CADfix and the PPS Paradigm Shift
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on September 18, 2017 |

In July 2017, International TechneGroup Incorporated (ITI) announced the release of its CADfix Plant & Process Simplification (CADfix PPS) software. CADfix PPS is a new solution based on ITI’s CADfix, a software solution for CAD model translation, repair, healing, defeaturing and simplification. When this technology is applied to plant and process challenges, it can help design engineers achieve up to a 70 percent reduction in engineering design labor and costs associated with large MCAD model simplification.

To get the inside scoop on this new release, ENGINEERING.com spoke to ITI’s UK Managing  Director, Andy Chinn and executive vice president of Global Business Development, Jamie Flerlage.

The level of detail in a CAD assembly that is needed for manufacturing a machine or piece of equipment is very different from the level of detail required to design overall layouts of machines and equipment within large plant facilities. Plant and process layouts inherently encompass numerous complex machine and equipment models. As-designed and as-supplied, these models contain much more detail and are much larger file sizes than what typical plant and process design software tools can efficiently handle. 

I first spoke with Jamie Flerlage about the industry drivers that led to the CADfix PPS evolution.

“CAD files supplied by equipment manufacturers can be unnecessarily large—several hundred megabytes or even gigabytes. We discovered plant and process engineers were spending a significant amount of time manually defeaturing models to simplify and to minimize file size,” Flerlage said.

He went on to quantify that statement and highlight the CADfix PPS return on investment.

“The annual cost to manually simplify models varies. Our survey data indicates that design engineers spend an average of three-to-five hours per model, per week, simplifying MCAD models. If you apply those averages across dozens of projects, at a burdened rate of $100 an hour, the costs are staggering. In that regard, CADfix PPS can add margin through cost reduction. Another measurement is opportunity cost. CADfix PPS reduces non-value-added labor, thereby allowing project managers to reallocate resources to mission-critical tasks.”

In addition to time and cost issues, plant and process engineers face other challenges, including file sharing, file simplification, and integration of large equipment installations and component sub-systems. With large, complex CAD assemblies, plant and process engineers face delays due to non-productive CAD model rework, and often experience multiple failed import attempts when incorporating equipment models into an overall plant layout. They need to quickly simplify aspects of supplied files or to remove unwanted parts or details such as invisible internal detail or cavities, design features such as fillets and chamfers, and unwanted geometry. 

“We were used to processing very complex models with lots of detail using CADfix,” Chinn commented. “For example, automotive and aerospace and defense engineers need more complex and accurate CAD models for manufacturing and analysis. In these cases, CADfix model simplification enables activities such as meshing and analysis to be undertaken much more effectively with significantly reduced CAD rework. However, when designers in the plant and process industry told us they needed an even greater level of simplification, we quickly saw an opportunity to tailor our CADfix product to address the plant and process industry’s unique simplification challenges. This insight was the catalyst for the evolution of CADfix PPS.”

It’s not just the end-user of the CAD models who are interested in model simplification. Sometimes suppliers want to preserve their intellectual property (IP) or prefer to share only the minimum model information necessary for the plant layout.

Chinn commented, “In some cases, the supplier will run CADfix PPS to take out parametric features or details of the model that they do not want to share. In addition, because plant design software cannot efficiently integrate massive MCAD assemblies, project managers and those responsible for plant layout often mandate to suppliers that they must send them a simplified version. In this case, the equipment supplier will use CADfix PPS to simplify it before sending it to the EOC.”

Flerlage also explained that while plant layout and downstream processes drives the business requirement for model simplification, the advent of mobile technology in the field amplifies that need.

“Customers who want to use plant design data on mobile devices, particularly at a construction site, may struggle with equipment models because they don’t have a reliable connection or bandwidth. It can be an expensive, time-consuming issue for construction projects that depend mobile carriers to access plant designs and layouts,” Flerlage concluded.

CADfix PPS

CADfix PPS enables designers to easily and quickly simplify large MCAD assemblies for more efficient integration into their plant design systems. The simplification of these models using  CADfix PPS can be done manually or the simplification tools can be run in an automatic batch process using the simplification wizard. Whether done manually or with the wizard, the process helps remove internal detail and unwanted details such as nuts, bolts, washers and other small parts that aren’t necessary for a full plant layout, to quickly simplify the CAD model and reduce the file size for easier integration. CADfix PPS also addresses problem areas in plant layouts, such as the simplification of complex stairways, platforms, and skid assemblies.
An example of complex part simplification using CADfix PPS. (Image courtesy of ITI.)
An example of complex part simplification using CADfix PPS. (Image courtesy of ITI.)

When asked to explain how CADfix PPS evolved out of the CADfix product, Andy Chinn commented, “When CADfix was initially released as a data exchange solution several years ago, the end users had very different requirements to plant and process designers. Engineers simply needed to translate CAD geometry from one system to another and obtain solid models.  The geometry often needed to be repaired because CAD translators weren’t always that well implemented and standards such as IGES and STEP were not fully adopted.  Engineers were spending a lot of time exchanging data and getting bad results. Our initial CADfix product was designed to help engineers obtain a good quality model in their receiving CAD system and avoid rework”.

“As translators, CAD systems, and model quality improved, there were less problems with straight A-to-B CAD translations, but there was a need to adapt models for specific downstream activities such as engineering analysis, including finite element analysis (FEA), computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and computational electromagnetic analysis (CEM). In this case, small faces, short edges, very small holes, and other small features in the CAD model that are needed for manufacturing can cause problems for the analysis engineer,” Chinn continued. “Thus, CADfix evolved to take model translation a step further and offer model simplification options to help analysis engineers avoid meshing and analysis failures, and ultimately reduce analysis lead times.”

An example of automatic detection and removal of unwanted detail. (Image courtesy of ITI.)
An example of automatic detection and removal of unwanted detail. (Image courtesy of ITI.)

“We discovered other simplification applications available were either very slow or produced models that caused system crashes on import.  We took the best of the CADfix geometry handling and simplification technology, packaged it with standards-based CAD interfaces, and presented it within a simple and compact interface, to offer a solution that supports the rapid simplification of complex models,” added Flerlage. “The result is a solution that has a very valuable and high internal rate of return for companies that need to solve a very niche problem.”

In talking to both Chinn and Flerlage for this article, I realized how important a solution like this is for the plant and process industry. While the drafting and design firm I manage, Advanced Technical Services, isn’t a plant process and design firm, we do a lot of as-built documentation projects across various industries. We were recently asked to do an as-built project for a company in the food manufacturing industry. The company received models and assemblies of equipment and machines to be used in the facility. 

We created a CAD model of the facility layout by documenting the building with tapes, lasers, and so on. The CAD file worked until we dropped in the vendor’s equipment models to verify their size and location within the facility. The supplied equipment CAD files were so large and complex that our CAD system was not only chugging along slowly, but it actually crashed at times. I spent a lot of time going through each equipment model separately to remove unnecessary details  before finally being able to import them without affecting system performance. Having a tool that could have automated this process would have been extremely beneficial.

When I consider all the projects like this that we’ve done and those we will have in the future, and after learning about the evolution of the product, it’s easy to see the benefits of CADfix PPS and the opportunity for ITI in the plant and process industry.

ITI has sponsored this post. They have no editorial input to this post. All opinions are mine. —Jeffrey Heimgartner

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