Quickly and efficiently designing with Autodesk Inventor and Autodesk PDM
Developing turn-key installations and systems
Eltomation, located in Voorthuizen, specializes in the development and delivery of turn-key product installations and systems for the production of different kinds of cement bound sheets, such as: Wood Wool Cement Board (WWCB), also called woodwool cement slab, EltoBoard, EltoPlank, and Cement Bonded Particle Board (CBPB).
More than 150 product locations
These slabs and panels are used as insulating ceiling or wall boards, as well as roof boards. What's more, these boards are used in building systems as permanent formwork. Eltomation has more than 150 of these product locations and systems in roughly thirty countries worldwide. Eltomation also holds many patents on self-developed machines.
All over the world, cement bonded boards are produced on production lines made by Dutch company Eltomation: from China and South Korea to Austria, France, Switzerland, and Germany – and yet the company can continue adding more countries to the list. The market is booming. To efficiently cope with the tremendously growing demand, Eltomation chose Autodesk Inventor in combination with a Product Data Management (PDM) solution of Autodesk.
'In the Netherlands, only one company makes this type of board,' says Paul van Elten, technical director of Eltomation, giving a brief outline of the market for his company. 'Worldwide there are currently about 50, the demand for cement bonded boards is growing enormously, and there is a need to produce better and more quickly. The growing demand is largely due to the demand for products made with natural materials and for which little energy is required during production. Cement bonded boards meet these sustainability requirements. The boards consist of wood wool and cement, and they take relatively little energy to produce. In addition, the panels are waterproof, fire retardant, and sound absorbent.'
Insight into complexity
The engineering of the machines takes place entirely at Eltomation. Components production is outsourced to local machine shops. The assembly is performed under the watchful eye of Eltomation staff who travel to the location for this purpose. Eltomation has used AutoCAD combined with Autodesk Inventor for the engineering process for about three years. A step that was driven for the most part by the increasing complexity of the machines.
Van Elten explains: 'We also make complex machines, for example, ones that make simultaneous linear and rotating movements. This cannot be calculated with 2D view drawings. So we asked several suppliers to show us how their 3D solutions would work with our AutoCAD drawings. Cadac Group proposed Autodesk Inventor as the best option. Not only could we easily import and export the AutoCAD format using this software, we had also chosen a supplier with extensive knowledge of the market. That was also important to us because we regularly use temporary staff to handle production peaks.'
Starting gradually with Inventor
The decision was made that one of our four in-house engineers would begin working with Autodesk Inventor. In principle, completely new projects were executed in Autodesk Inventor, and existing drawings were first transferred to the most complex machines. Cadac Group seconded some staff at Eltomation and both there, in Voorthuizen, and at Cadac Group, these people began converting drawings into Autodesk Inventor.
Van Elten was closely involved with this process, 'It was nice to have staff from Cadac Group walking around because you could always ask them for advice. The switch itself was not as smooth as we had hoped. It was very busy, and with many new projects it was simply easier and less risky to use the existing AutoCAD drawings as a base. This meant it took a relatively long time until all of the engineers had made the switch.More about Autodesk Inventor
Significantly fewer errors
Engineer Hans Jordan reveals that switching to this new way of working was harder for some than others. 'It was often easier for younger colleagues than for the slightly older ones. In the meantime, no one has expressed any desire to go back to the old situation. That's understandable, because they can all see that significantly fewer errors are committed in the production drawings. The problems in the machines are also far easier to detect and understand. The 3D images make it easier to discuss a solution for an issue that has been spotted.'
The 3D models are used in the external communication as support for manufacturing and assembly. Van Elten says: 'Machine shops always receive a 3D model which they can examine with a viewer. For the assembly of a complex line, we make sure that a PC is at the ready with 3D models for reference. With this set-up, certain details become easily visible.'
Ten times more drawings
Meanwhile, the market grew and thus so did production at Eltomation. In a few years' time, the company was making no less than ten times more drawings than they had been previously. A problem emerged, however. 'We once opted to link every drawing to a customer,' according to Van Elten.
'Whenever we were designing a machine for another customer, the drawings were renumbered so that each customer received a new set of drawings; also when the new machine was virtually identical to the existing machine. This renumbering took up a relatively large portion of an engineer's valuable time. Some colleagues in their previous functions had gained experience with PDM, so we began to delve even deeper into this.
PDM Awareness Training
Several Eltomation employees followed a PDM Awareness Training programme at Cadac Group. It quickly became clear that the PDM solution of Autodesk was the best solution for Eltomation.
'This enabled us to successfully tackle our greatest stumbling block. We resolved the renumbering issue by abandoning the customer-specific numbering system. We let the system do its work. The work of the purchasing department was also simplified. The engineering department staff no longer had to export data to Microsoft Excel before the purchasing department could start its work. Finally, it was easy for us to reuse the components because they were so much easier to find,' says Jordan, who led the implementation of the Autodesk PDM solution, the decisive points for this selection.
The implementation of the PDM solution was not without its setbacks. During this process, Eltomation became painfully aware of the inaccuracies and omissions that had crept into earlier drawings. 'With PDM,' recalls Van Elten, 'the entire process was much more structured. This provides considerable freedom, but it also achieves a lot. Slowly but surely, everyone began getting excited about the new method.'
Van Elten and Jordan, however, were well aware that their work was not over yet. Jordan knows that 'a PDM package cannot be optimized in one year.' 'Our next step was to bring back as many different components as we could. Many components now look different, but they do not actually have to be the same. There is still room for improvement of this aspect.'More about Product Data Management
Even though the switch took more time and effort than the gentlemen had initially estimated, they look back over the past few months and the current situation with satisfaction. 'It was a decision that ended up delivering very good results,' concludes Van Elten. And one that we have learned a great deal from. We thought, for example, that each machine was unique, but now we see that many things can be reused. All in all, this automation step again yielded results where it really matters for each form of automation: increased efficiency and more turnover.'