User Story

GEBO Industries : Autodesk Inventor

GEBO Industries is an international company with 30 years experience in developing packaging systems for many industries including the food and beverage markets. The company puts into practice a technical fact often overlooked: the efficiency of packaging lines depends mostly on the conveyor system. GEBO offers comprehensive services, from conceptual design to successful commissioning, combining imagination and pragmatism to find the solutions that will allow its customers to produce more products, at high quality, and without risks. GEBO now designs and builds entire turn-key packaging plant lines. Its development accelerated in 1985 with the creation of a test and simulation center in Montreal, Canada.

At its Bradenton, Florida facility, Sean Dotson BSME, project engineer in the Product Development and Robotics Group (PDG), works with several colleagues - mostly electrical and mechanical engineers - to address custom automation systems as well as internal research and development for GEBO. Dotson manages projects, works with customers to determine exactly what they need, and collaborates with the designers on the mechanical design and construction of the systems. In addition, Dotson is the CAD manager for the Product Development and Robotics Group.

Custom challenges
Dotson says customers typically approach GEBO's PDG because they need a materials handling system to suit a specific need. "In many cases, standard equipment out there just isn't adequate," notes Dotson. "Our customers are looking for machinery that provides efficiency and reliability at an affordable cost."

While the systems that Dotson and his team design are generally more expensive than standard equipment, GEBO customers do not want to invest in a piece of standard equipment that does not do the job correctly or at high efficiency levels. "One of our goals is to determine the most cost effective solution for their application," adds Dotson. "Sometimes that means developing a machine that works on simple cams, gears, or sprockets. Other systems may require more complicated components such as servomotors, laser measurement systems, or robots. Almost always, our equipment consists of multiple moving parts working simultaneously in various directions. Hence, we must consider a range of variables when designing our equipment."

As former user of Autodesk's AutoCAD and Mechanical Desktop, Dotson and his colleagues started using Autodesk Inventor 3D mechanical design software before the technology was commercially available. Today, they use Autodesk Inventor to help them address the issues involved in designing complex GEBO systems.

"Using a 3D tool for assembly fitting," says Dotson, "we can actually visualize how all the parts will fit together as a finished product. We can see how, for instance, plate A and plate B are going to interface with each other in all degrees of motion."

Using Autodesk Inventor's motion constraint functionality, Dotson can evaluate the motion paths of moving parts to check for any interferences. He says that his team designs extremely complex 3D shapes that interact with other parts. The 2D and some 3D software packages do not offer the powerful functionality to show these critical details. "Using motion control, we can review a part or subassembly in position A and position B to see if it achieves the desired results before the machine is built. That's very powerful," adds Dotson.

Prior to using Autodesk Inventor or Mechanical Desktop, Dotson's group was strictly a 2D design environment. "Once we got a taste of Autodesk Inventor, we benchmarked it against the other commercial favorites at the time," adds Dotson. "At first, we thought we would use 3D as a tool for just complex mechanisms or prototypes and maintain a strong 2D design process. However, we quickly started realizing all the terrific benefits of using Autodesk Inventor. We made the leap a lot quicker than we originally thought we would and today, we are designing entirely in 3D. When we found out it was so powerful we quickly changed to using the software for designing the entire machine." Today, the company is looking to expand its number of Autodesk Inventor licenses.

Slick tools
Dotson and his team appreciate the assembly fitting functionality that Autodesk Inventor offers. He says, "Working in 2D, it's difficult to picture objects that are into the z axis. Whereas, using Autodesk Inventor, we can see how everything fits together as a whole unit in 3D space. In addition, we like the detail creation capability because it really speeds up our design process. In the 2D world, we created one view and then projected it two or three more times to create the 2D views. Whereas in Autodesk Inventor, once the model is completed, three or more views can be instantly created. Detail and section views can be created at the touch of a button. The details we are producing with Autodesk Inventor in minutes would have taken hours in a conventional 2D CAD package. A lot of the tedious, mundane tasks have been completely eliminated. We have more time to spend designing."

As a result of implementing Autodesk Inventor, GEBO design rework has decreased more than 25 percent. Fit and alignment mistakes, easily made in a 2D environment, migrated down to the shop floor and caused costly problems when machined parts didn't align correctly. Today, using Autodesk Inventor, Dotson and his team are aided in designing parts that fit right the first time before they move downstream in the product development process.

"Autodesk Inventor's ease of use is far and away better than all the competition," says Dotson. "A designer can be functional within a day or so of using the system. For other packages, our research showed that it takes considerably more time for someone to become functional. If we have to send someone out for training for a few days or even up to a week, it's detrimental to our output. The ability to quickly and easily become proficient using Autodesk Inventor is a big benefit to GEBO. Other designers and engineers in other departments have witnessed our whirlwind embrace of the technology and they are now asking to use the software. People see that we are enthusiastic about design because the technology is so fun to use."

In terms of benefiting customers, Dotson and his team use Autodesk Inventor models for design reviews and customer presentations. The 3D models are very easy to understand in comparison to 2D drawings. "To be able to rotate and animate the models is fantastic. We can generate AVI files and send them off to our customers so they can see exactly how their machine is going to look and how it will perform." How much confidence do they have? "We know with relative certainly that our designs will work when created in Autodesk Inventor as opposed to a 2D package," adds Dotson.

Collaboration over the Net
The PDG designs some intricately machined parts with lots of curves, fillets, and compound angles. The effort of detailing those parts to indicate the locations of radiuses and fillets can be very difficult. Dotson and his team have found a cost-effective methodology to reduce the high costs associated with machining complex parts from 2D drawings. "We export them from Autodesk Inventor to a model file which we send to our machine shop vendors where they generate the part in the CNC mill or lathe directly from the model. That saves a lot of time and effort. Parts that used to cost up to $2,000 to be machined from drawings now cost as little as $200 due to the time saved programming the CNC machines.

"That's a testament to time and money savings. That makes everyone happy," exclaims Dotson.

During the software evaluation period, Autodesk distributor Incat Systems (Orlando, Florida) helped GEBO with Autodesk Inventor presentations and with hardware issues.

Visit or email for more information about GEBO Industries and the Product Development and Robotics Group (PDG).

Author: Laura Carrabine

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Page last modified on January 4, 2001
Copyright 2001 by John Stark