Engineering software is hot, even in the appliance industry where it helps designers innovate, cut prototypes, and shorten design time for refrigerators, stoves, and washing machines. Take Whirlpool for example.
"Our big engineering issues are reducing costs—especially materials costs—and reducing design time," says Lead Engineer Curtis Niemier. Reducing the number of physical prototypes is critical for the latter, he says. Software enables cutting months off product development time by making it possible for engineers to design in new features and test them out on computer. Whirl-pool's primary engineering software: Pro/Engineer for CAD and ANSYS for finite element analysis.
In one recent project, development of a new refrigerator the company will introduce in the spring of 2004, engineers grappled with the design impact on wiring and energy from using thinner walls. Those thinner walls are among many functional design innovations the company is pursuing, though it won't comment on the specifics this early in the project. Software has become a critical tool in the project.
"Using our finite element analysis, we discovered that the thinner walls were a major factor in cabinet stiffness," Niemier recalls. Experimenting with the software, they learned that they had to add brackets and other fasteners to get back the stiffness they were sacrificing by going to thinner walls. "Without the software, we would have had to build physical prototypes to be sure that strategy would work," he says. Likewise, through software iterations, engineers learned alternative ways to attach the front rail across the bottom of the unit.
At Maytag/Amana, engineers face similar issues as those at Whirlpool, and increasingly depend on their suite of software packages to help. "We have run thousands of analyses just for optimizing refrigerator cabinets," says Ron Anderson, manager of advanced technology.
Engineers there use Pro/Engineer for CAD, I-DEAS for drafting, ANSYS for finite element analysis, Fluent for computational fluid dynamics, Maple, and Mathematica.
"We share solid model files with vendors who make the tools for parts," says Anderson. He adds that the company is organizing its engineering data with the project management capabilities in Pro/Engineer.