Improve Cycle Time Performance with 3D Simulated Testing

Sept. 8, 2010
How FORCE technology uses early-stage testing of worst-case scenarios and potential problems -- eliminating the need for expensive physical prototypes and delays in product deliveries.

For every minute that manufacturing testing equipment is idled, plant production comes to a standstill. Zero production, however, doesn't just mean zero revenue. It means lost wages, costly repairs and missed deadlines. Having a critical piece of inspection machinery break down -- especially at the last minute, when deliveries have already been scheduled -- can be devastating for any manufacturer.

But how does one prevent something from malfunctioning? If we knew the answer to that the manufacturing industry would be functioning at full capacity and no shipment would ever be delayed. It's the holy grail of product development!

While ensuring that any piece of equipment maintains a flawless record of performance is impossible, there are proven strategies manufacturers can employ to reduce the chance of plant downtime. One company, Danish industrial testing equipment powerhouse FORCE Technology, took advantage of cutting-edge 3D simulation.

The Realities of Plant Machinery

Every day, FORCE Technology performs inspections of power plants, pressure tanks, bridges, pipeline systems, storage tanks and ships around the world. Periodic testing for wear and potential damage is a requirement by which all manufacturing plants -- making anything from offshore pipeline parts to children's toys -- must abide.

FORCE's specialty, non-destructive testing, makes it possible to examine the condition and/or quality of an object without damaging it. Used proactively as a safety precaution, non-destructive testing helps avoid interruptions and breakdowns in production, and can be performed, in some cases, without interrupting the production cycle. However, while some safety checks can be performed during plant operation (like inspecting a pipe's exterior); others may require shutting the plant down -- hemorrhaging money.

Since downtime in any customer plant is undesirable, FORCE Technology needed to verify beforehand that its devices would work properly from their very first use. Once in operation, they'd have no way to modify a device.

"We need to go in and get the job done quickly so that the plant can start up again as soon as possible," said Christian Brandt Lauritzen, project manager, FORCE Technology. "It simply has to work right the first time."

Testing Equipment Virtually to Avoid Future Problems

FORCE knew it needed to attack potential testing equipment failures during the actual initial design process. Waiting until later in the product development lifecycle would mean greater costs, more design iterations and a higher likelihood of missed delivery dates.

The only way to avoid repair costs down the line while still being able to anticipate certain design flaws was through 3D simulation. Eliminating the need for prototypes and manual, physical testing ahead of time would help FORCE ensure that when they commanded a minute of their customers' time -- it was really only a minute.

The Challenge -- Because plant downtime is expensive, FORCE Technology needed to design testing devices for its customers that performed right the first time.

The Solution -- FORCE Technology adopted two solutions from Dassault Systmes, DELMIA Cycle Time Performance (digital manufacturing and real-time testing), and CATIA PLM Express (3D CAD-based PLM), to design and simulate complex inspection conditions before finalizing its designs.

The Results -- Simulating the device in operation and being able to predict its nominal behavior eliminated costly design changes and earned the confidence of potential customers.

Christian Brandt Lauritzen, who managed the implementation at FORCE Technology, noted: "In the past, we could not see all problems before the machine was built. But with our new dynamic digital manufacturing tool, we can predict any real-world problems early and correct the design, confident that when it's built it will operate error-free."

FORCE decided to try some CAD drafting and analytics tools along with real-time digital simulation to design and test special inspection equipment before it was manufactured.

Now, says Brandt Lauritzen: "We do a feasibility study to see how big the device or manipulator should be, how we plan to get it in and how we'll need to get it out. We receive details on the geometry of the pipe or object to inspect from the customer and import this data into our virtualized product lifecycle data repository. We then design the inspection apparatus and use our digital manufacturing tool to simulate it in operation via virtual 3D animation."

Each testing device is unique and is tailored to address a specific customer situation, which is why physical prototypes in many cases can be avoided and save a lot of money and time in the development phase.

Aiming for Optimal Performance of Testing EquipmentWith the help of the simulation and virtual testing solutions, FORCE Technology's equipment is designed to obtain the most accurate results possible during an inspection. In effect, real-time advanced simulation functionality helps FORCE Technology optimize the nominal cycle time and performance of a testing device, eliminate collisions during the simulation phase and implement design changes early and quickly.

This is significantly more convenient than designing static 3D models, which -- detailed as they may look -- don't show potential problems with how machines may operate. Dynamic 3D modeling eliminates this variability.

3D is a Language Everyone Can UnderstandHaving 3D digitally-rendered simulations of the proposed product at the click of a mouse is an excellent asset for a company's sales force. It helps them communicate more effectively, replacing documents and words with a visual experience -- enabling non-technical personnel to truly understand every element of a product's design.

"It helps build customer confidence," said Brandt Lauritzen. "The testing equipment we produce is expensive and customers need to know that FORCE Technology ensures premium quality."

Commonly used XML data definitions along with a 3DXML player can make 3D CAD an easily shareable, collaborative experience via the cloud. In FORCE's case, the 3DXML Player included with the comprehensive CAD-based PLM solution, currently used by sales team members to communicate with each other, will soon be extended to the production phase to show how a testing device should be assembled -- encouraging better collaboration across the board.

From One-of-a-kind to Standard Reusable ComponentsOne thing to which all manufacturing design teams can relate is the sheer number of documents associated with bringing a single product to market. When that product happens to be a piece of highly-sensitive heavy machinery the design iterations involved are especially staggering. A mistake too many OEMs make is starting from scratch with every new product -- re-testing proven best practices because sorting through archives of past project data is a nightmare.

FORCE has remedied this problem by building a consolidated, centralized database for all product data definitions, intellectual property and previously successful components. "Before, we opted for one-of-a-kind components for each customer project but over the years we have been using more and more standard components which we can equip with different abilities depending on what needs to be inspected," said Brandt Lauritzen. "We're creating a database that contains all our standard components and their associated specifications so that everyone will know which components to use. Thanks to the integrated PDM system, the data will be readily available to them and none of us have to recreate the wheel."

Thanks to real-time 3D product design and development, manufacturers can take advantage of:

  • Easy version control and improved collaboration through SaaS-based virtual meetings
  • Creating a master data repository for IP and previously designed components that can be mix-and-matched for another similar future project
  • Dynamic 3D models that allow for early-stage testing of worst-case scenarios and potential problems -- eliminating the need for expensive physical prototypes and delays in product deliveries

Patrick Michel is vice president of DELMIA Solutions & Marketing, the digital manufacturing brand of global PLM provider Dassault Systmes.

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