DN Staff

February 26, 2001

7 Min Read
Software helps engineers turn a profit

Turning a profit-the bottom line for any company. But what's the best way to do that?

While there are many options, perhaps the best is still the old adage: to make money, you have to spend money.

Many CFOs and accounting departments, however, see spending money on engineering as a necessary evil. At some companies, engineering departments are viewed as money pits instead of moneymakers. And in fact, it may be the last place many people look to as a profit center.

For example, CAD, FEA, and other computer-aided tools give engineers flexibility to do numerous iterations, quickly, leading to better designs.

Here are three cases that prove that point:

Fewer ECOs

Gem City Engineering (GCE, Dayton, OH), designer and manufacturer of custom automation equipment and machinery, cut its internal engineering change orders (ECOs) by a factor of 10 by investing in Solid Edge, a 3D modeling CAD package from Unigraphics (St. Louis, MO).

Roger Wentworth, a 17-year GCE veteran and director of mechanical engineering, knew that moving to 3D solid modeling was a necessary step. He selected Solid Edge based on its price, short learning curve, and productivity features. A bit skeptical, he started with only four seats "to try it out."

GEM City Engineering was able to reduce internal engineering change orders by 90% using SolidEdge 3D modeling CAD software.

Wentworth tested the CAD package on a large mechanical design project. The 10-x15-foot automated machine required three conveyor systems, a 6-axis robot, a 3-axis custom-designed positioning system, a feed system, two cam-driven indexing units, a vision system, and dozens of pneumatically activated motions. With only a week of training in Solid Edge, taken six months prior to beginning this project, the three lead engineers brought the project in ahead of schedule, under budget, and with fewer internal ECOs than what GCE considered normal.

With just this one project, Solid Edge practically paid for itself. The cost of an ECO at GCE runs between $360 and $700, depending on how much rework is required by manufacturing, says Wentworth. On this project, 23 ECOs relating to design decisions and errors were turned in. "In the past we could expect 10x that amount or about 200 changes," he says.

In dollars and cents, the savings break down this way:

200 ECOs @ an average cost of $530 = $106,000

23 ECOs @ an average cost of $530 = $12,190

Saving = $93,810

12 seats of Solid Edge @ 5,000 = $60,000

Total savings: $33,810

Wentworth says, "This is the best decision we ever made." Today Solid Edge is the design platform of choice in the GCE engineering department. Several Solid Edge Voyager Program software tools round out GCE engineers' computer-aided engineering tools. These include Working Knowledge (San Mateo, CA), Working Model for 2D real world kinematics studies, Workspace for robotic simulations, cycle time studies, spatial analysis, and visualization software, all from MSC.Software; FEA software from ANSYS (Canonsburg, PA); and EdgeCAM from Pathtrace (Reading, United Kingdom).

Happy customers

Patrick McSwain, president and founder of Quality Inspection (Corona, CA), started his quality inspection and reverse engineering company in 1993 with no money. "I essentially starved the first thirty days," he recalls. But after the first month, the business became profitable and since then, it has grown on average 33% per year.

McSwain credits his company's growth to CADKEY and its ability to import customer CAD files and export their digitized data, regardless of platform.

More than 98% of his customers are repeat customers. While it is hard to put a dollar value on a happy customer, says McSwain, "our average sales volume per customer is $11,312. On the flip side, if the company loses one customer because of poor quality CAD data, not only do they lose $11K, but also word-of-mouth contacts get lost.

"From a financial standpoint, CADKEY is probably the most critical element of our success," says McSwain. "I doubt if I'd still be in business without it."

Shortened design time

Krebs Engineering (Tucson, AZ), manufacturer of cyclone separation solutions, needed an integrated, computer-aided design, manufacturing, and engineering system to help shorten its manufacturing time. In this system, they wanted a package that required no programming, was easy to use, easy to learn, flexible, and able to grow with their needs.

In addition, the company asked Mark Holmberg, engineering manager at Krebs, to put bill of material information on fabrication drawings. "But if we added BOM data to our drawings, how could we get it automatically into our ERP system?" asked Holmberg. Some data, such as part numbers, were entered five times or more from the time an order was brought-in-house until release to manufacturing. "We wanted to eliminate some of those steps," says Holmberg.

After evaluating several packages, Krebs chose CATIA from Dassault Systems, with SmartTeam, a PDM package.

While they haven't quantified the numbers, Holmberg knows that the switch to CATIA saves the company money. "Up to now, the modeling of a new design could easily take eight hours," Holmberg says. "Now I anticipate 3D, bill-of-material-ready CATIA designs can be completed in two to three hours, maybe less. Our current AutoCAD drawings can be linked with SmartTeam, allowing us to maintain legacy data, while we increase our use of CATIA."

Profit is much more than the transaction of money from customer to vendor. Getting and keeping customers, fewer engineering change orders, shorter development times are just a few of the ways engineers and their tools help fill company coffers.

Simulation increases bottom line, says MSC.Software

MSC.Software is doing its part to help companies turn a profit.

MSC.visualNastran 4D, MSC's desktop simulation tool for midrange CAD programs such as Solid Edge and Inventor, merges motion and FEA into a single functional modeling system.

"4D puts Mother Nature into 3D models," says Tyler Smithson, director of channel business development at MSC.Software.

Simulation is the fourth dimension of CAD, says Richard Bush, director of marketing communications. It reduces development time by eliminating prototypes, improves performance, helps secure sales through a clear presentation of the idea, and even reduces mitigation errors, which reduces warranty cost through a better risk assessment.

To Jarret "Dr. GoFast" Ewanek-a street luge racer, aerospace engineer, and owner of Dr. GoFast's Hi Speed Gear-performance was everything. When he decided to build a full function rear suspension system for a street luge for the Red Bull Streets of San Francisco race, he started with software. Using Autodesk's Mechanical Desktop 3.0, Dr. GoFast created parametric solid models and assemblies of his initial design concept. He imported this virtual machine into MSC.visualNastran 4D for kinematic analysis. Using TOPO software, Ewanek obtained accurate topographical data of the San Francisco racecourse. A series of iterative simulations set up inside of MSC.visualNastran allowed Ewanek to take a virtual ride down the hill weeks before the other competitors even saw the hill. The result? He came in four seconds ahead of anyone else. His luge design became so popular that he stopped racing temporarily to manufacture and sell his machine.

Sanderson Engine Development (SED), LLC was just a paper company with a new idea for an engine, pump, or compressor. "Nastran 4D allowed us to take our concept, analyze key components and joints, and build a low -vibration design," says John Fox, general manager at SED. "Then we created kinematic movies of the engine design. These movies were instrumental in communicating to prospective customers what we had." In just six months, Sanderson Engine had negotiated a collaborative development agreement with a major pump manufacturer, plus a similar arrangement with a major manufacturer of pressure washers.

That's the power of simulation.

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