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Dinan : think3's thinkdesign

Mountain View, CA-based Dinan is an automotive engineering company that is dedicated to developing the fastest, best handling, street legal BMWs available anywhere. The Dinan signature is part of countless components bound for BMWs including high performance wheels, suspension systems, superchargers, and torque converters, to name a few. The company's design goal for all of its products is to meet the quality and exceed the performance levels of the factory-built components they replace. To create products that improve an already well designed vehicle requires skill and endless testing. A staff of talented engineers, fabricators and technicians understand that there are no "miracle" products or shortcuts that can magically transform the performance of BMWs. In fact, the company's mantra is “Performance Without Sacrifice."

To fulfill its mission, Dinan uses thinkdesign mechanical design software from think3 (Santa Clara, CA) for its 2D and 3D mechanical design and engineering work. The combined engineering expertise and computer-aided technology helps Dinan double the performance of BMW sports cars.

One of the most critical aspects of Dinan's work is making sure that the high performance parts it designs mate perfectly to the existing parts in the BMW. Tolerances are incredibly tight and any fault could degrade the vehicle's performance or cause the part not to fit. Engineers soon learned that the ability to see the new part in three dimensions on the computer screen was an invaluable tool.

As the new part and the surrounding system is modeled in thinkdesign, the design engineer can spin and rotate each part or the entire assembly in 3-D space. By creating parts in a 3-D, virtual world, the engineer can automatically check for interference with any other nearby parts, thus ensuring a perfect fit -- something that cannot be done in only two dimensions.

Peter Kang, a Dinan design engineer, says that the value of thinkdesign as a 3-D tool goes well beyond the fact that the parts look so great on the screen. "We have to consider a lot spatial constraints when we design our parts," he says. "Being able to actually place the part in an assembly on the screen and visualize the part in three dimensions is crucial. The software is an invaluable tool."

In addition, thinkdesign allows the engineer to run various scenarios or instances of the part in an endless amount of configurations. This gives the engineer the opportunity to fine-tune the piece, making changes in choice of material or part configuration while ensuring part performance and ease of manufacturing, another huge advantage over 2-D only systems.

Kang does a lot of design work for Dinan exhaust systems. He knows were a pipe begins and ends as well as the location of a couple obstructions in the middle. He "connects the dots" and makes the design manufacturable by our vendor. The vendors have constraints on how tight they can make the bend radii and how close the bends can be to each other. Underneath the car, it's a totally 3-D environment. "You can't do our type of work in a 2D world," notes Kang.

With thinkdesign, the design team can create a new exhaust system and know that it will be correct the first time. The software allows the engineer to see what happens with the part as various criteria are changed and where new interference problems are going to show up. The part works before it is ever sent to the vendor. This reduces lead times, saving Dinan money.

Once the engineers have settled on a design, a prototype is fabricated and tested. When the design meets the Dinan standard, the CAD model can then be completed. The design engineer measures the part and uses these numbers to parametrically control the developing 3-D computer model in thinkdesign.

Each new part must be modeled in thinkdesign to very tight tolerances before it can be released to manufacturing vendors. Beyond that, the parts must mate perfectly to the existing BMW stock parts already on the vehicle. Once complete, a drawing can be printed out and shipped to the vendor for manufacturing, or the file can be saved in the standard DXF or DWG formats to be e-mailed. For vendors that are already in the 3-D world, the file can be saved in the IGES or STL format, which can be accepted by most 3-D manufacturing systems. When the parts return to the Dinan shop, they are carefully scrutinized to make certain that they match the required specifications exactly.

Going from 2D to 3D
What began as a one-man shop in a California home garage has grown into one of the finest tuners in the United States. Dinan now employs over 60 people and ten full-time engineers. Dinan BMW performance products are sold and installed by over 90 retail outlets across America.

In 2000, BMW released 27 new models in the United States. The Dinan team makes parts for all of them. That's a great many individual parts engineered and manufactured each year. This is not an easy task for a small company. "We make thousands of parts every year," says Dinan founder Steve Dinan. "So we're looking for really quick design time. It has to be easy to get parts into the machine and to complete the task. The quality, of course, must be state-of-the-art. thinkdesign really does all that for us."

Many years ago when Dinan started the company, he used a drawing board and T-square for all his mechanical design work. Even after Dinan implemented a 2D CAD system, he knew that he needed to have more control over his company's new designs than a two dimensional tool would allow. He began to look for a solution that met Dinan design constraints.

He says, "I was a little skeptical at first, honestly.” He recalls thinking the migration from 2D to 3D would be frustrating, expensive, and time consuming. The think3 team convinced Dinan that it didn't have to be that way. While traditional MCAD developers generally cater to larger companies with many experienced CAD designers, think3's mission is to put powerful, affordable, compatible 3D design tools that are easy to learn and use into the hands of all designers and engineers, regardless of the size of their companies. That means making the tool accessible and usable to a firm like Dinan's, a company that only required three seats.

"Going 3D was a big leap for us," Dinan recalls. "But it turned out to be less time consuming than the outdated 2D system that we were using." Beyond that, thinkdesign was affordable. thinkdesign is available through an annual subscription program that does not include any up front fees and guarantees two significant software updates each year. Furthermore, it did not require Dinan to purchase and maintain costly computer equipment. thinkdesign runs on Dinan's existing standard, NT 4.0-equipped PCs. In addition, the fact that thinkdesign was compatible with all of the company's legacy 2-D data made backward compatibility a non-issue.

Today, Dinan designs all of its parts in thinkdesign. After making the decision to move up to 3-D with thinkdesign, Dinan has learned that the system actually performs beyond his expectations. "We have reduced the conceptualization to manufacturing process,” he says. "We’ve had other CAD systems before and thinkdesign is incredible to use by comparison."

A Step in the Right Direction
When thinkdesign was implemented into Dinan's shop, four design engineers were poised to use the software. Only one, however, had any appreciable CAD experience. That engineer was up and running using thinkdesign in less than two weeks. Dinan recalls, "The system just wasn't that difficult. Compared to other systems that we've had before, I was surprised at how quickly they were up and running."

The remainder of the Dinan design team was soon using the software on a daily basis. When the company provided a summer internship to a mechanical engineering student, the intern needed to become thinkdesign proficient very quickly. Through the use of think3's web-based training tools, the student was using the software productively in only two weeks.

Through the use of game-based learning software, thinkdesign users can become productive within a few hours and build up significant expertise within a few weeks, depending on the amount of time spent with the game. "The Monkey Wrench Conspiracy" is a self-paced learning experience that keeps designers interested as they learn.

Dinan's Elite BMW clientele
Today's high-performance sports cars are very complex with as much computer circuitry under the hood as mechanical engineering. It can be very expensive to engineer new systems for these automobiles, unless you have access to all of the automaker's engineering data. As an independent firm with no ties to BMW, Dinan engineers disassemble each new car to engineer new parts that will improve its performance. New parts must be built to fit precisely with the car's existing stock components.

The Dinan team performs market research and analysis on BMW's line and estimates the demand for performance parts by model. When the team begins work on a specific new model, engineers attack the problem from a whole car approach. In this way, many new products are developed for each new model very quickly.

The work starts when a new BMW rolls into the Dinan shop. A crack team of automotive engineers goes to work on the car, scrutinizing and analyzing every system. The vehicle is painstakingly measured as the engineers learn what gives the car its already high level of performance.

Once the engineers have a feel for what makes a particular model work, it's time to start tuning it for high performance. All of Dinan's automotive engineers have extensive experience building cars for the racing circuit. The parts they decide to add are hand fabricated by this team on the spot.

As the automotive engineers work, the design engineers leave their thinkdesign workstations and join them in the shop. Together, they brainstorm ways to make the new parts easier to manufacture. They work together to design parts that will provide the additional performance required without forcing their vendors to retool every machine in their shops for what will ultimately be a short-run job.

In-house conceptualization through manufacturing
Dinan plans to move into a new 45,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility equipped with CNC machines so that the company can begin to manufacture its own parts. The current methodology is Dinan engineers design the new parts that are subcontracted to manufacturing vendors. Then Dinan's team assembles the finished parts and installs them into the vehicles.

This strategy demands that Dinan engineers work closely with vendors to make sure that the parts they return exactly match the original designs. This process calls for extensive quality control on Dinan's part and the ability to provide 3-D models and technical drawings to vendors in whatever format they need to do their work. thinkdesign makes that easy.

Author: Laura Carrabine

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Page last modified on February 16, 2001
Copyright 2001 by John Stark