This article first appeared in the Winter issue of The Record.
The removal of humidity is a key stage in the production of foods such as breakfast cereals and savoury snacks. Without an effective drying process, there would be no satisfying crunch. In addition, food with moisture left in it will have a shorter shelf life – crisp breads, pasta and pet treats must be stable.
To ensure that food items dry out evenly to the correct level, there has to be complete control of warm airflow. Planet Dryers specialises in this area, designing customised drying, cooling, roasting and cutting machines that are used by large well-known companies producing globally familiar brands. The largest unit is more than 40 metres long, with even the smallest models measuring at least six metres. The company offers a range of airflow systems with single-pass, multi-pass and multi-stage conveyor band dryers, and conveyor drives of variable speed.
Each machine is designed as a framework covered by sheet metal, which has to be shaped at various junction points and cut out where parts such as gas burners are bolted on. “Our products are essentially conveyor belts with warm air blowing through them and one of the critical challenges is containment of the product,” explains John Cresswell, engineering manager at Planet Dryers. “We have to manipulate sheet metal to create effective side guards and transfer chutes.”
It was this specific design requirement that led Planet Dryers to adopt Solid Edge software from product lifecycle management (PLM) company Siemens PLM Software. Following the delivery of a particularly large order that indicated the potential for future international growth, Planet Dryers decided to review its overall design process. As a result, the company established an in-house design team and began to assess the engineering design software on the market.
“I was not familiar with Solid Edge and was quite surprised by how well the software met our needs,” says Cresswell.
Solid Edge was implemented in January 2015. “Solid Edge is very intuitive for new users and I was able to get to work immediately designing a triple pass dryer,” says Planet Dryers’ designer Daryl Collins. “Solid Edge is much more flexible than the software we had before. I can relate faces to each other or constrain angles yet still manipulate a plate without losing form.”
For Planet Dryers, the ability to use historical design data was a fundamental requirement. Solid Edge is fully compatible with any other format; it also provides the option of synchronous technology. Collins explains that he began by looking at old 2D designs and remodelling them using Solid Edge. “The flexibility that synchronous technology provides is astonishing. It enables me to accept files from any format, transfer data and amend a design without any reference to its history. It gives intelligence to a dumb shape, allowing me to change or remove attributes. I can, for example, see a circle, identify it as a hole and recognise the size and thickness so I can quickly amend a sheet metal pattern.”
Collins particularly appreciates the choice that Solid Edge offers. “If I know a product is always going to be similar in shape, then I use the ordered approach because we can control aspects of the design very clearly by making assumptions, automating processes and locking in definitions. On the other hand, synchronous technology is like working with clay, it allows more freedom during the design process. For example, after I’d designed a particular discharge chute, our process engineer advised me to taper the sides. This would have taken two hours in the ordered environment. With synchronous technology, it took one minute.”
The move to 3D is enabling Planet Dryers to design industrial machines that are effective and economical to run as well as easy to clean and maintain. It is also speeding up the design process. “With Solid Edge, we can quickly convert a design to a flat pattern of parasolids ready for sheet metal fabrication,” says Collins. “Working with large assemblies is also much easier.”
A typical lead-time is 16 weeks from order to delivery, with design time accounting for half of that. “I estimate that for each new machine, we’ve taken 15% off the design cycle, that’s six business days,” Cresswell explains. “The time and resources this frees up allows us to work to a higher level of detail, checking and optimising to produce a more complete design and a more competitive product. In addition, we can confidently give our customers accurate lead times. We can also rationalise parts, make cutting simpler for our fabricator and minimise our costs.”
For Cresswell, one of the major benefits of using Solid Edge is the ability to visualise the end product. “Our renderings are excellent and enable me to give a much better presentation to customers,” he comments. Visualisation is also important for Ian Carter, managing director at Planet Dryers, who is responsible for sales: “I keep renders on my tablet and laptop and can describe a machine in great detail. For example, I can remove parts to reveal what goes on inside and really demonstrate the thought that has gone into a design. For a customer who is not an engineer, a picture is much more meaningful than a line drawing.”
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