Third dimension in design solutions cuts truck maker’s race to market

The jump from two-dimensional to three-dimensional (3D) design is a leap that saves Loveland, Colo.-based SVI Trucks weeks of rework on the fire, police, and emergency trucks it makes for local governments around the U.S. The switch also eases communication between engineering and the shop floor, and enhances the company's marketing efforts, says Dave Moore-Sargent, engineering manager, SVI Tru...
By Manufacturing Business Technology Staff January 1, 2008

The jump from two-dimensional to three-dimensional (3D) design is a leap that saves Loveland, Colo.-based SVI Trucks weeks of rework on the fire, police, and emergency trucks it makes for local governments around the U.S. The switch also eases communication between engineering and the shop floor, and enhances the company’s marketing efforts, says Dave Moore-Sargent, engineering manager, SVI Trucks.

The truck maker recently upgraded from the Autodesk 2D AutoCAD CAD program to Autodesk 3D Inventor. It next coupled the CAD software with the Autodesk Vault file management system, in which SVI houses a library of master designs for quick reuse and viewing.

Avatech Solutions , a provider of design automation and product life-cycle management (PLM) solutions for manufacturing and other markets, helped orchestrate the switch.

SVI Trucks saw its business increase about 40 percent over the past five years. It currently makes about 50 vehicles each year. “Without the software, we would have fallen behind,” says Moore-Sargent. “Our shop no longer has to wait for us to produce the engineering package.”

3D design also allows the shop to visualize parts and components with depth, and within product engineering to more easily situate components within the truck body.

“We’re essentially loading components like hydraulic rescue pulls and water systems and air-compressors into a cube,” Moore-Sargent says. “We have to tell if they can fit.”

In the past, after manufacture and assembly, if SVI found components weren’t arranged correctly, engineers had to rework the truck body, which cost money and delayed customer delivery time. Customer-requested changes sometimes led SVI back to the drawing board for rework that might take weeks.

SVI Trucks, a premier builder of specialized fire, police, and emergency apparatus, made the switch from 2D to 3D design using Autodesk design programs and transitional services provided by Avatech Solutions.

“We were trying to communicate with customers who aren’t familiar with 2D drawings. It was difficult for them to understand the depths,” Moore-Sargent says. “Clients had a 3D image in their head of what they wanted, which was different from what we intended, but there was no way to avoid miscommunication or misunderstanding. We’d start building, they’d inspect it, and then we’d all realize the misunderstanding.”

Benefits extend to the plant floor, where the 3D CAD files are more readily integrated with CNC equipment. “It’s easy to take 3D data and kick it out of those CNC devices,” Moore-Sargent says.

With that stepped-up integration in mind, SVI awaits delivery of a water jet table that can read 3D CAD documents. Moore-Sargent expects the tool-cutting device—which SVI will use for sheet-metal parts—will shave days off the production schedule.

A storage feature also will contribute to faster time-to-market. Engineers now store master projects and frequently used component designs for ready and rapid use. That way, a pre-existing component design can easily be placed within new truck designs. Customers also can see typical truck designs in 3D, which aids the marketing department.

SVI customers now have a good sense of what a truck will look like before production, which cuts the rework. CAD files are routinely sent to them via the Internet, says Scott Hale, Avatech’s VP for manufacturing solutions. Such online collaboration saves both the customer and SVI time and money.

And in fact, it actually saves you time and money. “The savings comes down to taxpayer dollars, because that’s how all this equipment is purchased,” Moore-Sargent concludes.