June 2001

Design Application Feature

Added value in your software

Most users don't realise what their software can do. Tom Shelley looks at developments that are designed to reveal and enhance some of the lesser known capabilities of Microsoft Office

Getting full value from your software requires plently of time and an inquisitive mond. While the majority of engineers will possess the latter, the former is often in short supply.

Used in combination with other packages, most software can yield benefits squared. CAD can be made to work with CAM. Excel spreadsheets can be made to work with CAD and databases and Word used to manage document change control. Users are partly to blame for not making full usage of these facilities, but software vendors are now directing efforts to making them much easier to find and use.

Leading the ay is Microsoft with the just launched XP versions of Word, Excel and other components of Microsoft Office. When copying and pasting, taking data from one place to another, data comes with a 'Smart Tag' in the form of a label. This relates to where it came from and allows cut and pasted text to either retain its original format or match destination format. Similarly, list numbering tags allows a second list to either start again from 1, or start from where the last list left off. Data in a table on a Web site can be copied and pasted into Excel in such a way as to retain its source formatting, match destination formatting or create a refreshable web query. The database can then be updated every 60 seconds, every day or whenever the file is re-opened. This last is a facility which has been in Excel for some time, cunningly concealed in the import external data menu, but which is now made obvious in the new version.

excelxpscreengrab.jpg (27359 bytes)

The same goes for the 'Track Changes' to documents facility which has also for some time been available in the Reviewing toolbar. The facility is now being expanded and made more obvious under a 'TRK' button in a bottom of screen toolbar. In the new version, documents sent for review can be made to reveal all changes marked by balloons in the margin, with an accept or reject procedure. In view of its obvious application to engineering change control, major CAD software vendors are now in discussion with Microsoft about adding the same facilities to CAD document management and PDM packages.

wordxpscreengrab.jpg (28454 bytes)

The ability of IT departments and software vendors to write their own Smart Tags is being facilitated by a software developers kit available as a free download from Microsoft. Microsoft Principal Systems Engineer Jackie Elleker said at a Eureka briefing that one of her colleagues was able to start writing useful tags after only two days study and experimentation using the kit. Really smart, Smart Tags can be made to provide access to database information in supply chain applications. NT Security can be used to control how smart they are for different users. Users will thus only have access to that data which is appropriate. Customers, for example, can be prevented from having access to component price and origins data, available to in-house engineering and design departments. Microsoft envisage these Smart Tags being held on a central server, and made available to users with appropriate privileges. Users can download by clicking a 'More Smart Tags' button to be found under the Tools/Auto Correct/Smart Tag tab.

Similarly, Share Point Team Services software will allow Intranet and Extranet users the ability to access, update and/or place yellow 'Post It' type notes on reports and documents without web authoring skills. Levels of privilege will ensure what users can and cannot alter and whether they can only add notes. Such facilities have been around before, pioneered by Hewlett Packard among others, with the help of Lotus Notes, but incorporation into Microsoft Office will greatly expand their usage.

Now there will be even less excuse for not using the full capabilities of your office software.

More information from . Office XP runs under Windows NT, 98, 2000 and Millennium edition.

Suck it and see

As well as making revolutionary vacuum cleaner, Dyson are one of the still too few companies which use the same 3D model to produce documentation, rapid prototyping machine instructions and unambiguous communication with toolmakers.

In the company's research and development unit, the Solid Edge CAD package from UGS is used during the design development and subsequent prototyping and prove-out of new components and sub-systems before they go forward for use in a new product. Meanwhile, in engineering there are over 40 seats of UGS' Unigraphics.

dyson_calsat.jpg (20529 bytes)

Detailed engineering design is carried out in two ways. Parts are modelled as individual components in their own right and then added into an assembly structure later, or they are modelled within the context of an assembly.

The 3D solid model data from the CAD/CAM system is used to 'drive' an in-house fused deposition modelling system, which is run 24 hours a day for the production of rapid prototype parts. Prototype components can be produced on the FDM system in as little as 3 to 4 hours. The prototype parts are then physically tested and used for further development, with any required modifications being implemented in the CAD/CAM system.

Before production begins, final prototype parts are produced using stereo-lithography rapid prototyping techniques via a bureau. Because the bureau also uses a Unigraphics system, all they require is the appropriate 3D model data files from Dyson's master model database. The bureau then uses its own system to produce the necessary STL files for the stereo-lithography process. The parts produced this way are then assembled and sprayed up in the appropriate colours for final design approval.

Model data for the production of other components by other suppliers is transferred to them either as 2D or 3D IGES files or as a part file direct from the Unigraphics master model database, via the Internet.

This process has lead to greatly improved communication between Dyson and its tool-makers and component suppliers, which has brought a number of major benefits. In the mould tool production process, any necessary modifications to mould designs identified by the tool-maker can be carried out on the 3D mould model at Dyson and returned to the tool-maker, usually the same day. As a result, the design database is always up-to-date, reflecting what is actually being manufactured and tool-making lead times have been reduced.

In addition, 2D fully dimensioned drawings have been all but eliminated because the tool-makers are working with 3D model data today. Any drawings which are still required contain only the major dimensions and are used for checking.

The CAD/CAM system is also used to produce hidden-line removed views of components and assemblies from the master model database which are then input to a CorelDraw system where illustrations are produced. These are then used in the production of the instruction booklets which are shipped with each Dyson vacuum cleaner, as well as for other purposes. The CAD/CAM system is further used to produce the A3-size operation sheets, along with the parts information, required for use on the assembly shop-floor.

The effects of this at Dyson are a right-first-time development environment in which design data is re-used rather than re-invented. This has resulted in a reduced time-scale for the overall design-to-manufacture process accompanied by a greater confidence in the quality of the finished product - and a growing share of the domestic electrical appliances market.

Back to CAD