An intelligent engineering software suite takes lines from a designer’s sketches, converts them to vectors that can be manipulated by a product developer, with the data then fed to a mechanical design package that can be used for mechanical analysis and research of materials or manu- facturing methods before a company begins to manufacture, says design company Artec Product Design design director Bernard Smith.
“Sketches carry design thinking in their lines. By converting the conceptual lines into vectors, we can use them to inform our development more rapidly. “However, we can also use the mechani- cal design package to point out to our product developers and designers any mechanical problems or material properties that may impact on the end product, enabling them to easily redesign to eliminate problems,” he explains.
Further, the software suite, developed by US engineering software giant Autodesk, also calculates the machining required to cut the tools that will be used to make a product and has a library of different materials and eight-million different parts, such as nuts, bolts and splices.
“This reduces the time to market and enables intelligent, digital prototyping to get a product to market correct first time,” says Autodesk Africa manufacturing accounts executive Steven Moriarty.
The software enables companies to develop a number of variations of a single product, and can make informed decisions around product development and manufacturing without a series of physical prototype iterations, which can now be simulated using the software tools, he explains.
“Before cutting is done, all the simulations have to be done. This reduces the costs, and flaws detected through simulation can be rectified on the spot,” says Artec technical director Gold Mametja, adding that the programs store a history of the actions a designer took, enabling the designer to change various parameters while retaining all other changes.
Autodesk Africa has partnered with machine tool equipment company Retecon in South Africa, where it is promoting the use of its engineering and design software.
The Autodesk software suite includes its Sketchbook Design conceptualisation system, its Alias Design freeform design and modelling package, and its flagship Inventor mechanical design package.
“There is a seamless transfer of information and the design specifications of a product between the design and development teams, as well as the tool-makers,” notes Smith.
The Inventor program can model the flow of a material, such as plastic, in a mould and will be able to calculate if the resultant product has sufficient wall thicknesses. It can also model metals and a host of other materials, says Moriarty.
“Inventor will even calculate the machining and finishing needed to produce the tool, giving you an estimate of how long it will take a computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine to cut the tool,” says Autodesk distributor Worldsview applications engineer Jaco Jansen van Rensburg.
Inventor will also generate the tool language that is read by CNC machines, adds Jansen van Rensburg.
“Anybody that is designing or manufacturing anything can make use of our software for making anything from bottles and machinery to cabinets. A company in Durban has designed an aeroplane engine using Inventor and, if I have a tablet, I can review or mark up any engineering drawing or model from anywhere,” says Moriarty.
Smith encouraged South African designers to use software tools to speed up their product development cycles, which will enable more products to be developed and more factories to be erected.
“Artec Product Design was the previous Autodesk winner for the best use of computer-aided design technology in design and manufacturing. Further, we are now the first in Africa to acquire and be trained on the Alias Design Suite,” concludes Smith.