3D model allows customer to visualise solution

Paul Boughton

Founded in 1972, Expert Tooling and Automation, Coventry UK, has become a recognised supplier of high quality industrial automation solutions in the UK and Europe. While operating from multiple sites, the company’s headquarters is a 30,000 square foot purpose built facility in Coventry, the heart of the British motor industry.

As sales engineer, Jason Glasse, describes: “We are a manufacturer of custom designed production machinery and tooling. Our main areas of business are the automotive, medical and other sectors that require bespoke equipment.

"Into the automotive industry we supply everything from the design and manufacture of Body In White tooling for Virtual Prototype build to robotic assembly line. The medical sector tends to be palletised or rotary based assembly and test machines where parts are automatically fed, assembled, tested and packaged.

“A company will come to us with a product and we will formulate a process and machine concept to automatically assemble it. We will take the product into SpaceClaim and design the concept around it.”

Traditionally quotations consist of text describing the proposed concept and a 2D layout drawing. However through the use of SpaceClaim, Expert Tooling and Automation is able to present a 3D concept that is easier to follow and, according to Glasse, “enables us to get across the concept a lot easier than reading the text along with the layout drawing.”
Presenting a 3D model of a concept also allows a customer to visualise the solution and ‘buy into’ the concept.

Speed versus accuracy

Expert Tooling and Automation currently uses a mix of CATIA and SolidWorks for its detailed engineering work, but it felt that something more efficient was needed to help develop accurate quotations and concepts for customers in a suitable timeframe.

As Thompson explains: “We use CATIA in-house because it’s driven by our major automotive customers. It’s fine  as an engineering design tool, but it’s so laborious to create thoughts and ideas in non-complex models quickly. We were looking for some quick but high powered kit and SpaceClaim dropped into that space.” [Page Break]

Reusing data

One of the key benefits of using SpaceClaim has been the speed with which concepts can be pulled together. Expert Tooling and Automation’s team has a library of pre-built models or supplier models (such as robots) which can be brought into SpaceClaim along with customer data. An accurate model can then be built up very rapidly to show the form and function of the machine.

As Thompson says: “We still have a lot of design work to do, but by getting the bare bones of the model together, you can see the sizing of the equipment/robots. It’s very easy to swap things in and out. The models look more realistic and help to sell the concept when a customer can see their components and commercially available parts like pneumatic cylinders, robots, etc. It builds customers’ confidence in the solution and Expert’s ability to manufacture the system.”

This confidence in Expert Tooling and Automation’s knowledge and capability is something that the team feels is key to winning bids for projects, and has to be built in right from the quotation stage.

SpaceClaim allows the user to quickly grasp the basics of 3D modeling with the most basic training. Someone with minimal CAD experience can quickly become a proficient user in a matter of weeks.

Presenting to the customer

Quotation documents are put together with assets from SpaceClaim to show a concept and to help explain the team’s thinking. When it comes to presenting live to the customer, additional benefits can be drawn from having 3D data at hand. For instance, 3D PDFs, which show interactive views of the model, can be used to center discussions on. Expert Tooling and Automation has also recently invested in KeyShot, a photorealistic rendering add- on for SpaceClaim. While rendering is not traditionally associated with the machinery industry, it’s clear that Expert Tooling and Automation is gaining benefits.

As Glasse explains, “Although in a rendering a machine still looks the same and does the same job as it does in a drawing, it presents a ‘real life like’ virtual image and again gives the customer confidence. We also find that our images are sometimes used by our customers in their internal presentations.”

Concept to engineering

Once the idea is delivered and the bid won, Expert Tooling and Automation then moves to the detailed engineering stage. At present, this involves internal meetings where the projects are handed over to the next team. Again, the use of 3D at the earliest stages pays dividends as the team has a much clearer picture of the concept and the customer’s requirements.                                                                              

As Thompson says: “We don’t use the SpaceClaim models directly for manufacturing, our project proposals are forwarded to the engineering department. They have multiple seats of CATIA which are used to take things further. Sometimes they might use these models as a reference or for comparison as things progress.
That said, one of our sister companies is also using SpaceClaim in the same way as we do, for concept work, but they’ve stepped it up and are starting to use it for detail engineering work as well.”    

SpaceClaim is based in Concord, MA, USA.

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