Making CAD files usable to downstream teams

Feb. 17, 2005
Deep Server software lets engineers communicate product design and change orders to manufacturing, support teams, and other downstream members of an organization, including those in training and documentation.

Deep Server software reduces the size of 3D files and produces images that let users rotate, click-on, and explore each part in a complex assembly, such as the landing gear. Content developers can edit CAD data for a style and look that best suits the audience. Demos, training simulators, and other applications can use existing CAD data to create realistic visualizations while minimizing the time required from the design team.

The software lets users add spot color to parts and assemblies, such as the fuel tank and pumps. Animation can illustrate fuel flow, heat, movement, and any other dynamic aspect that would enrich the visualization.

With it, nonengineers can use a company's existing 3D CAD data files, thereby reducing the burden on engineering.

CAD programs often produce data files too large and cumbersome for use by nonengineers. Engineers often spend time explaining designs and providing drawings which downstream teams can use to recreate materials for their audiences. The end product for any of these teams has been a 2D drawing. But any design change requires another manual cycle to recreate another modified 2D drawing. This iterative process is time consuming and costly.

Deep Server software, however, translates CAD data into smaller, easily managed files that can be accessed by marketing, training, and customersupport teams. At Sikorsky, the software lets us reuse aircraft CAD data to enhance our field-support training modules. We get original CAD files for every component and assembly, and the software takes away unnecessary internal workings, simplifying each part to its outer faces and optimizing the geometry. The software typically reduces files by 90-to-1. A landing gear assembly, for instance, went from 110 Mbytes to just 800 kbytes.

With this kind of file-size reduction, it becomes practical to deliver 3D data to anyone else who wants to reduce the time and effort required to create 3D visualizations. Training modules, for example, become more effective by including interactive and moving illustrations of each assembly and component.

The software improves communications between engineering and the rest of the organization. For example, easily accessed files posted during design lets courseware developers and support teams preview designs and begin planning before engineering releases the final design. Smaller files are also easily viewed over the Web on low-cost desktop and laptop systems, instead of limiting previews to engineering workstations.

The viewing software links the bill of material to a 3D drawing or illustration. When supported by engineering, the feature requires the department enter models and related part lists one time for use by multiple disciplines throughout the organization. For instance, a 3D drawing embedded in a repair manual can be enhanced with a click-on parts list, shortening the time needed by in-field support teams to identify and order repair and maintenance parts. In contrast, doing this within CAD software requires downstream teams to generate their own BOMs for manufacturing or support.

It only takes a week or two to set up the server and integrate it with all of the in-house engineering software. After installation, we did an overnight translation of all engineering data, which included tens of thousands of parts. This went without a hitch and we were good to go with our repurposed CAD files on the server. During start-up, we spent a couple months trying out every possible feature and application in the software. We found the developer responsive to questions and inquiries, including a request for a custom feature. Within weeks of the request, they responded with a solid-operating feature. We are also confident the developer can quickly enhance the software to support any new CAD format that might come out in the future.

The shallow learning curve was easy to climb. Experienced graphics people-picked it up in a couple of hours. With an intuitive interface, the software makes it easy to try out features such as changing a rendered surface to a different material, or doing a cutaway view of an assembly. In the past, it took a graphic artist about 40 hr to create an assembly drawing. The visualization features let an artist access repurposed CAD data and pull up an assembly drawing in seconds.

The Deep Server software and related 3D authoring and publishing tools are from Right Hemisphere, 39355 California St., Suite 201, Fremont, CA 94538, (510) 818-2880,

Paul Robinson

Paul Robinson is manager of Blackhawk Training, Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. The company designs and manufacturers helicopters for commercial, industrial, and military use.

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