Case Study: Biotech Mech Engineers get SolidWorks files organized

Andy Homyk and Tim Higgins are Mechanical Engineers at HemoSonics developing  point-of-care blood analysis systems that will guide patient care and prevent life-threatening clots in surgery and cancer patients. Challenging enough, right? Unfortunately their job was made more difficult when they found themselves lost in a sea of unmanaged CAD files.

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You can check out our one-page case study with HemoSonics or read the full interview below!

Who is HemoSonics and what are your roles there?

Andy: Tim and I make up the Mechanical Engineering Department of HemoSonics – a biotech firm based out of Charlottesville, VA. Being part of a small company means we get to do a bit of everything, such as: making components by hand, CAD modeling, vendor management and design presentations. Over the past two years, we’ve built our own mechanical department from the ground up and had the chance to experience all the organizational issues that go along with managing a database of hundreds of CAD files.

How did you stay organized?

Two years ago, ‘organized’ is not a word I would use to describe our CAD data. When I started working at HemoSonics, I was given a laptop and access to a single folder containing about 500 component models and assemblies that made up our prototype system. Fast forward to the present, Tim and I manage an organized, revision-controlled file repository containing these files and the many more prototype models we have developed over the years.

What about sharing files, how did you do that?

We used email when we could, but email could not handle larger files. This forced us to resort to using a USB stick that was passed back and forth to transfer files. This was time consuming and made it difficult to track file versions and ensure all engineers had the most updated files.

Sounds like these weren’t the most user-friendly solutions to your problem.

Version control and constantly passing a USB drive back and forth were the biggest pain points of using those solutions. They resulted in unorganized computer folders filled with different revision numbers that added to the confusion. Screenshots were also time consuming and limited the amount of discussion and feedback we could receive.

What CAD file management tools did you look at besides GrabCAD Workbench?

SolidWorks is a very intuitive and easy software package to teach to incoming engineers.  Unfortunately, their PDM software is a little less than intuitive and can require some rather exorbitant upfront expenses – both monetary and labor related.

I knew we needed some rigorous organization and some kind of revision control system for our development efforts. So, I considered the SolidWorks option very seriously. But as a small company, I really wanted something more lightweight that was easy to learn for new employees; we were growing quickly. I also needed something that would help me share with up to 10 consulting companies or vendors we could be working with at any given time.

Workbench gave us those options.

Did you have any preconceived notions about PDM and PLM going into this solution search?

A couple thoughts come to mind with PDM and PLM: “Labor Intensive”, “Team buy-in issues”, “$$$”

You ended up implementing Workbench. What were the results?

  • Workbench got us out of having to search through email threads to track component development. We know who has which version.
  • We can see exactly what is shared with which vendors.
  • Workbench automatically up-revs our components when a change is made AND keeps the history.
  • No more USB stick transfers for large assembly files.
  • Happily counting this as a dilemma of the past: Vendor or consultant emails can’t take files larger than 25MB (Mailer Daemon)… Now what? Do I create a dropbox? They don’t know how to use dropbox… ok I’ll email it piecewise. What about large assemblies?
  • We hold 3D Design Reviews anywhere internet can be found. No more screenshots.
  • My CEO now opens CAD files on his phone to show potential investors. Now that’s just cool.

Sounds like Workbench has had a positive impact for HemoSonics.

I can access all CAD files from anywhere, and I know I will be using the most updated files. This saves me time during the design process and money during the prototyping process because there is no confusion between what file version I need to send out for fabrication. The desktop client also allows me to download and upload files to Workbench extremely easily and tracks what files are out of sync.

Costs can be reduced in personnel communication time and vendor communication. If I make a last minute change to a part, that means I would have to change the revision number with the vendor and then extrapolate that change throughout our system. It’s comforting to know the parts you’re sending out for fab are going to be the latest and greatest without the up-rev headache.

With Workbench, we can also receive feedback from other employees who do not have CAD software, share files seamlessly with partners, and present 3D models anywhere, easily, without being chained to my desktop.

How important is enabling better design feedback?

Having feedback from several different perspectives is critical to developing a robust and functional design. I will approach a problem from my perspective and develop a few design solutions. But feedback ensures I am not designing inside of my own box and can identify potential problems early-on. It’s hard to come up with a good design on your own – your team is there for a reason. The faster you can share ideas, the more quickly you can get things done.

With Partner Spaces in Workbench I can share files and gain feedback from external vendors and engineers without the concern that any modifications will be made to the file. Even if I trust my vendor, it’s nice to have the option to keep your cards closer to your chest.

What do you think of the cloud aspect of Workbench?

The cloud is very useful when we have presentations and need to show a 3D model via projector. We do not have CAD software on all of our laptops; CAD software is expensive! The cloud aspect allows us to view and present models anywhere in the office - not only at our desktop work stations.

We use also the iPhone app at tradeshows and when we’re out to lunch. It’s nice having the option to be able to pull up a CAD model at any time.

Check out the impressive projects Andy and Tim are working on over at hemosonics.com

If any of the above sounds like you, try out a 14 day trial of Workbench!

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