User Story

Hirotech : Mechanical Desktop

Hirotech, Inc., a leading manufacturer serving the automotive industry, recently achieved increased production efficiency as a result of using Mechanical Desktop for industrial design of Mazda car doors. Just three weeks after implementation and training in 3D solid modeling, Hirotech engineers were designing faster and more accurately compared to their traditional methodology.

Hirotech mass produces 100% of the automotive doors for Mazda Motors, as well as specializes in the development and manufacturing of equipment for automotive production lines for Mazda, GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Suzuki, Nissan, Saab, Volvo, Rover, and others.

Hirotech's design department is primarily responsible for designing metal molds, spot welders, and other equipment needed on sheet metal assembly lines. The group offers a range of services including production, testing, assembly line adjustment, delivery, and on-site installation of its products. The company's attention to customer satisfaction is paramount. According to Yukio Nobufuji, a Hirotech section chief of design, "If some product on the assembly line deviates from the margin of error allowed for a particular mold, we adjust the line or the mold on the spot."

Introducing Mechanical Desktop to a Traditional 2D Environment Engineers in design section 2 have been using AutoCAD since 1994 and several migrated to Mechanical Desktop in 1996. According to Nobuyoshi Onishi, director of design section 2, "In 1996, we were searching for a 3D CAD system that was more economical than a UNIX-based product but was as or more robust. I was first introduced to Mechanical Desktop while on a business trip in the United States. A designer using Mechanical Desktop told me about its ease of use and powerful functionality."

In the equipment design environment, designers must be able to visualize cross sections of products. However, prior to implementing CAD, designers would transmit IGES geometry and 2D drawings from the manufacturer to a Hirotech division that used CATIA to generate the cross section drawings. Long waits would occur for the drawings, and sometimes the data was interpreted differently than what the designers intended and the cycle would repeat itself. Needless to say, this was a time consuming and costly process.

Once Mechanical Desktop was introduced, however, Hirotech was able to establish its own design process—initiating and managing all the product data processing in-house using product data and surface, wireframe, and other information. As a result, product cycle time was reduced to just two weeks. Mechanical Desktop files are passed on to the fabrication division as 2D drawings. Because the 3D design data and 2D drawings have dimensional two-way associativity, there is no chance of making an error in transferring the model measurements. Furthermore, since the data is linked to the assembly model, the parts model, and the 2D drawings of the parts model, the additional step of checking the drawing is no longer necessary. Nobufuji adds, "I believe that in the near future, the time required for generating drawings using Mechanical Desktop will be reduced by 50% compared to what it used to be. Also, the 3D rendering is an excellent communications tool for everyone including clients. Three-dimensional solid models convey exactly how the new product will look and perform—very powerful capabilities that no 2D drawing can offer. From now on, the positive impact of computer graphics will become more and more important."

Finally, Mechanical Desktop is also being used to check interferences between units on one piece of equipment. For example, door panel constraints are comprised of various devices that are numerous and complex. Hirotech's ability to visualize interference among parts at the design phase is a great competitive advantage.

Hirotech uses the "train the trainer" method for training Mechanical Desktop. Onishi says, "Once you learn the techniques, it's extremely easy to teach someone else how to use it. My first big breakthrough was understanding AutoCAD's UCS. Once I had learned this, my 3D design skills increased. Our design method is to work from the inside out. We first arranged the pre-fabricated parts such as the 3D wire doorframe, the cylinders, and other standard parts. Then we filled in the spaces between the other parts.

"In order to create a 3D model from a 2D sketch, it is important to have a good understanding of the features, the sketch, and the constraints. By understanding the work plane and the work axis, or the work points and the sketch surface, one's skill level increases dramatically. Furthermore, creating a solid object in parts modeling requires techniques such as using geometric constraints, not just dimensional constraints."

Three weeks after Mechanical Desktop training, a Hirotech designer who used to work only in 2D, was able to produce the design. Nobufuji says, "After just two weeks of instruction, I was astonished that the employee was immediately able to start working on Mechanical Desktop."

Engineering Housekeeping
Because parts specifications for products purchased (welding guns, cylinders, etc.) are different for every carmaker, Hirotech must begin modeling these parts using Mechanical Desktop. Moreover, the drawings for such parts usually do not exist in CAD format, so an investment in converting 2D drawings to 3D geometry must be made. Once the modeling is complete, the data can be quickly compiled and processed. The more data that is assembled, the higher the turnaround rate becomes, and the greater the efficiency achieved. In addition, if Hirotech narrows the number of clients to a certain extent, or uses the client's specifications, the process becomes even shorter.

Additional Investments in 3D
Hirotech plans to add more Mechanical Desktop seats to its operations. Concerning the increasing efficiency of the flow of operations, in the future the company says it plans to be able to speed productivity and efficiency further by unifying all the design processes with CAD data.

Nobufuji adds, "Of course the design process will be much shorter than it once was, but since the cycle of model changes in the automobile industry is getting shorter every year, we must learn to think in terms of the big picture in order to reduce our lead time. If the lead time shortens, then costs will be reduced as a result." At the present time, the Design Department is effectively making 3D CAD more widespread and training personnel in its use as quickly as possible.

Current Status of Mechanical Desktop
"Mechanical Desktop offers an array of enhancements," says Onishi. "The improved assembly function is a great advancement. Now it will be possible to apply constraining conditions such as constraints that use an axis connecting two points, insertion constraints, etc., which weren't possible with earlier versions. Also, thanks to intelligent constraint analysis that makes it possible to perform a greater number of assembly variations, it now more closely resembles a real assembly. Finally, one of Mechanical Desktop's most valuable features, the table function, we can now deal quickly with part appropriations and part design changes that involve only minor alterations to standard or purchased parts."

Onishi stresses that the Mechanical Desktop environment allows his organization to compete globally. "The software does wonders for designers' sense of self-satisfaction, and the assembly function is superb. The designers find they can create simulations freely and exercise their full creativity without any restrictions, so designing itself becomes very enjoyable."

Author: Laura Carrabine

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Page last modified on May 5, 2000
Copyright 2000 by John Stark