This article first appeared in the Autumn 2015 issue of OnWindows magazine.
Product design is A3D Design’s business. Based near Limoges, France, the industrial design firm’s projects have evolved from creating models to designing prototypes and even making small production runs for prestigious customers such as De Beers, CYTEC, Compin, Dior, EADS Composites Aquitaine, Kreon, Legrand, Thalès, Total Hutchinson, Valeo Éclairage and more.
What do these companies have in common? “Demand for machined models, which is our company’s area of expertise,” says Patrick Peyramaure, A3D Design’s president. “We are known as experts in conducting studies, designing and implementing very diverse systems, a sort of ‘Jack of all trades’ within the framework of projects, assisting these companies’ research and development projects.”
Peyramaure explains further: “Our major concern has always been reducing costs and increasing productivity. I wanted to deliver our expertise without doing away with traditional methods, the designer’s rough renderings and other manual sketches, while also adopting a perfectly integrated high-performance product development solution. Doing so would provide a single 3D database for all design work, including the computer-generated image the designer wants, right up to programming the numerical control (NC) machines.
“The integrated NX solution, from creating the synthesis image to running numerical control machines, gives us the ability to rapidly change the models we are developing without any problem – even during a project meeting with a customer.”
Today, A3D Design has stations equipped with NX linked with 5-axis NC milling centres, two of which are high-speed milling machines. The company also uses a 3-axis machine. Siemens PLM Software partner Janus Engineering, a systems integrator, implemented NX for A3D Design. This includes deploying integrated simulation and verification (ISV) software for programming 5-axis NC machines.
“It was installed in our workshop mid-2011,” says Peyramaure. “The fact that the German manufacturer, Berthold Hermle AG, also has about fifty stations equipped with NX, their chosen software, also had an impact on our decision. We are completely Siemens. All of the elements that control our high-speed milling machine are completely Siemens, including the kinematics simulation of this machine.”
Imagine that a potential customer comes to the A3D Design office to discuss a project, which is being planned before a future industrial offering. “Most of the time at this preliminary stage, this potential customer has not yet written any specifications,” notes Peyramaure.
Starting with the general lines of the project, such as weight, size or temperature-reaction resistance constraints, and considering the partner relationship background with the customer, a quick preliminary study is started by A3D Design using NX CAD. The goal is to identify all the ins and outs of the project, discuss their merit and deliver a technical proposal based on 3D models and synthesis images from which it will then be possible to write specifications. “In fact, it’s the preliminary design study from an engineering office that enables showing the first visual concepts,” says Peyramaure. “We can then start negotiations about production costs in order to finalise the study.”
During the refocusing stage that follows, and based on these preliminary elements, the customer begins to imagine what the product will be. Within A3D Design, the toolpaths are determined using NX CAM. Collisions and machining kinematics are then validated in real time with NX CAM.
“We are then able to define the project’s cost, determine the real time for exact duration of the study, and present an overall design offer with production of a basic model, prototype or specimen,” says Peyramaure. “Part assembly follows. A functioning prototype can be delivered to the customer that integrates the accompanying electronic system in order to visualise the project completely.”
High-speed machining enables manufacturing of the aluminium parts in a very short time by programming very precise passes (up to 0.5 micrometre crest heights) and reaching the super finishing needed, for example, for an automobile headlight reflector, which can later be assembled without machining. Of course, we can machine other materials, including thermoplastic parts.”
A3D Design was even able to replace a defective silent block, a part which absorbs shocks and vibrations, on one of the workshop’s 5-axis machines. Peyramaure explains: “Because our supplier was out of stock, there was a delivery delay of three weeks for the part. It was unthinkable to stop our machining for three weeks. So I designed a 4-cavity mould. It was 5pm. At 8pm, the mould was machined. The next morning at 8am, an ester-based polyurethane elastomer was heat-injected and, by noon, our machine was working again.”
A3D Design is not yet using NX CAE. When necessary, if the customer requires structural calculations, these are subcontracted to companies specialising in this field. “Later, we are going to integrate this capability,” says Peyramaure, who is also envisioning the acquisition of a new, large-format, high-speed milling machine, so they will be able to produce bigger, high-precision parts very rapidly.
Ultimately, with the help of NX, the company is winning new business. Peyramaure concludes: “Without NX, we simply could not work anymore.”
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