Colt International

Switching to 3D CAD has a big impact; management involvement is crucial

About Colt International

Colt International is the independent operating company of the Colt Group of Companies. This globally-represented company was founded in 1931 in the UK. Colt International create energy efficient buildings with integrated technologies that use natural elements. Colt does this through a holistic approach in which the different technologies work together to reduce a building's energy demand. Examples of these different technologies include lowering the cooling load with outdoor awnings, using the properties of air, earth, and water, and using the façade to generate electricity.

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3D modelling produces an explosion of data. If you want to reuse models frequently - and that was one of our main drives - they have to be properly managed within a PDM system.

Fokko Numan

Engineering Manager - Colt International
Silhouet
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Switching from 2D to 3D

Colt International's engineering department wanted to switch from 2D to 3D CAD. Colt wanted to consolidate the entire project – system, implementation, and training – with one party, but a good partner proved difficult to find. And the connection with the ERP system of the Baan Corporation, now owned by Infor Global Solution, also had to be considered. Ultimately, the involvement of management was one of the factors to the project's success. 'But involvement has a way of fading,' observes engineering manager Fokko Numan.

After the 'island automation' of the mid-nineties, the idea arose that central automation was the solution. From that moment on, all systems were supposed to have interoperability. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that this was not a real solution. For many departments, the functionality just wasn't enough, so we still had to carry out customization. Due to customization, the issues associated with island automation were able to sneak in again through the back door.

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Bottom-up

Ever since then, companies have tried multiple strategies to resolve this issue, but the 'magic solution' to all the problems remains elusive. In the meantime, a more pragmatic approach has been taken to IT that entails giving departments more space to choose their own systems. Most of the IT projects were initiated 'bottom up' at Colt International, a supplier of comprehensive solutions for air conditioning, fire safety, noise control, and heat recovery.

Fokko Numan, engineering manager at Colt International: 'Most IT projects are borne out of a departmental need. A project plan is drawn up, then it's submitted to the departmental director, who forwards this to the financial director for approval. Next we work with the relevant department on the practical implementation. This ensures that the functionality fulfils needs while still considering how this fits in with the greater picture.'

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3D-CAD

'A year ago,' says Fokko Numan, 'a large portion of the engineering activities consisted of repeat transactions. This was not an efficient way of working: everyone had developed an individual way of working, which sometimes led to the same tasks being completed twice. The exchange of information with the other departments, such as analysis, testing, and production, was not optimal. Standard drawings were often printed out for production using the 2D CAD system, after which the order specification had to be handwritten on them. Little time remained for the actual product development.' 

A 3D CAD system should be able to automate many of the repetitive transactions. Instead of standard drawings, one can work with a parametric model in which the parameters are completed for specific orders. Fokko Numan points out: 'A major advantage of 3D is that you can start with an idea – a possible solution – and immediately start working on the form. In 2D, you always have to start with just the x and y coordinates. Most products are just a variation on a theme. With a 3D system, you can much more easily modify an existing design. By using what you already have, you can much more quickly develop a new unique solution.'

Standard demo

With so much approval lined up, was it a piece of cake? Fokko Numan responds: 'Not entirely. As a department, we had compiled a very streamlined package of requirements, and accessibility and user-friendliness were some of the most important package components. We also had to be able to seamlessly import and parametrically model our existing drawings.

Another important point was that a link had to be established between the CAD system and our ERP system from Baan.' The latter consideration was important because a lot of information had to be reuploaded for the parts list routing, which was not only inefficient, but also highly error prone.

Opting for Cadac and Inventor

Numan wanted to consolidate the entire project – including the system, implementation, and training – with one party, but a good partner proved difficult to find. 'Based on our package of requirements,' he explains, 'we shortlisted three packages: Pro/Engineer, Solid Edge, and Autodesk Inventor. We then asked three suppliers to give us a business-specific demonstration based on one of our most important ventilators. Only one supplier, Cadac, came to us with the requested demonstration. The other two just sent us a standard demo without any additional explanation.'

This is partly the reason why the final choice came down to Inventor, with Cadac as the supplier and implementation partner. 'Inventor,' contends Fokko Numan, 'is definitely not the most advanced 3D package, but it suits our needs the best. If 2D software users start looking at 3D solutions, a whole world of options will open up for them. Each software package can do even more than the last. Finally, we took a very strict look at what we actually needed. Truthfully, we'll never use most of the package's bells and whistles.'

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Configurator

And, did everything proceed smoothly then? 'Yes it did, actually,' responds Numan. At least, together with Cadac we did take a fresh look at our project proposal. One aspect of this was that we wanted to use the 3D system as a kind of model configurator. Within our ERP system, we work with a product configurator that has an individual code for each different standard configuration. We believe that you should be able to use this code to manage the CAD model. This provided us with a direct connection with Baan.'

Cadac's response was brief and crystal clear: Don't do it! Numan explains: 'Their arguments were actually quite logical. This option would have provided us with two configurators, both of which would need to have been maintained. In fact, their argument was that choosing that option would not strengthen the engineering, but rather limit it. The transformation from 'standard' to 'special' resided with engineering. The designer also had to have complete freedom. The decision and responsibility had to reside with the engineering department and stay there, not in the ERP system.' This, however, resulted in the abandonment of the envisioned Baan link.

3D modelling requires a good PDM system

Up to that point, Colt International had managed all of its drawings with Excel. For inventor, people realized that it might be smart to use the package's own straightforward management system. Cadac also advised against this. Numan recalls: 'What we had initially overlooked is that 3D modelling creates an explosion of related files. If you prefer to reuse models frequently - and that is precisely one of our main drives - these should be managed properly.'

The solution proffered by Cadac was an Autodesk PDM solution, a PDM system (product data management). This hit two birds with one stone: well-structured file management and a good ERP link. 'The importance of management commitment becomes evident,' comments Numan, 'because this all resulted in a more complex project that ending up taking a longer time. What we had initially assumed would take one year blossomed into two years. While at first the focus was on 3D CAD, we began also focusing on a PDM system which involved a more complex ERP link.

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