From 3D design to an entirely new working method
A new working method
The widespread use of 3D design software has changed the way companies approach the design process. This applies first and foremost to designers and technicians. The advent of new 3D capabilities has radically changed the way they work. While they used to create hand-drawn 2D representations of components, they can now create an entire virtual building in a 3D design environment. Design automation is no used exclusively by engineers or design departments. The software's powerful multimedia capabilities have opened up the design process to non-technical users as well.
Axis of project management
Design information can be seen as the axis of project management. This applies in particular to mechanical design. The complex constructions with their details and specific parts require intensive collaboration. Good and efficient communication speeds up the design process and leads to higher quality, more innovation, and a stronger competitive edge. Firms whose core business is mechanical engineering tend to invest heavily in workflow management systems.
High-quality mechanical design leads to competitive edge
The Dutch/German group Vosta LMG is one of those companies for which the quality of the mechanical design is of crucial importance. Vosta LMG is a highly specialized engineering company with offices in Amsterdam and Lübeck (Germany). The company designs, develops and delivers dredging vessels and technology for dredgers
Vice President of Finance & IT Rob ter Doest of Vosta LMG tells us more. 'Our main speciality is cutter heads. Cutter heads, or simply "cutters" as they are often called, loosen the bottom substrate. These parts are obviously subjected to demanding conditions; the hard bottoms commonly found in China or the Middle East cause rapid wear. It goes without saying that a customer working under these conditions will have exceptionally high quality requirements. Vosta LMG is one of the only companies capable of meeting these top-tier expectations.'
Switching to 3D
Some twenty-five designers currently work together in the German and Dutch branch. In the early nineties, Vosta LMG switched over to AutoCAD, as 2D was no longer sufficient.
'In the late nineties, we switched to 3D because it helped us build models more quickly,' says project manager Martin van den Berg. 'We evaluated several packages and choose Autodesk Mechanical Desktop for several reasons. First, because we wanted to stay with the same manufacturer, and second because we could continue to work with our trusted partner, Cadac Group. Mechanical Desktop didn't offer the same functionalities as the high-end products, but it had a great price-quality ratio and did what we needed it to do.'
Switching to Autodesk Inventor
'In 1999, Vosta was taken over by a new owner and merged to become LMG,' explains Rob ter Doest. 'The German company had just started evaluating 3D packages.
We decided to join them and immediately started evaluating solid modelling packages. Technology had really advanced and there were packages available that offered high-end functionalities for affordable prices. We settled on Autodesk Inventor because of the superior technology and because we wanted to stay with our trusted supplier, Cadac Group.'
From 3D design to an entirely new working method
The arrival of Inventor led to a file explosion. A 2D drawing is a single document that contains a few objects at most; a 3D assembly, on the other hand, can easily consist of hundreds of components. This sudden increase in information has compelled many companies who made the switch to 3D to buy a document management system.
But Vosta LMG needed a document management system for other reasons as well. They needed to improve collaboration between the two branches and share design information with other departments to improve their engineering process.
Axis of the entire company
Few environments can process this design information. Most systems are developed to manage documents. A system developed to manage design information isn't necessarily capable of storing documents.
'We needed a system that could manage integrated product lifecycles and allow us to exchange information with other departments,' explains Rob ter Doest. 'The designers are responsible for managing the components and products in the database and the accompanying specifications. The product information is then linked to follow-up measures, e-mail correspondence with partners, suppliers and clients, follow-up repairs, spare parts, etc.
The product therefore becomes the axis on which the entire business process centres. This gives employees a clear overview of the project and gives designers a virtual 'toolbox' that contains all necessary parts and products.
Reuse and standardization
'The new environment bridges the gap between the technical departments and the non-technical departments, such as sales. It's also the first step towards an ERP system. The environment will eventually develop into a component-based environment with maximum reuse of components and full standardization.'
Cadac Group also recommends Autodesk PDM. 'This software was the answer we were looking for,' says Ter Doest. 'The package can handle the files and the logic behind 3D design systems. It's the perfect addition to high-performance environments like Autodesk Inventor.' Cadac Group's Ben Spreen agrees. 'As one of the leading suppliers of 3D solid modelling software, Autodesk identified the need for further integration between the design environment and the management environment.'
Change leads to greater efficiency
Today, Vosta LMG manages its Dutch and German sites in an Autodesk PDM database. These databases are replicated in real-time, the files are replicated every night. This means both sites share the same information, which contributes to more efficient collaboration.
The new system went live at the end of May. A project of this size obviously includes the necessary change processes. 'We are currently in the middle of the migration phase,' says Ter Doest. 'The users were given tours and are learning how to use the environment for their daily work. This isn't as easy as it may seem. We've noticed a huge difference in how the non-technical employees have adapted to the system and how the technical employees, who helped develop the specifications, have adapted to the system. The former are missing their familiar Explorer environment and don't tend to see the bigger picture. They often have trouble understanding why they need to follow new procedures.'
The solution? 'Help, help, and more help,' says Ter Doest, 'and writing a manual. Good aftercare is extremely important. It helps people adapt to this new working method more quickly and makes them more productive.
We're convinced that, as we start gaining momentum over the next few months, the efficiency of this new environment will become clear.' Vosta LMG expects the transition period to last six months. The company also has ambitious plans to introduce Autodesk's PDM solution as well to link their financial system.