Gregory E. Smith
Immersive Design Inc.
Edited by Paul Dvorak
Releasing a product for manufacturing at most companies includes a signoff on several components, and issuing a bill-of-material and assembly drawing. A firm that designs with a solid modeler also releases models and drawings along with mass properties, and manufacturing information such as NC toolpaths. A PDM system could call for other files before checking a complete design into its vault.
Although this sounds like it should be enough to let manufacturing begin, a more complete release package would include Web pages containing animated assembly and disassembly instructions, and maintenance procedures. Web animations let viewers zoom in and out of drawings, rotate models, and show the precise order in which assemblies must go together.
But most engineers say there is no time for animations, it's someone else's responsibility, or it's not needed. When schedules are tight, creating a product Web page might be the last thing on an engineer's mind. But it's not the chore it once was.
For instance, software for animating Web pages, such as IPA 7.0 from Immersive Design Inc., does not depend on a CAD program. And those who need the animations can watch the action on any Windows-based computer with Internet Explorer.
There is a little preparation. Before starting a Web-based animation, decide what you want to show or how someone might use the product. Will the animation illustrate assembly, maintenance, documentation, training procedures, part identification, or catalogs? For example, describing how to assemble a lawnmower for factory line personnel will differ from instructions for a do-it-yourself repair manual.
The user generates an animation by "grabbing" a part with the cursor, identifying a start point, then moving the part (with rotations or linear movement, or both), and identifying the motion's end point.
Next, the user sets the timing for the sequence in a schedule window and describes the sequences as instruction steps, using optional notes and hyperlinks to supplement written instructions.
A wizard usually walks the user through a series of required steps, and then creates a Web page based on ready-to-use templates. These can be modified or customized for a preferred look-and-feel as well as for additional functions. Templates let users pick specific views of the product data. The software usually lets users show (or not) the part tree, bill of materials (BOMs), instructions, images, video, links, or part attributes of the assembly. Web pages are saved as HTML and easily published to the Internet or CDs.
A Web page can be published to a location of choice, such as an internal site behind a firewall, a password-protected site, or a company's external Web site. When someone needing the published information visits the Web site, a Web viewer plug-in downloads (just once) to their computer making the 3D model available for interactive viewing. Then they can zoom, pan, and scroll the model while viewing animations, assembly instructions, BOMs, and other pertinent information. A CAD system is not required. Interactive Web pages let technical people communicate easily and inexpensively with all parts of the organization, and best of all, with end users and customers.
Where Web-based animations make sense
The following checklist seems typical for a product-development plan. The steps in bold suggest where Web-based animations contribute to the effort.
- Lay out product design
- Detail critical components
- Simulate and optimize a design
- Build and test prototype
- Order long-lead items
- Evaluate alternative manufacturing methods
- Communicate with manufacturing and outside suppliers with interactive Web pages
- Examine more design iterations
- Finalize detailed part designs
- Create a final BOM
- Create assembly model/drawings
- Generate assembly or operating instructions. Complex products benefit most
- Help development team members maximize their collaboration efforts and reduce project time and costs.
- Release a product model to a PDM system for manufacturing and production.