Span Tech LLC (Glasgow, Kentucky) produces The Designer System® family of modular plastic chain curving conveyors.
Units must be physically interfaced to a broad range of installed machines at the customer’s plant—machines old or new, with their own dimensions, feed and connection requirements. The challenge was to engineer & design custom units quickly.
“We knew the benefits of 3D modeling,” says Bud Layne, the company’s chairman and CEO. “SolidWorks demonstrated a superior interface and the broadest range of add-on functionality for assembly, plastics and sheet metal — things we need.”
Design engineer Steve Fye, said. “We then wanted to capture all the design intent and automate the process in a user-friendly environment. We explored using just SolidWorks and Excel, but creating a solution this way was simply not practical.”
In moving from Pro/E to SolidWorks, we made productivity gains in modelling feature patterns and sheet metal design. However we wanted to do more.
DriveWorks creates new, unique MicroSpan units from customer inputs. The range of variations is large, including various transfer widths, solid or split transfer chains, short chains or long chains, drives on left or right, and so on. Each unique design is created in moments from the rules and options in Drive-Works, which automatically sizes and assembles the required parts at their specified dimensions in a new SolidWorks model.
The original SolidWorks model is preserved, and the new one is saved as a record of one customer’s purchase. “There are two benefits,” Fye points out. “First, we’re able to keep a full record of each custom design, so we can go back to it whenever we want, say for maintenance spares or replacement parts.
Second, every new transfer design can begin with the latest revision level in SolidWorks. The result is that every customer’s design can be viewed at the revision level in effect at the time of the order. All it costs is disk space, which is inexpensive these days.”
To ease design automation, DriveWorks recommends using reference geometry, geometry defined outside a sketch or feature, via sketch lines, reference axes, planes or coordinates. These help manage assembly mates, rather than mating entities or faces. By following these suggestions and using distance mates rather than coincident or concentric, the system more easily designs optional parts, subassemblies and features contingent on customer input. They can be modeled or suppressed without compromising overall assembly relationships.
Excel-based functions help DriveWorks capture engineering design intent behind the geometry. Note that some of the unique aspects are not dimension-driven, but instead are derived from the product on the conveyor, including weight, size, center of gravity, distance between products on the conveyor.
“Our objective has always been to hook engineering to economics,” says Bud Layne, Chairman & CEO. “Our customers are price sensitive, so we’ve long sought for ways to lower design costs. DriveWorks allows us to bypass the usual 3 weeks required to design one of our custom products. Customers can get drawings the next day—they can even get graphics the same day via email— and more importantly, we can deliver product that costs from 12 to 15 percent less than our competition.”
- 90% of engineering time eliminated
- Products now cost 12-15% less than competition
- Customers enquiries - drawings available the next day
“The environment is a joy to work with. No language-based programming is needed. You can adapt your current Excel calculations as well as existing SolidWorks models, plus it’s easy to make forms and dialogs for any level of user.” …Bud Layne, Chairman & CEO, Span Tech LLC
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