Digital prototypes help speed the design of custom packaging machinery at Pearson Packaging Systems, Spokane, Wash. Previously, the firm created 2D drawings of machines from customer specs. It then checked for part interferences. The pieces proceeded slowly as parties exchanged and reviewed drawings.

To make matters worse, customers sometimes wanted to modify a machine even after approving a design. This made product documentation confusing. For example, some customers found it difficult to match the parts they needed to part numbers in drawings.

So Pearson tried using Autodesk Inventor Professional from Autodesk Inc., San Rafael, Calif., to generate accurate 3D models that validate form, fit, and function before a machine is built. “A digital model or prototype lets users ‘test drive’ a machine early in the cycle,” says Matt Dykhouse, a Pearson mechanical engineer. “For example, designers can test constraints and the range of motion of parts in relation to the whole machine. They can also ‘walk’ customers through a digital prototype using Inventor’s Web conferencing tool. Another option is to send customers DWF files for review with the free, downloadable Autodesk Design Review. The program lets customers without 3D CAD rotate digital prototypes, zoom in on features and parts, and see exactly what they are approving.”

On the documentation side, Pearson uses digital prototypes for all-digital product manuals. The company loads DWF files of designs on a compact disk along with a link to Autodesk Design Review. For help assembling machines, workers on the shop floor can refer to a 3D model of it on large-screen displays using Design Review. When customers have complex questions or need to order a part, they can discuss their issues on the phone with a Pearson agent who is looking at the same digital prototype.

The firm says digital prototypes and Design Review are also helping it move to paperless manufacturing. “We no longer need to waste time controlling the flow of paper. One employee used to spend all day managing printouts. Now she can devote her efforts to more productive activities,” says Dykhouse.