A digital transformation: 3D virtual prototypes shrink development cycles for complex products

Grinding machine manufacturer HTC, Söderköping, Sweden, builds products that literally transform the look of floors. Its machines—containing up to 3,000 discrete components and sub-assemblies, and ranging in price from [euro] 20,000 to 300,000—are used to grind and polish natural stone and concrete floors with diamond tools.
By Malcolm Wheatley, senior contributing editor (malcolm_wheatley@compuserve.com) February 1, 2009

Grinding machine manufacturer HTC , Söderköping, Sweden, builds products that literally transform the look of floors. Its machines—containing up to 3,000 discrete components and sub-assemblies, and ranging in price from [euro] 20,000 to 300,000—are used to grind and polish natural stone and concrete floors with diamond tools. A floor poured from concrete, says HTC CTO Karl Thysell, can wind up looking like marble.

HTC, a maker of machines that grind and polish natural stone and concrete floors, transformed its product development process by adopting a 3D virtual prototyping application.

HTC recently performed a similar transformation on its product development process, thanks to the use of Autodesk Inventor , a 3D digital prototyping application. Thysell credits this program with cutting the costs of bringing new products to market—as well as severely shrinking the time taken to launch those new products.

For HTC, developing new products once involved building as many as five prototype machines—each at a cost of up to [euro] 500,000. Now it’s now possible to bring a new model to market after making just a single prototype. Even better, adds Thysell, the quality of that prototype can be such that it can be sold.

Already a user of Autodesk 2D CAD technology, HTC recognized in 2002 that 3D design—and especially 3D digital prototyping, complete with simulation, digital assembly, and visualization—had significant potential. Exploring this potential on a pilot basis, with a single Inventor license, HTC took roughly a year to develop a 3D prototype of a new variant of one of its smaller machines, reusing the digital model to then develop a second machine.

“It was very helpful to be able to reuse parts from the first machine so easily, and adapt them for the second machine so readily,” relates Thysell. With 2D development, not only would HTC have to build physical prototypes, but the initial design time would have been longer. “Today we can get a new model to market in six months or less,” Thysell says. “That’s a significant reduction.”

The capability came in handy when HTC opened a U.S. subsidiary in January 2005—its first venture into the North American market. “We didn’t launch with one new machine, but 10,” says Thysell. “The competition hadn’t expected that.”

U.S. sales now account for 40 percent of overall revenues, Thysell adds.

Today HTC has six Inventor licenses, as well as licenses for Autodesk Productstream workflow and Autodesk 3ds Max animation and rendering applications. Links from the Productstream workflow and data-storage applications then enable seamless connectivity through to HTC’s Microsoft Dynamics NV ERP system—and through that, out into the supplier base.

The result: “A streamlined, online supply chain,” says Thysell—and one that spurred company growth from (U.S.) $7.5 million in sales revenues to $56 million, in just six years.

“Digital prototyping isn’t the only reason for our success, but it must get a lot of the credit,” Thysell concludes.