By Larry Boulden, Staff Editor
QED makes compact little lights for dentists, doctors, and surgeons. Most major orders call for custom products. Required schedules are tight, turnaround quick. And the design engineering team that makes it all happen? Just a few engineers, using only two seats of CAD. One is on a laptop.
Small, precise light assemblies, containing
a light source, lenses, housing and mounting, are often used by medical
professionals in operating and examination rooms.
”Working with 3D CAD is fun,” explains David Russell, the man with that laptop. Russell is a design engineer at the Lexington firm. “You can see your product come alive. We design on the fly, and watch the product grow right out of the computer screen.”
Russell started QED down the CAD path about 10 years ago with AutoCAD R12, a 2D drafting package. After a few years they upgraded to Mechanical Desktop, a 3D package from Autodesk. Four years ago, QED upgraded again to another 3D package from the same supplier, Inventor. One reason for the change was the need to handle legacy data.
At QED Inc, engineers design on the fly,
and watch the product grow right out of the computer screen. Photos,
courtesy Alex Orlov.
Going to the Vault
Legacy data — old drawings — are a big issue for QED. Because many products are made for the medical industry, they must deal with various compliance issues. And since many of their “new” products are based on some components from earlier lines, they need to have a system for quickly sorting through legacy drawings, finding the part representations they need, and updating those to the required new configuration. To accomplish this, they use Vault, a file management system developed by Autodesk for Inventor. (Since then, Vault has been made available for other Autodesk CAD packages.)
Now, all of their earlier drawings are controlled through this file management system. One designer can “check out” a drawing from Vault, modify it as needed, and put it back. When another comes to that same drawing, he knows he has the latest version and is not wasting time modifying an outdated version. When a new drawing is finally issued for production, all users in the organization know that they have the latest revision of it, and that there are no earlier versions in circulation that might give rise to manufacturing errors.
Converting from 2D to 3D
“We found we experienced a big learning curve in converting from 2D to 3D,” explains Russell. But the conversion paid off in terms of design speed. “With 3D modeling, we were able to get product out the door faster than with 2D drawing. We began designing in 3D with Mechanical Desktop. Design re-use and tracking was a matter of copying files and renaming, then rebuilding assemblies. It worked but was time consuming. Inventor, with the Design Assistant, made the task of re-use much simpler. Now with Vault, it is even more efficient and cost effective to re-use designs and it has become easier to track the different design iterations. Now, Russell explains, all of the earlier 2D drawings have been converted to 3D, in Vault, and are stored in Vault for easy access and re-use.
Russell was able to justify the investment in 3D CAD by demonstrating the benefits. “I had done some 3D modeling in AutoCAD prior to the release of Mechanical Desktop,” he explained. “This was mostly for my own curiosity but management began to see the potential. I believe it really showed its true value when I was able to send models of one housing to a rapid prototyping vendor and had three sets of usable parts back in less than a week, all for less than $1000. A mold would have been five times that much and would have taken 6-8 weeks. It would be hard to place a dollar amount on the savings we have experienced in prototyping costs alone since using 3D modeling software.”
Structure of car modeled in 3D using
Autodesk Inventor. Modeling this way allows early determination of
potential interference between components to be assembled.
Today, QED engineers design the small, precise light assemblies, which contain a light source (often LEDs), lenses, housing, and mounting. Medical professionals are looking at LED technology for use in the operating and examination rooms. LEDs are energy-efficient and can be portable.
The 3D modeling software hastens the design process in several ways. It quickly reveals interference fits and helps insure that different components in an assembly will not obstruct or interfere with each other. “3D design has made us more competitive from the standpoint of getting designs to the market quicker,” Russell comments. “The 3-D design environment gives us the opportunity to validate designs early, giving us more confidence when we release the product for manufacture.”
3D model of a car body, also modeled in Inventor 2008.
When designs are ready for build, they are used to model parts in-house using a 3D printer. Then the CAD software produces IGES or STEP files to send to outside parts suppliers. This process has sped up model production on new products from the 12-16 weeks previously required down to the 8-10 weeks now needed. Sheet metal parts are also produced faster than before: taking only 1-3 weeks compared with the 7-8 weeks previously required.
After Russell and his design team complete the models, all parts are produced by outside suppliers. Then the parts are returned to QED for assembly onsite.
Small hand-actuated vise, modeled in Inventor to demonstrate graphic capabilities of 3D CAD.
Budgeting is handled with a subscription program to keep the CAD software up to date. QED pays an annual fee to get upgrades when they become available. The subscription includes software, services, online support, and learning materials.
One of the big advantages of this type of subscription, according to Russell, is that it reduces the funding charges to a relatively constant line item in each year’s budget. “This way,” he explained, “we don’t have to scramble around for a budget in the years that we upgrade.
“I know Autodesk products aren’t perfect. No software is. I also know the hammer I have hanging in my shop isn’t perfect either but it is one I know how to use. I’m comfortable with it and I can accomplish whatever I need to do using that hammer. I feel the same way about Inventor… I have confidence that I can do my job … in a manner that is efficient and profitable to my company,” Russell concludes.
David Russell talks about designing custom products for medical professionals.
Our main product line is medical lighting devices for use by doctors, surgeons and dentists. We design and manufacture lighting using low wattage LEDs, halogen lamps with a power range of 10 to 250 W and high energy arc lamps such as metal halide and xenon lamps up to 300 W in power. We design the light sources as well as head-mounted lighting gear with intricate lens and linkage systems that allow the user to focus the light, adjust spot size and aim the light in a precise manner. In recent years, we expanded into the consumer lighting industry with a line of LED products, targeted toward musicians and outdoor enthusiasts.
On Customizing —This Company was founded on a custom product. The first product designed and marketed was a fiber optic headlight and halogen light source. In the early 1970s a doctor who wasn’t happy with the few systems (then) on the market brought the idea to the founder. He wanted to have more control on the light position, spot size and light intensity. Over the years we have improved on that original design. We often develop custom products. It may be as simple as a custom graphic or as complicated as modifying our equipment to fit a particular application.
On Communications —Today we are better able to communicate designs and design features with each other as well as with our vendors. The manufacture of most of our parts is outsourced. Most of our vendors are able to use STEP or IGES data directly from our Inventor files to produce our parts. This results in a quicker turnaround and fewer recalls and mistakes.
On the Future — Currently we have projects in the works using higher-powered LED lamps. We are developing these systems for use in the medical/dental market. Also, … we have released a portable LED light source specifically for use in the equine industry. This product was the result of consultation with an equine veterinarian who had seen a need for good portable lighting in his field.
On Recommendations — I would recommend the change to 3D design. It is more efficient and cost effective than 2D. Also, the technology has matured to the point that the learning curve is significantly shorter than when 3D first came on the scene.
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