Hartness International (Greenville, SC) designs custom-built case-packing machinery for manufacturers across a variety of industries, including food and beverage, pharmaceutical, chemical, electronics, automotive, and cosmetics. It recently upped its efficiency by developing a dynamic accumulating conveyor system that intelligently regulates the flow of products between multiple packaging and packing machines.
In the olden days, packaging equipment manufacturers like Hartness used to have as many as 24 months to perfect their designs. And once built, a system could be expected to last for up to a decade. That was then, of course, and this is now. A packaging system is doing well if it lasts a few years before giving way to the next great thing.
To keep pace, Hartness has introduced packaging equipment with high-tech diagnostics and, among other innovations, a finger grid system that facilitates quick repair during production.
But the company found itself in a bind. It had committed to delivering a specific model of its dynamic accumulating conveyor system (DYNAC) to a customer in four months' time, and two months into the project the customer changed the specifications of the containers it expected the equipment to handle.
"The machine we had intended to install in their plant was no longer suitable," recalls Hartness President Bern McPheely.
So Hartness engineers began scrambling to find product design software that would help them redesign quickly. "We didn't have time to make any mistakes," comments McPheely. "We had to see the machine before going to metal."
McPheely was skeptical at first about his engineers' recommendation to go with SolidWorks solid modeling software. The idea of installing a new tool, training engineers, and producing a machine within the time available seemed like a large undertaking.
"SolidWorks was easier than we thought it would be," recalls Product Manager Olivier Duterte. The software was sufficiently intuitive that engineers were up and running in a matter of weeks. "We had formal training for two days and started making parts on the third."
With four engineers working at top speed on the project, SolidWorks made it easy for managers to view the team's progress. "Unlike working with 2D drawings, SolidWorks lets you see the parts and the assemblies in 3D," explains Duterte. "It's much easier for managers to evaluate how the project is evolving."
During the rapid design of the DYNAC, managers would often discuss ways to optimize the design with engineers, while viewing SolidWorks parts and assemblies from different perspectives to gain a better idea of how the product would look and function.
"Our traditional method would never have allowed us to work in assemblies as we do in SolidWorks," asserts Duterte. "We can test how moving parts will fit and interact. We can easily define intelligence between entities and change parts and configurations from within an assembly. We can assemble the whole machine and not have any surprises."
Hartness engineers particularly liked being able to design parts within the context of the assembly and perform "what if" scenarios. "With SolidWorks," says Duterte, "we can see the relationship between assemblies and decide the optimum design for our machine."
Commenting on the potential of "what if" scenarios, McPheely observes, "Traditionally, we've been an R & D shop designing new packaging machinery for every different kind of container that exists. Now we're hoping to go in the opposite direction, using 3D to design machines that will accept a larger variety of containers."
According to Duterte, "With SolidWorks, changes are economical and easy to make because you haven't produced parts."