On the outskirts of Cambridge, in the sleepy village of Burwell lies Armtrac Ltd, a company that designs and manufactures heavily-armoured mechanical de-mining machinery. Their products are used all over the world in areas contaminated with landmines and other explosives. You’ll come across Armtrac machinery on de-mining operations in Mozambique, Kosovo, Northern Iraq, Lebanon and even in the UK where their products are used to clear MOD firing ranges. More recently, it’s been announced that their machinery will be used to clear the El Alamein minefield in Egypt. You may have even seen one of their flagship machines driven by Jeremy Clarkson on TV’s Top Gear!
Moving to 3D
For many years, Armtrac’s design process was done on the shop floor. The only use of CAD was to record designs for later manufacture; for this, Armtrac relied on AutoCAD. Prior to investing in SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD, Michael Commons, Design Engineer had experimented with the 3D functionality in AutoCAD. “I went on a training course on using AutoCAD 3D and found the process of creating a design in 3D very difficult. I assumed that this would be the same with SOLIDWORKS, but I found the program so much more intuitive and easy to use”. Michael was resistant to the idea of SOLIDWORKS at first, but quickly started to see the benefits it brought to the table. Having used it for several years now, Michael cannot praise it highly enough stating: “I could never go back to using AutoCAD”.
Making changes to designs
Editing existing designs is often where SOLIDWORKS users see the greatest benefits. Armtrac recently needed to edit a design to take a bigger engine. Previously, Armtrac would have had to crane the engine into place on the existing design and take a note of what needed to be altered, before going back to AutoCAD where they would redraw the chassis. This was by no means an easy exercise – it was hard to avoid mistakes and much iteration was required. With SOLIDWORKS, the entire process could be done in the design office. Michael imported a 3D model of the engine into his pre-existing assembly and made the required edits to allow the chassis to take the new engine. “This saved a lot of time in the workshop and also let us see what the knock-on effects of the changes would be”. Rather than having to build multiple physical prototypes, SOLIDWORKS allows you to produce a virtual on-screen prototype. This not only saves designers a lot of time, it cuts material and fabrication costs, too. For those companies who have to outsource the fabrication of a prototype, SOLIDWORKS can pay for itself time and time over due to these reduced prototyping costs.
When not designing new products, the focus of Armtrac’s design team is on reverse-engineering and re-engineering existing machines to make them easier and more efficient to manufacture. This might involve simplifying part of a design to reduce its cost of manufacture, or redesigning components to allow them to be manufactured in bulk and used across a range of products. It’s easy to make changes to designs in SOLIDWORKS and having a 3D environment to work in makes gaining a view of the entire assembly effortless.
Streamlining product development
Armtrac’s products are heavily bespoke and their new product design is largely driven by customer requests. SOLIDWORKS makes it easier for Armtrac to edit and replicate designs and has cut many hours of labour in the workshop. Previous CAD packages at the company played little part in the product development process other than to record designs. SOLIDWORKS has become an integral part of Armtrac’s product development and has increased efficiency, accelerated design cycles and reduced costs. Innova Systems have been with Armtrac every step of the way, providing outstanding SOLIDWORKS technical support and training.