What to do for workgroups without full CAD access who participate in Digital Prototyping? XVL could be an answer.
Digital Prototyping (DP) is a process that enables the development of new products through “creation, validation, optimization, management and manufacturing through virtual processes.” Major CAD vendors supporting DP are encouraging a new suite of applications to implement this ideal of a streamlined digital process. Its tools include 3D modeling software, simulation, FEA and other analyses, and direct-to-machining operations.
Engine assembly in XVL Studio extends the Digital Prototyping strategy to allow immediate use of
3D solid models in animations that can be used by shop floor, maintenance and even end users.
The portfolio of applications is ambitious and laudable, and makes the idea of Digital Prototyping a reality. But in practical terms of product development, this vision of DP still excludes some from the process – those who do not have CAD seats. In the real world, there are whole departments that need to examine design data for the purposes of testing, procurement, quality checking, production planning, and assembly. A survey of the status quo will quickly reveal that these tasks are performed predominantly by reviewing or redlining paper drawings and sometimes redlining on a digital visualization, but that is by no means enough. Those same non-CAD users also need to interactively identify parts in an assembly, test them, simulate mechanical movements and annotate the data. These additional needs put a slight kink into the vision of one streamlined, trackable, paperless, and all-digital development process.
Now these employees can participate in DP if managers furnish CAD seats and training. But that isn’t happening in many firms. CAD is too expensive — and complicated to learn — to routinely justify it for people who use it only occasionally.
Digital Prototyping with XVL
One solution that avoids the expense of CAD for everyone, yet delivers the promised benefits of an all-digital workflow is based on lightweight 3D formats such as XVL. This approach brings DP to the whole team by giving inexpensive access to 3D data. With XVL compressed 3D format, all employees can reference a 3D part or assembly design through a viewer, similar to how they already use Adobe Acrobat to view PDF documents.
Users can manipulate lightweight 3D graphics to point out interference errors, write instructions, even tell the factory floor how to remove plastic from molds.
XVL applications act as smarter (and completely digital) replacements for the redlining and markups that traditionally occur on paper. Non-CAD users can add in design annotations as easily as they would type in text to PowerPoint. They can just as easily manipulate these lightweight 3D graphics to tell a visual story: pointing out interference errors to engineers, writing instructions to the factory floor of how to remove plastic from molds, or creating animations to show the proper assembly order of mechanical parts. They can test mechanical movements, and take measurements interactively with a Bill of Materials (BOM) list and 3D data on the same spreadsheet. And XVL has a range of applications in the later stages, too, after products are born, creating illustrations for marketing materials, sales presentations to customers, as well as user guides and maintenance manuals.
The key to DP for the masses is this: you can take almost any 3D CAD model and reduce it into XVL format, preserving the accuracy of the geometry and attribution information. Lattice Technology, inventors of XVL, has developed a series of PC applications that allow manufacturers to use the lightweight models for such uses as viewing the models, or editing, testing, simulating movements and interactively annotating them via the 3D model or the BOM. With these tools, you can mark up models with color surfaces, add visual effects, animate moving parts, even incorporate the 3D models into Word or Excel documents, slide presentations, or websites.
The following two examples illustrate real-life cases where digital prototypes are used to accomplish functions that either previously required physical prototypes or were carried out using more traditional paper-based communication. They demonstrate how profoundly digital prototyping can affect workflow for the better, and how lightweight 3D can expand the concept of digital prototyping beyond just CAD users to include many more product development participants.
Post Design – Pre-Production
A major automotive manufacturer decided to improve the design review process by using digital prototypes. Quality control personnel wanted to examine 3D assemblies to spot design issues that might cause operational problems or impact manufacturing. One challenge the company faced was that different CAD software packages were used for different parts of the design. Another problem was the size of the assemblies.
The complexity and multitude of the part models made the assemblies very large in file size. The model groups took a long time to load, and even expensive CAD workstations provided the review teams at best a halting and strained performance.
Further, the detailed data results of these analyses—static and dynamic interference detections, gap and clearance checks, and cross-section measurements—had to be recorded and communicated back from the design review and manufacturing teams to the designers.
To perform these reviews with hard-copy design documents would make it difficult to detect and measure complicated part relationships accurately. Preparing cross-sectional views and printing them generated a lot of extra work and very often, long delays. There would be loads of paper plans to print, manage, and manually mark, introducing more potential for human error at every step.
What about checking the assemblies directly on a CAD workstation? Visualization would improve, but CAD tools would create their own set of constraints on the process. CAD files would have to be converted to a CAD format that all the team members were familiar with and knew how to navigate. So both methods would be time consuming, and in both cases, reviewers had to write their reports manually. To interpret these reports (long tabulations of decimals), the original designers would have to again re-load the assembly in CAD, or refer to the marked-up cross-sections.
After products are launched, XVL helps in making illustrations for marketing materials, sales presentations, user guides and maintenance manuals.
Introducing XVL into the design review process solves many of these problems. All required CAD parts, regardless of format, are compressed into lightweight XVL files, maintaining the accuracy of the geometry as well as the assembly relationships. Now even an entire automotive system can load onto the screen in a few seconds. Design reviewers could use inexpensive XVL viewers to see all aspects of the 3D assembly. Besides improved viewing performance, personnel could now share large amounts of data between workstations, whether locally or globally.
Traditional design review process.
Through XVL applications, design reviewers could use accurate measuring tools to find the extent of clearances between parts. In many cases, the reviewers could use macro scripts to identify and measure certain types of interference automatically. It’s possible to list these automated results in a standard spreadsheet, like Excel.
Design review process with XVL.
What is evident in this example is the tremendous impact lightweight 3D data can have when it is used as the vehicle for virtual prototyping. Relying on XVL to implement an all-digital process casts a larger net over post-design tasks, which otherwise might be excluded in a CAD-only-workflow scenario.
The automaker found that digital prototyping with XVL greatly improved its product quality, because it was easier to spot problems before manufacturing, and at the same time significantly reduced its product lifecycle costs, because design review took fewer hours and produced fewer errors.
The Factory Floor
This example involves a defense manufacturer facing the common problem of communication barriers between its designers and its manufacturing department. Designs were passed to manufacturing without any digital review. The manufacturing department had no CAD stations, and relied on paper drawings both for internal use and for their suppliers and manufacturing partners.
As production grew, it was clear that the conventional use of paper drawings and documents to convey design intent to suppliers was not sufficient. Communication was slow, causing the company to miss business opportunities. Managers decided to implement a process based on digital prototypes – 3D models that included process animations and part information to quickly show suppliers the assembly process. By combining design and production with a single digital process, the company could demonstrate to multiple subcontractors exactly what was required. The real-world result was fewer misunderstandings and fewer delays.
Process linking 3D data with engineering databases for shop-floor information.
As with the automaker’s example, this manufacturer’s final CAD data are converted to the lightweight and accurate representations of XVL. The XVL versions go “over the wall” to the factory floor. There, manufacturing engineers write assembly instructions, as well as other attributes like part numbers, directly on the lightweight files. In addition to these annotations, XVL allowed the engineers to easily compose animations of the assemblies, showing the proper order of parts and the inside of complex designs.
All of these instructions could be emailed to outside parties and opened with standard tools like Microsoft Excel or HTML documents. The recipients could view the instructions without a CAD system, just using commonplace PC programs. Unlike other movie formats, the animations can be viewed from any vantage point, and contain other useful interactive features. Those viewing the animation can query the assembly to highlight a specific component, and even measure dimensions between surfaces.
Compare the benefits realized by these XVL prototypes in contrast to the old method of passing a stack of paper drawings back and forth. The actual results for the company surpassed expectations. Projects were completed with zero rework, potential manufacturing problems were caught early in the process, leading to significant cost savings, and learning curves for the company’s fabricators shortened significantly – in some cases minutes instead of days.
In summary, Digital Prototyping is too important to be limited just to CAD users. Light technologies like XVL expand the bounds of digital prototyping to include many other work groups. In reality, the greatest payoff from an all-digital product development can come from bringing other groups into the fold, groups who have traditionally only had paper documents. Post-design review teams, production planners, and subcontractors are just a few of examples of non-CAD users who can make use of 3D data, and greatly shorten work cycles and costs.