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June 7, 2001

7 Min Read
Are you ready for online design? Part 3: Web publishing hits the streets

Point, click, publish. Creating a basic collaboration website used to be only for the Web savvy. Now, all it takes is a solid model and a mouse.

On Nov. 22 of last year, barely a month after it was introduced, Peter Wood made his first attempt at online design collaboration. He hasn't looked back since. Now, virtually every solid model he creates for his clients gets uploaded to a website, where he and the client can pan, zoom, and rotate the model at the same time or during separate visits. In one case, a virtual meeting such as this allowed him to eliminate $18,000 from a proposed tool. In other cases, the Web-based system offers both instant communication and freedom from travel. 

At Wood's company, Zzorco Consulting, the mechanical-engineer-turned-consultant provides services related to cost-effective injection molding, including product design, solid modeling, rapid prototyping, mold design and procurement, process optimization, and manufacturing services. Prior to this, he founded and ultimately sold two successful injection molding companies: Automated Plastics (Georgetown, SC), a lights-out operation; and Precision Southeast (Myrtle Beach, SC), a 26-press custom molder serving the appliance, power tool, and automotive industries. 

One year ago, Wood purchased SolidWorks 2000, and when the company began offering 3D Instant Website late last year, he gave it a try. "I had communicated designs by e-mail before using the SW Viewer," says Wood, "but what really impressed me about 3D Instant Website with SolidWorks as host was the quality of the images. They were better than with most graphics applications." He also uses the Instant Website to refine design changes. "I send clients who are requesting changes a revised model to make sure that it is what they actually want. The results are so much more realistic that it's a good way to verify modifications." 

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In an online design session discussing this part for a filter, designer Peter Wood and his customer were able to make changes that simplified the tool, saving nearly $18,000. In another case, several design revisions to this vial stopper were easily made using 3D Instant Website, says Wood. He and his client created two versions of the stopper, one for laboratory analysis vials, and a second for consumer use.

Staying Focused 
Web collaboration gave Wood more time to concentrate on part design, rather than Web design. He describes a typical session: "I upload my finished SolidWorks model using Instant Website. I created my own template with my company's logo. I can publish the model either in collaboration style, to request approval or comments, or in basic style. Collaboration style has a checkoff box for reviewers and provides a place for them to comment or approve. Sites expire in 14 days, but when they do, SolidWorks sends an e-mail so that you can opt to receive a permanent record of everything on the site except the model." 

The client that Wood communicates online with most often is Paul Strickler, founder of Environmental Express (Mount Pleasant, SC, www.envexp.com), a leader in analytical products for the Environmental Protection Agency. Strickler's innovative company also contains a captive molding operation. Wood helps him develop products and mold designs, and concentrates on speeding products to market. 

Currently, Wood and Strickler are collaborating on a new disposable filter, the Filter Mate 4. The design has been through several generations, and Wood has changed it from a single wiping system to a double wiping system. The wipers, in this case, are flanges that seal the filter against its cylindrical holder. Although the wiping system began as a clarified PP part, Wood has changed to EVA for the outer wipers. 

Using 3D Instant Website for this project saved not only time, but also money. "We did synchronous meetings to work out some of the details," he recalls. "During one of those meetings, I looked at the part and realized that if we changed the size of the filter media that lays inside of the wiping system, we could eliminate the cam-operated mold and switch to an open-and-close mold. Paul believed he could change the filter media size from 25 mm to 23 1/2 mm without compromising filter performance. So we saved money and gave him a tool that was easier to maintain." Estimated savings on the tool: $18,000. 

Another ongoing project involves a molded stopper for a laboratory vial. "The stopper has gone through four design revisions," explains Wood. "It began as a one-piece part machined from acrylic." It is now being converted to a cored stopper molded in PET, and four-cavity tools are being built. One revision cooked up during online collaboration actually created a new product. "We are putting a separate cap on the stopper for a consumer version, and creating an area for decorative labels on this version," he explains. To accomplish this variation, Wood specified different cams in the original mold and created four more cavities for the cap pieces. 

Website Specifics 
Wood is not alone in his use of 3D Instant Website. At the end of last year, more than 5000 users were sharing their designs via this tool, which was first launched in October 2000. The company estimates that in just seven weeks, more than 50,000 websites were created on 3D Instant Website's hosted server, corporate intranets, and Web servers worldwide. What's more, these websites received approximately 150,000 visits. 

In keeping with SolidWorks' mantra of "make it easy to use and users will come," the specifics of how all of this works are fairly simple. For starters, this tool enables users to publish interactive 3-D images with a single mouse click. An automation wizard downloads and installs all the necessary software to view published websites. Viewing itself is a breeze. Visitors can rotate, zoom, and pan 3-D models without manually downloading or installing any additional viewers or CAD software. 

Other features are designed for ease of communication and control: 

• eDrawings. Users can publish SolidWorks eDrawings instantly to the Web, with a simple right mouse click for eDrawings commands. 

• Viewing. Several standard 3-D interactive viewing formats are supported: SolidWorks eDrawings, CATweb, MetaStream, and RealityWave. 

• Collaboration. The site can be used for both synchronous (real-time) team meetings as well as for asynchronous review. 

• Security. This software provides the freedom to review, delete, and administer published websites in a secure environment. Users have the option of password protection for Web pages, and the Administrator gives each user a unique account that is also password protected. Web pages share only graphical data; there are no models to download, although security considerations are suggested when publishing a drawing to the Web. 

• Templates. For users who want to enter Web page titles, design descriptions, related Web links, and company information, there is a basic template. Collaborative templates allow users to invite anyone with an Internet browser to review and comment on the design. For the Web savvy, customizable templates use industry-standard conventions such as XML and XSL to define information and presentation styles for Web pages. 

Aside from reducing lead time on new product development, Wood credits Web collaboration with improving customer relations. "Better communication is definitely helping to improve my business relationships." 

A Walk Through the Process

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1 SolidWorks users begin to create a 3D Instant Website by clicking on "Publish Now," which uploads files to the SolidWorks server.

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3 E-mail to team member reviewers includes a hotlink to the site along with a password.

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5 Reviewers then enter the site, and without the need for viewing software, are able to pan, zoom, rotate, and view the design before adding comments that can then be seen by subsequent visitors to the site.



Contact information
SolidWorks Corp.
Concord, MA
Ilya Mirman
Phone: (800) 693-9000
Web: www.solidworks.com
E-mail: [email protected]

Zzorco Consulting
New Market, NH
Peter C. Wood
Phone: (603) 231-0627
Fax: (603) 659-0484
Web: www.zzorco.com
E-mail: [email protected]

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