Designing and manufacturing a custom piece of tooling or industrial equipment has never been a particularly speedy process, often taking weeks or month from design to delivery.
But what if you could design a piece on a Monday, hit the order button on Tuesday, and have it arrive at your door on Wednesday—all the while knowing that your intellectual property is secure, and that you are guaranteed to be working from the correct version of the underlying components?
It might sound hard to believe, but new cloud-based digital manufacturing platforms are making this scenario a reality. These web-based CAD platforms have the potential to save time and eliminate inefficiencies when engineers design and build custom industrial equipment.
The Plight of the Manufacturing Engineer
Consider engineers who aren’t very far from the manufacturing floor. They could include traditional manufacturing engineers, metrology engineers, or even R&D engineers who are bench-testing a product before it gets manufactured. Often, the people doing the logic or automation side of the machine and the people doing the mechanical side are typically different teams, working in different software. These worlds don’t speak with one another. But what’s something they all have in common? A web browser.
Using a web-based system can break down barriers between teams and enable more effective collaboration. This type of robust web-based design, however, is only possible with strong 3D web visualization capabilities.
Online tools made it possible for a customer to design and manufacture a gantry system to extend the reach of this UR10e 7th Axis by 6.5 ft for less than $7,800. The system is compatible with CB3-Series UR10, and includes standard Vention MachineMotion URCaps integration for convenient control from the UR Teach Pendant.
Ensuring Performance for Web-Based CAD
Designing the perfect welding jig or machining fixture in the cloud requires the web application to be fully capable of a number of demanding tasks around visualization.
For starters, the web application needs to provide highly optimized streaming of CAD data to the browser. Streaming allows users to quickly interact with massive models made up of hundreds of thousands of parts, which is a crucial time-saver.
Don’t forget about users on mobile devices: You’ll want to ensure they can view complex CAD models even on low-end devices. Server-side rendering can ensure high rendering performance for even the most complex piece of industrial equipment.
Want to create intuitive workflows? Then you’ll want the ability to link each object in the 3D model with critical information such as part number, vendor, price, and inventory availability. This can enable users to see the price of an assembly in real time, as it’s being assembled, and to see exactly how soon it can be delivered, based on availability of parts. This knowledge enables users to do a quick business case assessment around any piece of industrial equipment as they’re designing it, allowing them to weigh costs and other factors before deciding whether or not to move forward with the machine.
A huge concern with using web-based solutions, CAD or otherwise, revolves around security and the protection of intellectual property. Traditional collaboration processes involve loose guidelines set up to favor speed over security. For example, a concern can be as simple as sending CAD data or print files via an unencrypted email. By taking advantage of online technology, you are able to guarantee that the recipient(s) have proper authentication to get to data. In addition, while in transit, the data is obscured using secure internet connection standards such as a secure socket layer or other related technologies.
Making all of this functionality available in a web-based application is a significant undertaking, which is why software vendors are well served by using a third-party software development kit specifically focused on engineering graphics. In this way, vendors can ensure high fidelity access to 3D and 2D engineering data, high rendering performance, and full support for complex data aggregation.
Here to Stay?
An ongoing debate in the CAD industry asks whether web-based CAD is a passing trend or here to stay. Desktop applications certainly aren’t going anywhere, but there’s no reason to think 3D CAD in the browser will go away, either.
In the case of custom industrial equipment, here’s why web-based CAD is likely to continue to coexist: There are a lot of different people involved in any given piece of equipment aside from the manufacturing engineer. Think of the people who are going to assemble that piece of industrial equipment when it arrives at their facility; think of the project managers and procurement people who are keeping tabs on the item and monitoring its status. Everyone can’t be expected to purchase engineering software licenses just to get the answers they need related to that piece of equipment. Providing access to all parties involved—license or not—while maintaining security and authorization, is where the web-based applications can offer a lot of benefit.
It’s not just stands, fixtures, or gantries: online tools are able to let designers make anything they would make with any other CAD software. For example, a customer designed and manufactured this M18 inductive proximity sensor online for $83 using a cloud-based machine building platform.
Industrial Equipment Design Made Easy
The industrial equipment ecosystem is ripe for disruption. Digital manufacturing platforms offer an opportunity for equipment design to take place in a single digital environment, creating a more streamlined process from ideation to delivery.
Having the proper 3D web visualization technology under the hood helps these web-based applications take full advantage of 3D CAD in the browser and securely bring complex engineering data to life. Ultimately, a strong web visualization helps make custom industrial equipment design a little less costly, a little less time-intensive, and—yes—just a little bit easier.
Dave Opsahl is VP of corporate development at Tech Soft 3D. Etienne LaCroix is founder and CEO of Vention.