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Dura engineers worked with sister companies to develop lightweight salon doors.

3-D tools help development teams collaborate

Design and manufacturing challenges are becoming more complex and multi-dimensional, prompting design teams to expand their efforts to collaborate. This change is being aided by a shift to 3-D models, but that transition has issues that highlight the complexity of linking various groups.

Most companies are working more closely with both customers and suppliers while also attempting to increase communications between corporate design and manufacturing teams that are increasingly scattered around the globe.

“Our need for collaboration is significant,” said Ram Pentakota, Global Chief Engineer, Johnson Controls. “As a global Tier 1, we deal with OEMs, several Johnson Control groups, and many different suppliers in each of our programs.”

Shorter design cycles and more complex multi-discipline designs are a major driving force. Many OEMs and Tier 1s discussed the need for collaboration at a recent Dassault Systèmes customer forum.

For example, Dura Automotive Systems described a development project for salon doors. Engineers from many disciplines worked together to design front and rear doors that slide open instead of hinging open. Specialists in structural analysis, composite materials, sensors, and electronics all participated. Teams at Dura’s design centers in North America, Germany, and India were aided by some of the 75 sister companies owned by Patriarch Partners.

“We can collaborate with our corporate companies on something like composite materials, which is new in automotive but a staple in aerospace,” said Nizar Trigui, Executive Vice President & Chief Technology Officer at Dura. “All our corporate partners use the same 3-D software, so if any part is changed by any team member globally, it’s highlighted so others can see how it impacts their operations, whether they’re in design or manufacturing.”

Using a suite of compatible design tools is a requirement, several speakers said. Systems must also ensure that all members must know when changes are made so no one works on an obsolete version. That’s been a problem that made it difficult for many companies to collaborate within the enterprise.

“When we started designing globally, one problem was that there was no one source of truth,” said Brian Wynk, Staff Engineer at Honda North America’s New Model Division. “People had to look for the latest information, which really slowed us down. Now that we’ve gone to Dassault Version 6, there’s only one version of the data. That lets us share know-how across all our sites.”

Increasingly, the ability to share data extends from CAE and CAD to CAM (computer-aided manufacturing). When design and manufacturing engineers can work, view, and manipulate the same files, they can often improve efficiency.

“When everything is in one database, it’s easier to study complex issues,” said Melissa Vance, Staff Engineer at Honda. “An engineer can quickly look at something that manufacturing says is causing them an issue.”

These advanced design tools and systems can also help companies save money while they tackle complex designs. A Nissan engineer explained that the company replaced clay models with high-resolution displays and powerful computers that let team global members view vehicles from their offices.

“We’re exclusively digital during the design process; we went global with that in 2014,” said Dennis Malone, Engineer at Nissan Technical Center North America. “With clay models, design reviews were a multi-site, collaborative effort. With digital images, we can evaluate multiple products quickly and look at the interior and exterior at the same time. Being able to see the whole car at once with the ability to drill down to see all the components is pretty powerful.”

Tool providers are racing to provide more capabilities for design teams. Bernard Charlès, Dassault’s President, noted that many groups remain isolated even though corporations have talked for years about removing silos.

“We’re trying to link fields that haven’t been connected before,” Charlès said. “In many industries, companies have been prisoner of their own structures.”

Cultural issues are also slowing the transition to 3-D tools. Not all companies have decided to move away from 2-D drawings, so those that migrate to 3-D will have to convert files for some customers or partners.

“It’s our vision to use full 3-D software from start to finish,” Pentakota said. “That’s not always possible, about 80% of the OEMs still ask for 2-D drawings.”

The transition to 3-D is being aided by design tool providers that continue to offer more functionality. Dassault’s new simulation engine is based on the Modelica language, which makes it easier to combine multiple disciplines.

Dura used the tool to develop salon doors that were lightweight yet structurally safe despite the elimination of the B-pillar. The doors also include a number of sensors that ensure safety and control motors so opening and closing are quick and quiet.

“In the old days, the ability to do multiphysics problem solving using one program did not exist,” Trigui said. “For basic problems, you could co-simulate two separate physical domains. If you added a third domain, it was virtually impossible.”

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