Digital-Prototyping Software Teaches Old Machines New Tricks

Oct. 5, 2009
Processing-equipment manufacturer A.T. Ferrell uses digital-prototyping software from Autodesk to help foster collaboration.

A.T Ferrell, www.atferrell.com

Autodesk, www.autodesk.com

Freewheel, freewheel.autodesk.com

For an example of what modern design software can do, look no further than a seed dehulling machine designed by A.T. Ferrell Co. Inc. in Bluffton, Ind. Engineers there use digital-prototyping software from Autodesk Inc., San Rafael, Calif., to help perfect concepts such as using bouncing rubber balls on a screen to separate seeds from hulls.

The software recently played a role in designing a fixture for making a steel bearing foot. “Previously, a machinist could hardly lift the heavy part and it was awkward to place in the milling machine, a real safety concern,” says A.T. Ferrell Design Engineer Allen Gager. “Worse yet, the machinist had to handle the part several times during fabrication. I experimented with a computer model of a fixture and showed it to the shop-floor guys for feedback. Their input let me come up with a fixture that reduces strain on the operator, lets us machine four units at once, and only has to be handled once. It is a lot safer and lets us run lights-out on this part,” he says.

The current version of Inventor, the 3D modeler, has a programming interface that lets engineers interact with design files via applications written in Visual Basic or Visual Basic.NET, says Gager. “For example, important parameters of roll feeders are roller width and diameter. Previously, we had to open all the part files to change parameters,” he says. “So I used the Inventor API to write code to do this task and drive these parameters. A Google search turned up most of the code I needed to quickly write the application.”

Also, a new batch-plotting feature in the Vault Workgroup data-management package lets engineers quickly send drawings to the shop floor. “Needless to say, this slashes the time I spend on routine tasks,” says Gager.

Additionally, advanced rendering in Showcase lets the company use 3D models to generate large, high-resolution posters of machines before they are built. “Real-time ray tracing helps us make striking and realistic images. We can now show potential customers several versions of a machine for a more high-tech approach to marketing.” says Gager.

About the Author

Leslie Gordon

Leslie serves as Senior Editor - 5 years of service. M.S. Information Architecture and Knowledge Management, Kent State University. BA English, Cleveland State University.

Work Experience: Automation Operator, TRW Inc.; Associate Editor, American Machinist. Primary editor for CAD/CAM technology.

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