Modularisation and ‘lightweighting’ have become important trends in crane design. Large manufacturers focus on assuring the safety and reliability of the entire crane through an optimised design structure and reduced materials cost. The top-down 2D design approach adopted in China’s traditional crane industry is insufficient to keep up with modular and lightweight design requirements, as it restricts access to crane parts, leading to difficulties in collaboration, making effective change management difficult, leading to longer product design cycles and increased management complexity.
Presently, many domestic manufacturers have started phasing in modular, collaborative and other design approaches to shorten design cycles, reduce lead time and increase capital turnover. Eurocrane Co., Ltd. (Eurocrane) is a specialised manufacturer and service provider of cranes and material handling equipment with overhead and gantry cranes at the core. The lightweight structure of Euro-style cranes has been the focus of Eurocrane’s research for years. By studying and comparing with multiple similar products in the market, Eurocrane is firmly convinced that its independently designed and manufactured Euro-style cranes are generally 30% lighter than comparable products.
Optimised design process
In 2002, Eurocrane realised that the crane industry was heading towards lightweight structures. At first, Eurocrane imported lightweight Euro-style cranes from Europe, but after a few years, it began to develop lightweight products on its own. As the design development became more complex, the traditional 2D computer-aided design (CAD) software began showing its limitations.
With 2D CAD software, many design changes and variant designs had a holistic effect, where changing one part required re-building the entire assembly and regenerating the product design Bill of Materials (BOM). Due to this, crane design engineers had to make a lot of drawings on a daily basis. BOMs exported from 2D drawings needed secondary development and it was difficult to link data and manage drawing versions. With poor design collaboration, changes made by each engineer could not be aligned with the entire assembly. In addition, it lacked the ability to manage the product’s structure and sometimes the final assembly drawing was not modified to reflect all changes made.
Implementing 3D design software
To address these problems, Eurocrane planned to upgrade its design system and implement 3D design software and a product data management (PDM) system. In June 2014, Eurocrane officially started the implementation of Solid Edge® software from Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) specialist, Siemens PLM Software for 3D design. The 3D software had functional advantages, like enabling associative changes to parts and assemblies, where the assembly is automatically updated when parts are changed.
Also, interference checking enables engineers to make timely modifications whenever a problem arises during the design process. Collaboration is facilitated by clear design models managed by the PDM system. Also, the price of Solid Edge compared to competing systems offered compelling value, playing an important part in Eurocrane’s final decision.
Launching the first product
The first product Eurocrane launched after implementing Solid Edge was an electric chain hoist. According to the original design intent, the model’s lifting speed was designed to be 10 meters per second, but the sales department learned that consumers preferred a speed of eight meters per second. Therefore, the gear box of the original model had to be redesigned to reduce the lifting speed.
In the past, to make such a product variant, the entire design process would have to be repeated so as to re-design the gear according to the requirements. Eurocrane engineers would have required to redesign the assembly where the gear was located, change related parts and the assembly, leading to changes in at least 12 drawings. With Solid Edge, the process is much simpler. The designer only needs to open the master model to choose which parts to change, which leads to corresponding assembly automatically engaging to upgrade the model and save it as a new version with the replaced gear.
Finally, the designer can simply save the corresponding structure to complete the design variant. The BOM will be automatically modified and reviewers need only check the modified parts, reducing the workload of design checking. In the past, it would have taken the research and development (R&D) department at least one week to do so but now it takes less than three days.
Associability between design & management
Eurocrane’s cranes are different from other cranes in terms of structure. Designers cannot simply invoke existing drawings,but must also redesign the crane’s structure, which makes the management of design drawings and data an important part of the work. The Solid Edge™ SP design management solution is a cost-effective system developed by Siemens PLM Software. Utilising Microsoft’s SharePoint® server, this system can manage multiple versions of all product-related data and information and provide refined process management, enabling classification of data by assembly relationships and design attributes along with dynamic visualisation of data and workflow process management.
Its main function is managing models and drawings, which are a part of the vast amount of product related data and information. With many departments needing design-related information, Eurocrane wanted a data management platform that is more than a simple document and drawing management system. Solid Edge SP represents that platform. It manages product data sets with part numbers that correspond to a collection of related product design information, including 3D models, engineering drawings, weights, materials and process information. All of the data is managed as a package, enabling more flexible access, increasing data accuracy and improving organisation. When Eurocrane chose Solid Edge and Solid Edge SP, the company got a fully integrated solution to avoid the problems in data exchange and system compatibility among software from different vendors.
Several low-cost design software offerings were declined because they lacked a fully integrated management platform.
Rebuilding the R&D system
The implementation of Solid Edge proved beneficial, albeit the early days of the rebuilding process were challenging. Eurocrane designers were accustomed to 2D design thinking and many questioned whether 3D design was really necessary. Kong Chunyuan, Deputy Director—R&D Center, Eurocrane, notes, “Just recently, use of the new software solution helped a five-member Eurocrane development team finish designing six series of open winches with over 100 configurations, covering a wide range of lifting capacities, from 32 tons to 100 tons. The project included more than 30,000 parts.”
Breaking away from the traditional norms, Eurocrane began a wave of change by introducing a 3D design system, which not only made them technologically advanced but also saved their worker’s time and workload. Solid Edge also proved itself by being the harbinger of change and making the management better.