A giant leap: 3D design solutions cut truck maker's race to market

The jump from 2D to 3D design software saved Loveland, Colo.-based SVI Trucks weeks of rework on the fire, police, and emergency trucks it makes for local governments around the nation. The switch also eased communication between engineering and the manufacturing floor, and enhanced the company’s marketing efforts.

12/19/2007


The jump from two dimensions to three can be substantial. That particular leap saved Loveland, Colo.-based SVI Trucks weeks of rework on the fire, police, and emergency trucks it makes for local governments around the nation. The switch also eased communication between engineering and the manufacturing floor, and enhanced the company’s marketing efforts, says Dave Moore-Sargent, engineering manager, SVI Trucks.
The truck maker recently upgraded from Autodesk 's two-dimensional AutoCAD CAD program to Autodesk's three-dimensional Inventor program. 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 the manufacturing, building design, civil engineering, and GIS markets, helped orchestrate the switch.
Since the move, design time hasn’t compromised time-to-market—not that design affected production in the past, but for engineers, design was always a race. Without that third dimension, things might have been different going forward, Moore-Sargent says. Business increased by about 40 percent during the past five years. The small company currently makes 50 vehicles each year.
“Without the software, we would have fallen behind,” Moore-Sargent says. “Our shop is no longer waiting for us to produce an engineering package, whereas in the past we were behind in producing the package because it took so long.”
The switch has made the engineers’ jobs easier in part because the third dimension allows them to visualize parts and components with depth, and to more easily situate components within the truck body as they design via computer.
“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.”
If, after manufacture and assembly, SVI found that components weren’t arranged correctly, engineers had to rework the truck body, which cost money and delayed customer delivery time. Also, customer-requested changes could sometimes lead SVI back to the drawing board for rework that might take weeks.
“We were trying to communicate with customers who aren’t necessary familiar with 2D drawings. It was difficult for them to understand the depths,” Moore-Sargent says. “Clients would develop a 3D image in their head of what they were proposing, but it was different from what we intended and we had no way to avoid miscommunication or misunderstanding. We would start building, they’d inspect it, and then we’d all realize the misunderstanding and we’d rework the project to meet heir needs."
The new system’s benefits now extend to the manufacturing 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. He expects the tool-cutting device—which SVI will use for sheet-metal parts—will shave days off the production schedule.
One other feature also is easing the time-to-market race: Engineers now store master projects and frequently used component designs within their system’s file application. 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 the 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 is purchased,” Moore-Sargent concludes.





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