Something you don’t read every day on the ANSYS blog are stories of how our technology helps manufacturers with 3D sheet metal fabrication. The reality is that many engineers and manufacturers use ANSYS SpaceClaim 3D technology for sheet metal design and the unfolding of problematic sheet metal bodies for punching and fabrication. MB-Technik in Neumarkt, Germany, is one such company that has built up a solid clientele with sheet metal parts, based on their unique expertise in how to punch, bend and powder coat final products. To implement complex client requirements even more rapidly, for about a year now, the company has ramped up their use of ANSYS SpaceClaim with its compelling direct modeling tools.
About eleven years ago, when Thomas Markert and his partner Michael Berchtold founded their (second) joint venture MB-Technik, they knew what they were letting themselves in for.
“Clients want the impossible. And we didn’t want to get involved with the production of simple mass production parts that can be processed by any large sheet metal fabricator,” Markert says. “Clients with special requirements like demanding designs, perfect surfaces or powder coating are in good hands with us.”
The company’s core competency is the punching of parts and special components made of aluminum, steel and stainless steel sheets. Ten employees work in single-shift operation to serve the demanding clientele in industries such as automotive, aerospace and prototype manufacturing.
Getting to production faster
“As a medium-sized business, we don’t have much time for design,” Markert says. “It’s about rapidly modeling production-ready sheet metal parts from our client’s sketches or STEP files to quickly get to them onto the machines.” MB-Technik has a variety of CNC machines that punch different material types and thicknesses, and special shapes such as louvers.
“Whatever can be produced on these machines, we must be able to define with a 3-D CAD system quickly and easily,” says Markert. “That’s why I’ve kept an open eye for CAD solutions that tackle existing problems with fresh approaches.” In his search, he came across ANSYS SpaceClaim through ConWeb, an authorized ANSYS reseller in Germany. “The innovative functions in SpaceClaim get me up to speed fast, so I can take full advantage of my equipment,” he says. “With certain tasks I can finish them between 30 percent and 50 percent faster.” MB-Technik initially leased one license for these tasks because, as Markert says, “I thought this offer from ConWeb was fantastic, because this gave me enough time to really get to know the system before making my decision to purchase.” If you opt to buy the system, any money spent on lease payments goes toward the price of purchase. Meanwhile, they have been using SpaceClaim along with another CAD tool that focuses on other design aspects.
Exporting external data
Many of their clients already supply them with 3-D files. They export data to a STEP file, from which a great deal of information is removed. In Markert’s experience, many CAD systems either cannot handle the conversion or else stop running with an error message — but not ANSYS SpaceClaim. “The system is very tolerant of non-native geometry,” says Markert. “Most imported geometries are displayed correctly.” Along with this automatic translation, users can also intervene during the translation by detecting the error sources and deciding whether to remove them right away or make corrections later using direct modeling. “The system has excellent repair functions for all the usual geometry errors in files,” he says. He sees common problems such as varying thickness, incorrect corner or edge treatments or overlapping flanges.
Markert says the direct modeling technology of SpaceClaim lets users process and upgrade external models quickly and easily, with just a few clicks to add brackets, perform partial sections or set embossments. They simply select readymade sketches with embossments, deep drawings, punch geometries or louvers and place them on the model. They can create parametric control sketches for these patterns just as quickly – for example for keyholes, which can later be modified via radius and length.
MB-Technik often uses perforated plates, whose holes are arranged in a specific pattern. If the perforated plate needs to be enlarged, they can simply choose whether to have the holes proportionally redistributed or to keep the old coordinates. To ensure that a perforated plate with 600 three-dimensional hole geometries doesn’t take up too much computing time, SpaceClaim offers the option of showing only one hole with graphics and metadata and viewing the other ones simply as dashed lines. “This saves a tremendous amount of time for each change and each backup,” says Markert. “Before we started using SpaceClaim, this was the time when I used to have to go drink coffee.” Later, when the holes are needed during final processing, all model details output without issue.
More convenient options
Markert also enjoys the fact that SpaceClaim stores models, assemblies, processings, sketches and drawings in one file. “That is very convenient for transferring data. You’ve got everything together, up to date and you save time that can be used, for example, to retrace patterns,” he says. Other systems use separate files to store different data, but in SpaceClaim they are integrated with the model. Markert takes full advantage of the 2-D drawing capabilities to create partial sections, straight edges or embossing patterns to finished patterns and thus achieve results that cannot be shown with other systems. “That was one reason to buy SpaceClaim,” he says. “It works quite well.”
Bend allowance or K factor?
Depending on the material thickness and bend angle for a selected radius during the forming processes, a K factor value or bend allowance must be established (this determines the neutral axis and will have an affect on unfold lengths). Markert utilizes built-in tables with extraction values for the given parameters which give exact results with a high degree of accuracy. “An excellent solution,” says Markert. “I am also significantly faster with corrections than when I have to go over the K factor every single time. The executions, which are finally output as a DXF file for the machines, perform correctly 100 percent of the time.”
Easy entry and great value
Having experience with several CAD tools over the years, Markert is impressed with the user experience of SpaceClaim. “You get the impression the developers really worked hard to put themselves in the position of the user,” he says. “It’s important to me that development doesn’t stand still, but continues making progress with functions that are important for sheet metal processing. I have found all the necessary commands are right in front of you — no need to look for them. You can cancel any process easily by pressing a button. The program is always prompting you to do things, which really helps users navigate their way through the program.” That’s why, to this very day, Markert has never been to a training course for SpaceClaim.. He has found the tutorial videos on the website helpful, in addition to various instructional videos on YouTube. “When you see how others build a model, you quickly figure out the best approach,” Markert says. When all else fails, “the support from our reseller ConWeb is fast, reliable and competent — even if they don’t have sheet metal experts there,” he says.
ANSYS SpaceClaim includes collaborative functionality call LiveReview which lets two or more users who are geographically far apart communicate more effectively. In real time, any user can make suggestions, illustrate changes and view others contributions. It makes images further come alive to interactively collaborate this way. When MB-Technik recently invited two clients to SpaceClaim’s online LiveReview, they were both quite enthused: On the internet you can process a model together — not just view it and take notes!
Thomas Markert is just as enthusiastic about the time savings and the outstanding cost/benefit ratio of using SpaceClaim for sheet metal fabrication: “You get the job done fast,” he concludes. “In particular, small businesses get an excellent return on their investment.”
If you are at all intrigued by MB-Technik’s story, we invite you to try ANSYS SpaceClaim for yourself and experience just how easy it is to use. You can try it right now in the cloud, or request a downloadable version.