3D tools un-lock huge benefits in Canadian waterway project

Use of 3D digital prototyping has steered a major project to retrofit waterway locks along Ontario’s Welland Canal to unparalleled success.

The technology has driven huge efficiencies for Bosch Rexroth Canada (BRC), the company contracted to modernize the canal locks of the busiest waterway in North America, the St. Lawrence Seaway’s Welland Canal.

BRC executives say 3D tools from San Rafael, Calif.-based Autodesk Inc. – notably Autodesk Inventor – helped it effectively tackle this challenging project.

The technology enabled the company to drastically curtail drawing errors, cut production time in half, and led to a clearer understanding of design intent.

A vital part of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Welland Canal provides safe passage around the Niagara Falls, overcoming a 100 metre height difference between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie via eight locks over a distance of 44 kilometers.

Around six years ago, the task of modernizing these locks was assigned to BRC, a provider of “drive and control” products.

The firm previously used AutoCAD’s 2D design suite for its projects.

But as technicians could not adequately visualize design intent from 2D renderings there were numerous drawing errors, noted Jim Lambert, design manager of BRC’s industrial hydraulics business unit.

And these errors meant a great deal of re-work.

Though in 2003, BRC increased its staff count (in response to business growth) more designers didn’t enhance drawing accuracy.

So when the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. (SLSMC) commissioned BRC to modernize the Welland canal locks, Ben Gilmore the company’s lead drafting designer for the initiative, decided it was time to test Autodesk Inventor.

The $28 million project mainly involved retrofitting 100-ton, cable operated seaway doors manufactured in the 1800s with modern hydraulic mechanisms.

Inventor software, helped BRC design all-new hydraulic systems for the canal in 3D.

Lambert says the reduction in design time and drawing errors was dramatic. How dramatic?

“Projects that would normally take 1,000 hours to produce were generated in half the time with far more detail than was possible in the 2D world,” said Lambert.

He said average monthly “non-conformances” were reduced by 46 per cent, drawing errors cut by 25 per cent, and design time halved.

“For a project as complicated as this 2D drawings just wouldn’t, suffice.”

For example, Lambert said, in a previous complex fabrication project rendered on AutoCAD, BRC designers had a tough time describing what the piece would look like to fabrication shop workers.
“With 3D drawings, the shop gained a gained a clearer understanding of the design allowing them to fabricate much quicker”.

According to the BRC executive, Autodesk Inventor also fosters greater customer involvement in the design process.

Customers are able to visualize better, disassemble, section, redline and measure the actual 3D model on their computer screens and ensure that what’s being built meets specs.

“We were able to produce machining and fabricating drawings to exact specifications, and functions were proofed in the engineering office not the manufacturing floor,” Lambert said.
“We saved 15 to 20 per cent on material and labour cost.”

Enabling designers and technicians to communicate effectively and sort out fit-and-function issues with the use of digital prototypes is a key advantage of 3D software tools such as Inventor, according to Kerry Saumur, sales development director of the Americas Manufacturing Solution Division, at Autodesk.

Design collision detection and analysis are areas where 3D tools shine, according to George Goodall, senior technology research analyst with a civil engineering background, for Info-Tech Research Group.

“These products can alert designers immediately if there are any areas where one element might clash with another. The software helps users visualize how design changes will affect the model even before it is actually applied.”

For example, the tool can immediately show contractors in a building project if a planned pipe installation would potentially hit a wall.

Many 3D tools can also calculate and analyze load and stress levels to avoid “over-building,” the Info-Tech analyst noted.

Hew said manufacturers and builders often over-spec a design because they are not certain about material stress or load capacities. However, digital prototypes allow builders to put virtual models through various tests to determine the best design and material combination.

This was what designers did when they built the Boeing 787 jet using digital prototyping, Goodall said.

Numerous metal shims are installed on aircraft bulkheads to prevent rattling. However, there is a tendency to install more shims than needed. The shims make the plane heavy and require more fuel to keep the craft airborne.

Goodall said a 3D digital prototype enable designers to determine the exact number of shims the plane needed and saved builders and customers millions of dollars in the process.

Autodesk 3D tools are very popular in the architectural, engineering and construction fields but tools developed by SolidWorks Corp. of Concord; Mass enjoy greater penetration in the mechanical and automotive sector, according to Goodall.

Goodall urges companies intending to adopt 3D digital prototyping technology to consider the following:

Determine if 3D tools are actually needed by your organization – Some businesses that are involved in much simpler projects and have not desire to branch out might actually save on expenses by sticking to 2D.

Investigate what impact the technology will have on your process – When considering shifting to a new technology it is best to study how it will change existing practices and how workers should adopt.

Shop around for the most appropriate product – Knowing what you want 3D technology to do for you will help you determining what you should purchase from the wide range of tools available in the market. Some companies might only need a 3D application for rendering purposes to aid the marketing department. Google offers a cheap and excellent tool called Sketch Up, said Goodall.

But companies that need a more powerful system that has design collision detection or analytical features may want to consider other options.

Consider your existing workforce – Evaluate your employees who will be affected by the purchase. Will extensive or minimum training be needed or is it best to hire new designers proficient with the tool?

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