tsukatani Blade Bending System (BBS) features a precision steel bending machine with its own controller and a PC-based interface designed by EDA. The program reads DXF, G-code and other common CAD file formats, then allows the user to select portions of the drawing to send to the bending machine. The bending machine produces a steel blade bent to the exact dimensions of the CAD file.


The operating program was converted from the original Japanese platform and adapted to international use in such countries as Germany, France, and Korea.


The DOS-based program was upgraded to be compatible with Windows, resulting in many improvements to the program and the user interface.


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Bently Nevada Corporation


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Rotating machinery information systems

EDA assisted this company to automate design and drafting for metal cabinets, monitoring systems and electronic wiring diagrams. A typical Bently Nevada project involves 25 to 30 sets of D-size drawings and assembly of more than 2,000 separate CAD drawings. Before automation, these drawings required two to three weeks to complete. The Synthesis-based automated system implemented by EDA allows them to be produced in less than one hour, an enormous benefit for a manufacturer whose equipment is used in critical monitoring applications.


Crucial equipment

At the Incitec ammonia plant in Queensland, Australia, shutting down a compressor train can mean shutting down the entire plant. At the same time, a failure in the machinery could cause extensive damage and endanger workers. So, the information system for such machinery absolutely has to be accurate and reliable.


Last year the alarm was sounded by a Bently Nevada monitoring system hooked up to a critical 18,000 horsepower compressor train. The recently installed Dynamic Data Manager indicated increased vibration levels in the turbine and gearbox driving this massive piece of rotating machinery, and provided information leading the engineer on duty to conclude that the machine train had suffered a cracked shaft. If the shaft actually broke the results could be devastating, so the engineer decided to shut down the machine train-knowing that he would bear full responsibility for the expensive down time if no shaft crack were found.


Six hours after the machine was shut down, a crack was located in the gearshaft that spelled the imminent failure of the shaft. Had the machine been allowed to continue running, it would almost certainly have severely damaged the machine train, endangered the safety of plant personnel, and contributed to an extended and costly plant shut down. However, the Bently Nevada monitoring system was able to prevent such a catastrophic occurrence with its timely warning.


This example demonstrates the critical importance of the Bently Nevada Corporation's products. Bently Nevada is the world leader in manufacturing rotating machinery information systems, which are used in petroleum, chemical and power generation facilities. Tom Clark, design and drafting supervisor at Bently Nevada, explained that the machine train on a large piece of rotating machinery might be hooked up with hundreds of probes which measure thousands of points, collecting data on vibration, temperature, shaft displacement and other information that signals wear and other repair needs.


Recently the company contracted EDA, Inc. for three months to implement an automated design system that automates both engineering and drafting tasks for their monitoring cabinets, including monitor wiring diagrams. The automated system will generate 25 to 30 D-size drawings less than 15 minutes after the engineer enters client specifications. The system inserts more than 1,500 master drawings into each of the assembly drawings after looking up more than 40 tables and calculating size and location of each item inserted.


Time and cost savings on the system, which has only been in place for a few months, have already been dramatic. For instance, the time needed to create the initial proposal drawings for a client has been shaved down by 90 percent.


"Probably at least that," Mr. Clark said. "And there's no drafting involved."


Larry Caldwell, senior engineer, noted that "Before, we had three engineers and two draftsmen to do this job. Now it's just two engineers."


Cost of product cut in half

The time needed to completely fill an order, including manufacturing time, has been cut by more than half-from eight weeks to about three.


"To me it's really a blessing because I can do a lot more work in a lot less time," Mr. Caldwell said.


Possibly more importantly, the cost of producing a client's system has been cut in half, allowing Bently Nevada to drop its prices while maintaining a healthy profit margin.


Previously, designs were not standardized and about 80 percent of the systems produced were custom-designed. According to Mr. Clark, the only time a design would usually be produced more than once was for the same company.


"Every now and then Westinghouse would say, 'we want another one like the one you built for us last year,' but even then we'd still have to change all the tagging."


The automated system has allowed for an almost complete reversal of the custom-to-standard design ratio, with only about 30 percent of the company's orders currently nonstandard.


The automation software package includes Synthesis and a copy of DRAWING Librarian for ease of use and quick display and printing of the drawings, avoiding the need for a costly CAD system at every workstation.


Future: sales quotation automation

The next desired phase of the project would automate design one level above the current program by automating the process of selecting what types of probes will go where on the actual machine train. This will allow Bently Nevada salespeople to do complete proposal designs right there with the clients. With a sales staff that operates all over the world, this would drastically cut time and increase accuracy for their proposals.


Both Mr. Clark and Mr. Caldwell said initial client response to the system has been positive, and they expect it to be even more so as time goes on.


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ROE, Inc.


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Air Conveyors

In a typical ROE air conveyor job, several hundred to several thousand drawings need to be produced. EDA developed an interlocking series of automation software applications to reduce design time, errors, and engineering costs.


Components of the automated system

The EDA system includes an AutoCAD-based layout program, an Excel interface for detailed configuration and calculation, a Synthesis program that creates production drawings and CNC control programs for an Amada punch machine, and finally an Access database to store data, generate required shop reports and create files for the Visual Manufacturing MRP program. The Visual Manufacturing program then keeps track of the material requirements for each job and scheduling the company's projects.


Time savings

The system recently proved both its speed and its flexibility. Primary operator Barry Milliron used the system to create a set of 70 drawings and Amada G-code files for a conveyor with three lanes--even though the system was originally designed to produce designs for single or double lane conveyors. In this project alone, ROE cut their engineering hours by over 60% and their CNC programming hours by 50% compared to hours spent without the automated system. They estimate that for a more complex project with a larger number of layouts their engineering hours savings would be much greater, especially when considering the elimination of design errors guaranteed by the automated system. Overall, the system has drastically reduced product turnaround and delivery time and has cut engineering costs in half.


Elimination of design errors

Since the automated system was developed using design logic and calculations provided by the most knowledgeable members of ROE's engineering staff, the system ultimately produced consistent and correctly designed conveyor systems. However, during the development of the automated conveyor design system, flawed or inaccurate design logic was spotted when the system applied incorrect formulas and produced erroneous drawings.


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Jorgensen Conveyors, Inc.


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A complete line of conveyors and related material handling equipment

Jorgensen Conveyors, Inc. is a manufacturer producing custom-designed conveyors for metal chips, metal recycling, and parts handling applications.


EDA has developed an automated engineering design, drafting, bill of material and cutlist generation program for five different models of Jorgensen's hinged steel belt conveyors. The program prompts for all required design information, such as sizes and options, then calculates all related dimension values by applying appropriate formulas based on the specifications. The program generates a set of AutoCAD drawings, as well as bill of material and cut list files which are integrated into Jorgensen's existing inventory program.


Typical project completion for Jorgensen has been reduced from 6-10 hours to 10-15 minutes.


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AFECO


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AFECO Keeps Competitive With Automation

EDA has been involved automating quotation production, engineering design, drafting and parts reservation for this company. The program starts with an MS-Access interface and uses both Excel and Synthesis for engineering calculations. Synthesis uses the calculations to produce bill of material lists, assembly drawings, detailed fabrication drawings, and detailed parts and labor quotations. Quotations with scaled assembly drawings can be produced in 15 minutes (from 2-3 hours) and manufacturing drawings can be produced in less than two hours (from 12-40 hours).




Engineering bottleneck

"Probably our single biggest reason for getting into the automated system is to cut down on the high engineering costs and the bottleneck-the time required," said Jeffrey Christensen, President and General Manager of the AFECO company of Algona, Iowa. Mr. Christensen has primary responsibility for sales and quotations for the 20-year-old company, which designs and manufactures material handling equipment, such as conveyors, and related specialty equipment.


About four years ago, the company realized that some changes needed to be made.


"Our costs were escalating to a point where we were not being competitive in the industry," Mr. Christensen said.


Two possible solutions were determined: reduce costs or move into development of more specialized equipment that other companies couldn't provide.


"Actually we took both routes. We went with the automated design to reduce our costs, and we also got into some more sophisticated specialty equipment."


Automation search

The company purchased a CAD system and began their search by looking for a "canned" program, one that would come right out of the box with the features they needed, but found nothing suitable.


Next, a software development company was approached with the problem. Their costs proved to be prohibitive, particularly if AFECO wanted to ensure company security by keeping the program exclusive.


The company's next step was to purchase Synthesis and attempt, unsuccessfully, to develop an automation program on their own.


"We struggled here for a couple of years trying to put a program together ourselves," Mr. Christensen said, but "we didn't have anybody we could completely devote to doing that."


This led AFECO to engage the services of Engineering Design Automation, Inc. to develop the program. EDA began working with Daniel J. Wittenberg of AFECO to construct a program that would automate nearly all of the company's design and drafting tasks, as well as associated paperwork such as quotations and bill of materials generation.


The system automates design and drafting of the company's three types of belt conveyors as well as screw augers and two styles of dumpers. It covers everything from the initial customer quotation to the final layout and parts drawings used in the actual manufacturing of the conveyors.


"Right now we get the quotation, we get the to-scale drawing, we get all the piece part drawings, we get a bill of materials, we get a labor list of all the hours required in each work center, and then an outside purchase list also," Mr. Christensen said. "Eventually, when we integrate with the database, we plan on having the system also generate shipping tickets and the invoices."


The main program interface is a form-driven MS-Access database, which allows quotation information to be stored for easy later reference. Dumper design also includes data from Excel worksheets (designed by Chris Brown of AFECO). The interface also includes specially designed standards menus. It is designed to be used by those with a minimum of engineering knowledge.


"I'm a typical case-I'm not a design engineer, and have never done design work, but I probably do 75 percent of the quoting right now on the system. I know enough about it to sit down and answer the questions properly," Mr. Christensen said.


Automation benefits

The benefits of automation begin with dramatic time savings, and include greater accuracy and efficiency in manufacturing.


A standard belt conveyor would normally take a minimum of 20 hours to complete the design, the material lists and the shop drawings. The automated system can produce all these components in 30 minutes or less.


In addition, the accuracy of engineering and design cuts down on manufacturing time, and helps eliminate costly mistakes.


"By standardizing the equipment and standardizing the piece parts that go out to the fabrication shop, the guys that are actually doing the building, it's cutting their fabrication time because everything always looks familiar to them-it's always built basically the same," Mr. Christensen said.


"And, because the computer is generating the parts list and shop drawings, after they've been proofed or tested they always come out right. There are almost no mathematical errors, so pieces don't get cut the wrong length, or at the wrong angle. It automatically reserves raw materials and orders purchased materials, so you don't forget to order something."


In addition to the cost savings through greater efficiency, faster customer response time is an important bonus in a competitive market.


"I just got off the phone with a fellow who was looking for a belt conveyor," Mr. Christensen said. "I told him, 'In half an hour I will have you a to-scale drawing and a price quotation,' and he basically didn't believe it.


"I told the secretary to hold all my calls for half an hour and I sat down and within 20 minutes I had the quotation and the drawing. He had the fax in less than half an hour."


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JMS Southeast Incorporated


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Expediting customization without sacrificing quality

Based in Statesville, NC, JMS Southeast has a strong customer base of OEM and industrial clients whose production depends on quality and consistency in their temperature measurements. JMS manufactures standard and customized temperature sensors as well as temperature accessories, using Solid Edge as their 3D modeling platform.


Like many of America's manufacturers, JMS has many clients that demand specific customizations to their products. To expedite this process, JMS spent considerable time building sophisticated 3D models of their products, as well as an Excel design spreadsheet to calculate the effect of various configurations and customizations. They were ready to take the next step: automating their models and integrating the two software programs into one powerful design system.


Through their Solid Edge reseller, JMS found EDA, a developer of custom programs for Solid Edge and a proven provider of automation services. EDA quickly assessed the JMS Solid Edge models and spreadsheets, listened to the company's goals, and developed a plan to use EDA's Edge Design Configurator (Excel-based configurator for Solid Edge) to tie the two software programs together.


The Edge Design Configurator is integrated with the company's Excel installation and neatly ties into the design spreadsheets already developed by JMS. By using a special menu command, users of the configurator software can quickly generate the custom 3D models they configured with Excel. No Solid Edge experience at all is required to run the program and to generate the 3D parts and assemblies. Instead all configuration changes are made in Excel and the models are driven by the spreadsheet. In the future, JMS is looking forward to implementing more of their extensive product lines using EDA’s Edge Design Configurator.


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Orteq Energy Technologies, LLC


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Investing in a custom Solid Edge automation program

Orteq Energy Technology was in the process of changing many of the company's Solid Edge file names for component parts. Frustrated by the time-consuming process of moving, renaming and re-linking component parts of assemblies manually, Orteq Engineering Manager Pat McGuire turned to Google and YouTube, searching for "Solid Edge automation," and "custom Solid Edge programming."


After landing at EDA's website, McGuire first turned to EDA's Revision Maker (a standalone application which automates renaming and relinking files in an assembly without the need to use Solid Edge Revision Manager) as a possible solution to his dilemma. However, after meeting to discuss Orteq goals and needs, both McGuire and the EDA team realized that a custom solution would be quick to develop and could provide the exact functions that Orteq was looking for.



EDA went to work, writing a custom automation Solid Edge program for Orteq. The Part List Updater Program makes it easy for Orteq staff to import and export data from Solid Edge to Excel. The program starts by exporting the file names and paths of every component in the selected Solid Edge assembly, along with certain file properties. Once the data is in Excel, it's very easy for Orteq staff to modify, and then a single click renames, relocates, and relinks all the files in the selected assembly, while also updating its file properties.


The program developed by EDA has greatly sped up the process of updating Orteq’s Solid Edge part lists while assuring that all component links are maintained. An additional benefit of using the Part List Updater Program is that all changes made to the parts lists are retained in Excel, so there is actually a record of all the changes made to the Solid Edge files.


Though not a large-scale automation project, Orteq's case proves that a targeted investment in automation for Solid Edge can pay off in increasing productivity and reducing manually-introduced errors.


Click to watch the video about the Part List Updater Program.


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Stock Mfg. & Design Co.


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Custom shims for projects large and small

Brandon Stock of Stock Mfg. & Design had a vision. He saw how mass customization was revolutionizing industries like printing, and how businesses were using the Web to allow customers to upload custom designs for quick manufacture. “Why,” he thought, “couldn’t those same principles be applied to the world of sheet metal, and shims in particular?” He knew many of their laser cutting clients needed special shims, mounting plates and spacers for unique projects or product lines, and he saw an opportunity to fill that niche.


Based on Stock’s vision, The Shim Shack Quick Part Designer Tool came to life. Featuring a library of frequently customized shims and a large selection of material types and thicknesses, the Quick Part Designer Tool allows The Shim Shack to offer their customers a great web-based interface to design exactly what they needed online, submit their specs, receive pricing, and place their orders.






Web-based ordering necessitates fast drawing turnaround

As the on-line design system became more popular and TheShimShack.com emerged as the place to go for custom parts, Brandon Stock turned his eye on the next bottleneck in the system. “We'd given people the ability to design and order the custom parts they wanted on our website; now we needed a way to quickly produce accurate drawings, models, flat patterns and shipping documents directly from the customer input captured in our database. All of this would preserve our reputation as a company that could be relied on to generate quality products in a short period of time… a service that differentiates us from our competitors.”


For that, The Shim Shack turned to EDA’s software development services. EDA’s custom automation program processes order data from The Shim Shack website and sends it to the EDA Edge Design Configurator (Excel-based configurator for Solid Edge). The Edge Design Configurator validates the customer’s specifications before starting up Solid Edge and going to work. The program flies through each custom order, processing as many as 5 unique shims per minute, generating all the necessary documents, folders, and files for the automation process:

  • An accurate Solid Edge sheet metal part (.psm file), updated with custom dimensions and with job- and material-specific file properties added.
  • Two Solid Edge drawings (.dft files) for the part’s flat pattern and its shop drawing, with title blocks auto-filled, and job-specific file properties added.
  • A PDF format file used as a shipping document, with an image of the custom shim and job related information.
  • A DXF-format flat pattern.
  • Files into automatically organized into folders by file type (separating those required for manufacturing from those that are kept with the customer order information), as well as by customer name & material type.

Before, these files would have taken a skilled draftsperson 15 minutes per shim to generate, and there was always a possibility of errors that could be introduced by manually entering the order specifications - especially as order volume increased.


Looking forward

In the future, Stock hopes to continue pushing the sheet metal envelope with mass customization and rapid manufacturing by allowing customers to upload anything they design to the website: The Shim Shack wants to become your online metal printer and complete custom manufacturer. As he has found out, when it comes to automation for Solid Edge the possibilities are endless.


Testimonial from Brandon Stock:

The EDA team was a pleasure to work with. Very knowledgeable and customer service oriented. The Shim Shack Post Processing Automation Program went from a vision in my head to reality in a matter of weeks and it was exciting to watch them make it happen!


We needed to find a qualified group to help us accomplish our goals with this system and I can honestly say that I don’t think we could have found a better team to work with. From day one, the EDA team’s knowledge and experience really differentiated them from other companies I had talked to about this project. They were able to proactively think the program through in our group meetings and extract all the relevant obstacles in the project definition & planning phases. At this point I could tell that their level of experience in this field was unprecedented. They had a thorough understanding of what I wanted to accomplish and they valued the benefits our company would gain through the automation process just like I did.


EDA’s proactive approach and thorough understanding of the customer’s needs is what sets them apart from other programming and automation companies in my opinion. It’s really an intangible “value-added” service that you learn to appreciate when you have to deal with the alternative.


I would definitely endorse EDA as “The company to help you accomplish your automation goals”.


The time savings we’ve experienced in using the automation program are astounding and now, there’s no job too big or too small. We can service a wide demographic of customers and pass along cost savings to our customers because of the efficiencies we have gained.


Thank you,


Brandon Stock & The Shim Shack Team!
www.theshimshack.com


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J.C. Steele & Sons


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The PDF Publisher for Solid Edge

J.C. Steele & Sons was founded in 1889 as a manufacturer of custom heavy machinery. When they contacted EDA, they already had over 100 years of engineering and manufacturing drawings in various formats, ranging from hand-drafted drawings to modern 3D Solid Edge models and drawings. Hundreds of folders of machine drawings across multiple network drives, combined with discrepancies in their naming conventions, made archiving these older drawings a real challenge—especially since they were continuing to revise and improve their designs regularly.


The PDF Publisher program developed by EDA works with Solid Edge to automate the creation of a new PDF file from a Solid Edge drawing while archiving previous versions of the drawing. Lightweight and compatible with any version of Solid Edge, the program identifies the location of the currently open Solid Edge drawing, and when prompted, will save it as a “Release” version, creating a special subfolder that can be accessed by engineering and manufacturing staff. If the Release folder exists already and has a drawing in it, the PDF Publisher uses J.C. Steele’s new drawing naming rules to tag the existing drawing with a revision number before moving it to a designated “Archive” folder.


Accuracy and time savings

The PDF Publisher ensures that only version of the drawing at a time can be saved into the “Release” folder, while older versions of the drawing are tagged properly with the previous revision number and archived in the designated folder. The program provides time-saving user shortcuts that can quickly open the relevant folders (current drawing folder, Release and Archive folders) in Windows Explorer, saving users the trouble of having to browse for these folders manually. Finally, the program includes a sneak peek window that allows the user to see which files are currently in the archive and open them directly from the PDF Publisher by double-clicking the file name.


Testimonial from JC Steele engineer, Jody Robinson:

The “.PDF Publisher” from EDA is a simple, one-click solution to what once was a tedious, four step procedure. Not only does it save time, but it also removes the possibility of operator error. Now we know that the latest drawing revision is saved in the proper format, with the proper file name, and in the proper folder. The previous revision is also [automatically] re-named and placed in an “obsolete” folder. Here at J. C. Steele, we have over one hundred years of legacy data in many different formats that we have to keep track of. This procedure for handling our drawing revisions is something that we don’t have to worry about anymore.


Working with the EDA crew was easy. They are knowledgeable and were able to develop the software after a few short on-line meetings. It worked right out of the box the very first time we used it. It’s lightweight and installs on our network drive, so there is no need to install it on each user's computer. I look forward to working with EDA on future projects.


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Carlisle Interconnect Technologies


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Drafting Time Reduced by Seven Days with AutoCAD Automation

As a custom designer and manufacturer of wire harnesses that integrate aircraft-grade cabling and fiber optic technology, the 2D wire diagram drawings created by Carlisle Interconnect Technologies (CIT) are incredibly complex, involving custom configurations for each job. Accuracy is essential, since the wire harnesses are carrying electricity from one part of the plane to another, and customer timelines can often be short. As a result, CIT had developed a protocol to turn the aircraft specifications they received from their customers into detailed design data stored in an Excel spreadsheet.


The problem came when it was time to convert this spreadsheet data into 2D wire harness drawings in AutoCAD. A draftsperson was required to translate thousands of pieces of data from the spreadsheet into the symbols, lines and text that made up the wire diagrams: a tedious process that could take up to eight days to complete and could involve over 200 individual drawing sheets. In addition to the wire diagrams, drawing packages also included detailed Bill of Materials, manufacturing detail drawings, and scaled model drawings for harness building boards. Errors could be expensive and needed to be avoided at all costs, so another two days was generally devoted to checking each drawing package. The drafting staff was maxed out on what they could do and business was growing. CIT Design Engineering Manager Dan Dawson decided that AutoCAD automation was the way to go.


Dawson was pleased to find that a local custom programming company, Engineering Design Automation, Inc. (EDA), could handle the automation software development. EDA was one of the few companies that Dawson contacted that had the ability to convert their Excel data to AutoCAD, and whose quote was within his budget. EDA has over twenty years of experience in developing custom CAD solutions for manufacturers, and had dealt with highly complex AutoCAD drawing generation projects before. Although the sheer number of aircraft component configurations (such as seat belt signs, reading lights, oxygen masks, call buttons, etc.) and the design rules required to place each of them in the diagram made it a very complex automation program to develop, weekly online meetings and regular program updates and testing kept the project on track.


Cost savings and improved turnaround time

The automated AutoCAD software developed by EDA has been successful both in dramatically reducing the time to generate drawing packages, and ensuring that the translation of Excel data into AutoCAD drawings is 100% accurate. An entire drawing package (which can consist of over 200 individual drawing sheets) can now be auto-generated by the program in about two to five minutes, a drastic improvement in the turnaround time it took to get the drawings back to customers for validation. Although some manual cleanup of the drawings is still required, the drafting man-hours spent on each drawing package have been cut substantially.


CIT staff has also cited the improved relationship with their end customers as one of the positive outcomes of the developing the automated software, since the customer can now be confident that the drawings provided to them are without errors. And because even a small error in the drawings could lead to costly delays and missed deadlines, the ability to eliminate mistakes in the drawings is a big benefit of the system.


Testimonial from CIT Lead Electrical Design Engineer, Sara Lisicki:

EDA staff was very helpful and provided the solutions in a timely manner. The staff was well educated with Excel and had the ability to understand easily what CIT wanted as the end result. The turnaround time from when the idea was proposed from CIT to EDA implementing the software was more than reasonable and sometimes sooner than CIT expected.


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Websites SolidWorks AutoCAD Solid Edge
Live Demos Videos