Walk into any high-end health club, and you'll see rows of whirring machines, occupied by sweating and straining people. Those strength-training and cardiovascular tools are complex products, created through design cycles as hectic as any car or appliance.
If you exercise in those gyms, chances are you've sweated on a machine from Life Fitness (Franklin Park, IL), a division of the Brunswick Corporation. The company makes Life Fitness® cardiovascular and ParaBody™ strength-training products, for both health clubs and homes. They launched their treadmill in 1991, and the company's Lifecycle® Exercise Bike, launched in 1968, is "the best-selling exercise bike in the world," the company claims.
But in the rush to create and improve these machines, Life Fitness found it was challenged by an enormous collection of CAD models.
"Our big, number-one problem was 'Let's get control of our CAD data'," says Rob Seaman, senior project manager for engineering. "Maintaining the links between parts, assemblies, and models can become a real nightmare. You have to make sure it doesn't blow up—where you lose the constraints and parts fly apart in the model. We've even had two people working on the same part at the same time."
To solve these problems, Life Fitness went shopping for a PDM system to manage its SolidWorks files. They started with a well-known, high-end, enterprise PDM system, but soon found their IT department was working overtime, they were paying huge consulting bills to keep it running, and they were paying coders top-dollar to write custom scripts for every new job.
So they scrapped the system and bought 55 seats of PDM/Works, from DesignSource Technology Inc. (Southborough, MA). An add-on module to the SolidWorks 3D CAD platform, it is designed to enable engineers to easily begin using PDM to track their projects. As a SolidWorks "Gold Partner," the system is transparent to users, since they can use it directly from the main CAD screen, without learning many new commands.
"We give the engineering team a solution that lets them focus on design," says Jim Foster, president of DesignSource. "Something they can pick up and use without taking a six-month course in PDM."
Users say the most powerful part of the application is maintaining a history of each project, tracking who checked any file out of the central vault, and why, says Foster. "If you have 10 people working on a product for three or four months, that can get really complex," he says.
Indeed, at Life Fitness, "we typically have three or four product developments going at any one time…hopefully in different phases," Seaman says. "We're constantly revising all our products."
With all those jobs running at once, Seaman had a long list of primary goals for the new PDM system:
maintain control of the relationships between files and large assemblies
prevent duplicate revisions by controlling file check in/out
centralize the database, so it's easier to find drawings
standardize file-naming conventions to simplify searches
improve concurrent engineering
access old revisions
link other documents to CAD files, such as FEA analysis and part numbers
PDM/Works has fulfilled them all, he says. The only drawback is that he can't use it to communicate with Life Fitness's other offices, in Minnesota, California, and Kentucky. "So we just do it the old-fashioned way; with CD or email," Seaman says.
Since it was seeking simplicity, the company was particularly pleased with the PDM/Works implementation in September: "It went really smoothly; everyone's really quiet," Seamans says. "It's just there and it works."
Design Source has been a SolidWorks Gold Partner since 1999, when they could only track SolidWorks CAD files. Today's release can do much more, tracking nearly any document, such as Word, Excel, PDFs, etc. But there's still room for improvement, Foster says PDM/Works doesn't yet track associativity for non-SolidWorks models. A user can check any CAD file into the system, but it won't be stored in the context of related drawings, parts, and assemblies.
Foster's next step is to expose the API, enabling code-savvy users to mate data from PDM/Works with another system, like MRP, higher-level PDM, or CPC. Foster expects to demonstrate that extension this February.
But he says he'll always focus on ease of use: "As an engineer, when you're trying to be creative in product development, you generally don't want a police chief bogging down and monitoring your every thought," Foster says. "We try to leave engineers unharnessed, so they can focus on design."
For more information about software from SolidWorks: Enter 534
Software from DesignSource Technology: Enter 535