This article first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of The Record.
For half a century, Designplan Lighting has been making weather- and vandal-resistant luminaires that have tough bodies, tightly sealed diffusers and tamperproof screws. The company’s extra-strong light fittings can be found in airports, train stations, housing estates and secure health care units. Specialist products are available for specific situations, such as custodial settings where care must be taken to prevent harm through the design of smooth rounded surfaces to which a ligature cannot be attached. In underground railway systems, lighting units must incorporate additional anti-fire and anti-smoke features.
Today the company has more than 140 employees and sells its products in over 20 countries worldwide. Facing an increased demand for its customised products, it wanted to review its use of technology in the development process. Tony Croke, design team manager at the company, explains: “Over the years, the company had acquired multiple CAD platforms, so when we had to quote for a new product we faced a whole series of questions: which existing model was closest to what was required, which package had it been designed in and who was most familiar with that software? Our vision was to consolidate on one package and improve our efficiency.”
A demonstration from Siemens PLM Software solution partner Prion Cutting Edge (PCE) convinced the Designplan team that Solid Edge software with synchronous technology was the way forward. “It was clear that if we created a master model for each product we could use synchronous technology to modify attributes such as height and length easily and quickly,” Croke says. Solid Edge was implemented early in 2016 and rolled out to nine design engineers who received tailored in-depth training from PCE and Siemens.
Designplan immediately established a project to create a consistent, modifiable master model for every product in the company’s existing catalogue. The major product elements are body, gear tray and lamp with diffuser and frame or LED. Each standard item has a large matrix of options and variations: three different lengths and six or seven versions such as flat or angled, plus the extra specification necessary for underground locations. Any potential customisations are in addition to these. Designplan therefore began by targeting the most popular lines.
“I find Solid Edge very intuitive to learn and it gives us better tools,” says Amy Deeprose, design engineer at Designplan. “Solid Edge also has a lot of features that are extremely helpful, for example the ability to pattern a feature. Playback is particularly useful. If I go away from a project and return to it later, it’s really easy to see the steps I took before and continue without losing any time. I can also share this feature with colleagues to demonstrate how to do something. There is much assistance available from the wider Solid Edge community and I often obtain information from online resources.”
John Hough, bespoke design engineer, focuses on customised products. “I had worked for 25 years with CAD, but moving to Solid Edge opened my eyes to what is possible. I love synchronous. I find it very quick to manipulate an existing model in order to change a fitting, lengthen a luminaire, reposition a hole or amend a pitch. I am saving more than half the time I previously spent making changes at the part and assembly level.”
After six months, Designplan had created master models for three product sets and the team was reviewing customer requests and anticipating demand for different sizes. Deeprose notes the benefits of the new approach: “In particular, synchronous technology allows us to work organically. We can explore options because there is no sketch to build as in an ordered modeling environment. When we have a Solid Edge assembly we can do model explosions and gain visual help to cross-reference quickly against the master bill of materials.”
All Solid Edge files are kept together in one folder as Designplan builds a library of master and variant components within product families. The data management features of Solid Edge support basic workflows for file release, storage and retrieval. “The way that we manage files within Solid Edge is a vast improvement over our previous system,” Deeprose says.
The team has also been creating building information modelling (BIM) files in line with government legislation. “Solid Edge is fully compliant with BIM regulations and produces widely recognised standard BIM files, Deeprose explains. “There is no extra step required. If a BIM file is requested at 8 a.m., we can usually produce it by midday.”
The first products designed using Solid Edge went into production nine months after implementation. “We can make an assembly much more intelligent; it is so easy to set up components and alter them as required,” Deeprose explains. “Now that we have started to work from master models, any changes are taking minutes rather than hours.”
According to Croke, there has been a huge opportunity to freshen up the company’s top revenue-producing products. “We will have addressed 90% of our best sellers within one year,” he notes. “In addition, we have improved our products and reduced manufacturing errors. Production stoppages for bespoke products used to average between 10 and 18 per week. Since we began to use Solid Edge, they have dropped to just four.”
“Every time we get a job, whether it is standard, bespoke or retrofit, Solid Edge helps us to save time,” concludes Hough. “We used to complete an average of five bespoke fittings per week. We are now averaging eight per week.”
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