Digital design is here to stay and its implementation is in full swing.
To this end, Ford standardized on the CAD/CAM/CAE software package I-DEAS
from SDRC (Milford, OH).
General Motors standardized on Unigraphics from Unigraphics Solutions (St.
Chrysler standardized on CATIA from Dassault (France).
While the ultimate goals are noble -- save money, get to market quicker, grab
a more competitive position in the industry -- the transition has taken time and
a lot of "retraining" of design engineers for both manufacturer as well as
When Ford standardized back in 1994, the process included all their suppliers
and manufacturing facilities around the world. The program, dubbed C3P for
CAD/CAM/ CAE/PIM (Ford's version of product data management or PDM), is part of
Ford's attempt to eliminate the physical prototype.
The first vehicle from Ford's C3P program has yet to roll into a showroom for
sale. But cars are coming. For example, the Ford Thunderbird Concept Car debuted
at the North American International Auto Show in January. A new recreation
vehicle will debut next summer, and a European mid-sized car is scheduled for
C3P started in earnest in 1995. But it took time to lay out the whole
process, train company engineers, upgrade and train suppliers, as well as
integrate every aspect of product development, says Jay Hay, SDRC's vice
president of the Ford program office. Hay manages all of Ford's deployment of
I-DEAS and its accompanying PDM software, Metaphase, worldwide. After three and
a half years, the original five-year plan may stretch into six.
To implement the C3P program, FORD asked all of its suppliers to adopt
I-DEAS, Metaphase, and the C3P software internally developed at FORD for
communicating designs. By doing this, all four aspects of digital prototype
design -- the digital clay where the styling is done, the digital buck or
mock-up where all the modules come together, the digital test center where
performance is evaluated, and the digital factory where tooling and
manufacturing is simulated -- are available for review, inspection, and comment
by the parties involved.
"All the major car companies are implementing similar programs," says Hay.
"But in my opinion, Ford is advanced in the way they tied the four segments into
their C3P program, making the designs available and accessible to their
suppliers and designers around the world."
Today's suppliers are part and parcel of the process, says Hay. "Suppliers
are now designing 50% or more of today's cars." Having such a direct line of
communication between supplier and manufacturer is a real advance, eliminating
down time and potential mistakes.
Brad Kuehn, design manager from ADAC Plastics, Inc. (Grand Rapids, MI),
agrees. "Metaphase has perhaps the biggest impact in our ability to design parts
faster and more accurately from the beginning because we are always sure that we
are viewing the most up-to-date designs," he says.
"Metaphase provides an instant data exchange direct with Ford even if they
aren't our files," says Kathy Gross, ADAC CAD designer. "We can go into
Metaphase for the newest review of glass or sheet metal design. Other suppliers
can pull up our part to see how our latch will pick up their rod."
ADAC, a Tier 1 supplier for Ford, most recently designed the new Thunderbird
door handles. "Ford considers handles like jewelry," says Timothy Fullmer,
manager of engineering services at ADAC. Usually there aren't any flat surfaces
or perfectly round ones and they must have a high degree of integrity.
The Thunderbird handle is a standard paddle, a horizontal lift-up style.
However, the proprietary design makes it one of the first door handles on the
market that does not make a noise when the user releases the flap, says Fullmer.
Designing door handles is more complex than one may think, says Kuehn. Twenty
two parts, including pins, springs, housing, latching mechanisms and cables,
must fit into the pocket of an increasingly thin door panel and not interfere
with opening and closing the window pane. They have to function every time, must
be aesthetically pleasing, and ergonomically correct. They must be able to
withstand side and rear impact.
"We start from scratch for every design. For example, the sheet metal skin
isn't the same for any car design," says Kuehn. The interface with the handle
and the crown of the material is always different. Style drives everything at
the beginning of the program.
When ADAC first won the door handle contract from Ford, they did not use
I-DEAS. ADAC engineers designed with a 3D surfacing and wireframe system. I-DEAS
is a solids-based system. "Building parts required a new thought process," says
Gross. "Before, I put lines in the computer and put a 'fabric' or surface on the
line. Now I'm starting with blocks and cylinders and cut out areas that I want."
"Parametrics are definitely the wave of the future and all product
development will involve this process," she says.
"But learning I-DEAS was probably the same as learning any other program,"
says Gross. "It took me about six months before I felt proficient and about a
year before I was really comfortable."
"Training is key," says Kuehn. "There is no substitute for taking the time in
the very beginning to understand how a software package works."
Knowing the importance of training, Ford started a Global Supplier
Integration program. Thirty people from Ford along with 30 people from SDRC work
with engineers from 30 different programs. When a supplier buys a solution seat,
the company also is buying training and assistance at the same time.
The training was helpful, says Kuehn, but to ensure a speedy and efficient
transition to the new system, he hired engineers with SDRC experience. "I have
only top notch people working for me," says Kuehn, "but training on a new system
is never easy. We went out and hired people who had five or six years experience
with SDRC and these people became our in-house teachers."
In addition to I-DEAS, ADAC uses CATIA from Dassault for surfacing and
directly translating the information into I-DEAS. "I-DEAS handles data well if
you bring the information from another package," says Kuehn. "But it has a hard
time generating the shapes itself."
Originally Ford said that all its suppliers had to use ICEM surfacing, a
high-level surfacing package. "Now this was hard to learn," says Fullmer. So six
months later, Ford came out and said the supplier could use any CAD program they
were comfortable with as long as it was Class A and could be directly translated
I-DEAS proved to be helpful for running FEA analysis and for sharing data.
Allied Signal, which supplies ADAC with the polymer resin material for the
handle, used I-DEAS prior to the C3P program. "Most automotive handles are now
made out of nylon," says Kuehn. "Allied Signals performs mold flow and plastic
analyses for our designs. These tests help us evaluate any weak areas," he says.
Here again is where communication comes into play, says Kuehn. Allied Signal
can pick up ADAC's designs and run the necessary tests without any translation
or loss of data. "With C3P's PIM program, we can share data easily and quickly."
Now they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. "In the beginning it was
hard. But last year we saw leaps and bounds in our ability to work with the
system," Kuehn says. In the long run, the new system will cut door handle design
time from the traditional 10 to 12 weeks to six to eight, he believes.
Getting Tier One suppliers on board will make digital prototyping work, says
SDRC's Hay. "But we still have lots of work."
Virtual reality for the virtual prototype
Now that we have this digitally designed prototype of a car, how are we going
to view it? With virtual reality, of course.
Robert Mehall, Director of the EDS Center (Detroit, MI) and Joseph Shaver,
Manger of Business Development, offer services for car manufacturers, suppliers,
and potential buyers to do just that.
Using visualization and simulation tools on the market, EDS offers a facility
where clients can view and interact with a life-size virtual prototype in real
time. "CAD now is all 3D," says Mehall, "but that 3D is still projected on a 2D
EDS provides 3D stereo equipment that displays two images simultaneously.
When a user dons a pair of virtual reality glasses that interact with the
computer-generated image so that left eye sees one image and the right eye sees
the other, the wearer has the impression of depth.
At the EDS Center, clients can view their newest creation either on a 24 x 6
ft power wall or 3D screen, or in the "CAVE." The CAVE is a cube-shaped area
where the car is projected onto the floor from the ceiling. "This method makes
people feel like they are inside the vehicle. With this greater degree of
inversion, they can interact with the interior better," says Mehall.
Engineers can import any CAD file and create a car of bits and bytes with
compatible visualization and simulation software. "We offer vender
independence," says Shaver. EDS partners with software and hardware companies to
customize virtual reality solutions for clients. These include such companies as
SGI, Alias Wavefront, PTC, Unigraphics, Dassault, Deneb Robotics, Eon Reality,
EDI, and Opti Core.
If a company wants to build such a facility at their plant, consultants from
EDS advise what hardware and software is most compatible with their CAD/CAM/CAE
systems. Although individual client programs are customized from tools off the
shelf, EDI developed priority codes to easily translate data between software
packages to the big screen and back to the client.
Who needs a life-sized display of their car? "Virtual reality is great for
design reviews," says Mehall. This technique is useful to test consumer
preferences, likes and dislikes.
Instead of bringing expensive physical prototypes to auto shows, Shaver
suggests that manufacturers can bring a computer-generated vehicle. Potential
buyers can test the car style by color, cycling through the rainbow with a
keystroke. Designers can view the car on the streets of Detroit, in a showroom,
or on an airfield in Colorado.