Plug-in lets users review huge 3D CAD models, anytime, anywhere

Nov. 3, 2011
CadFaster|Collaborate software is a plug-in for 3D design packages such as SolidWorks, Revit, and Microstation that lets users distribute models as portable executable files that include a compressed 3D model with an embedded 3D viewer

Authored by:
Jukka Klemettilä
Vice President
Research & Development
Oulunsalo Finland
Edited by Leslie Gordon,
Twitter @LeslieGordon, [email protected]

As any design engineer can attest, the capability to view 3D CAD models and review them with a geographically dispersed team of collaborators and customers can be frustrating. Large, complex files, disparate 3D software, and lack of accessibility to workstations can make it difficult to transfer large amounts of data. And tracking multiple comments and changes becomes a formidable administrative challenge.

At Proventia, dealing with large 3D design files is a way of life. We are an international environmental-technology group that develops products to reduce emissions from ships, machines, vehicles, and power plants, both in OEM and retrofit markets. Our design teams must work on models that not only include emission-control devices, but also include models of the customer’s surrounding machine or engine, all of which adds to file complexity and size.

To keep a competitive edge, we push the limits of effective product design to drive innovation, shrink design cycles, reduce costs, and bring our products to market faster.

This approach was particularly important for a recent job. Proventia was tasked with designing a selective catalytic-reduction system (SCR) that would work with an international customer’s tractor-engine design. The customer has R&D facilities in several countries and we needed to connect quickly and easily with its design team — some members of which were a half a world away.

To address the collaborative complexities of this large project, we decided to try CadFaster|Collaborate software from Cad|Faster, Oulu, Finland. It is a plug-in for 3D design packages such as SolidWorks, Revit, and Microstation and lets users distribute models as portable executable files that include a compressed 3D model with an embedded 3D viewer. After a session is initiated, multiple users can view and annotate 3D models, all at the same time.

Because CadFaster|Collaborate compresses the original data, shrinking huge files to a size that can be e-mailed or downloaded from a link, users without high-end workstations or even CAD design experience can make design suggestions without installing any software.

Before using CadFaster|Collaborate, we had problems sharing large 3D models. Teams had to rely on one-on-one communications and were constantly sending PDFs back and forth. We considered sharing PowerPoint, Word, or Excel files via online meeting tools, but the large files made this approach slow and unproductive.

Another option was to store files on a remote server. But to view files, collaborators must have the same CAD design software that created the models. In addition, files would be reviewed separately, without the entire team seeing the same view at the same time. This approach would have been inefficient at best.

However, after we purchased CadFaster|Collaborate, we took the tractor-engine design and, using SolidWorks, applied our specific intellectual property and knowledge of exhaust treatment to develop a custom exhaust design that would work well from a flow-and-mix standpoint and also meet all regulatory requirements.

By their nature, exhaust systems are bulky and contain big filters, so to complete the initial drawing during early stages of the project, designers needed to agree on numerous details and dimensions to determine the exact mechanical fit. Using CadFaster|Collaborate and teleconferencing, our engineers held weekly meetings with customer teams from across the U. S. and Central Europe to review drawings in detail.

Both our staff and customer found CadFaster|Collaborate simple to use, especially given that its primary function is for fast viewing and collaboration, not creating the design itself.

In fact, everyone learned the software after only a 30-min demonstration. The software comes with a four-page hard copy Start Up guide that is easy to read and understand. It would also be helpful for CadFaster|Collaborate to have an integrated online tutorial, and we recommended this as a future upgrade.

On the SCR project, we made numerous design changes throughout the development cycle. Conducting design reviews via teleconference and using the collaboration tool lets us reduce business travel. The cost of one typical trip has paid for the software.

Because all stakeholders — including the end customer — can review models and communicate easily, design flaws are eliminated early-on. Facilitating a common understanding, the software helps everyone focus more on quality. Best of all, the software helps produce prototypes right the first time, so there’s no costly re-dos late in the process.

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.

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