Fenland Leisure prove SOLIDWORDS is Childs Play

When Fenland Leisure made a leap of faith and decided to invest in advanced 3D design technology, little did they know that soon their children would be entertaining themselves by creating 3D graphics using a very similar software created by the same organisation.

Fenland Leisure is a leader in the development and manufacture of children’s playground equipment. Fenland Leisure is a business that grew by 32% last year and on target for a 45% growth during 2008 with an annual turnover of £1.75m. Key to their success has been their willingness to expand and adopt new technologies. One such technology has been SOLIDWORKS, a powerful 3D engineering design software from Cambridge company Innova Systems.

“For us, SOLIDWORKS was a brave investment,” said Andrew Sparrow, Managing Director of Fenland Leisure. “At that time, we had been designing our product in the traditional 2D, flat, format and we were not really sure of the real benefit of moving to a 3D solution. Today we can see that SOLIDWORKS has brought about a number of very important changes to the company and has made a significant contribution to the company’s overall performance. I would go so far as to say that our decision to buy into this technology has ‘accelerated’ our business.”

One major benefit of the SOLIDWORKS design package has been the capability for the engineers to assemble products, or even an entire playground, in ‘virtual’ reality on the computer. Fenland engineers are then able to use these 3D computer models to communicate design issues with their customers, many of whom are none technical people such as schools, PTA’s, Parish Councils and buyers.

“Having a 3D picture of a product or a component has been a great aid to communication throughout the business,” said Andrew. “Even in our factory, it now means that none-technical staff can more easily check design and quality issues. Also, being able to assemble equipment as a virtual model means that we can check our designs before travelling to site. In the past we’ve arrived on site to assemble complex equipment for the first time, only to find that aspects of the design did not work as intended. This was both costly and time consuming. Being able to model all designs in SOLIDWORKS means that we now succeed first time, every time, saving us and our customers a lot of expense and helping us deliver a better service.”

Fenland Leisure was started by former draftsman, Andrew Sparrow in 1992; after being made redundant from his previous employer due to a takeover. The company is now competing with some of the biggest in the marketplace and will be re-investing £280k into new offices and computerised manufacturing equipment during 2008.

“The new computerised manufacturing equipment will mean that we output data from the SOLIDWORKS models directly to the new manufacturing equipment,” said Andrew. This will enable us to accelerate production, undertake more complex designs and reduce our overall manufacturing costs. This will be another big step in helping us to continue our growth and helping us compete in this market.”

Innova Systems is a leading UK supplier of SOLIDWORKS software. They are also a leading provider of SOLIDWORKS training and technical support, helping companies such as Fenland Leisure gain the maximum commercial benefit from the SOLIDWORKS technology. Innova’s clients work across a broad range of sectors, such as oil and gas, consumer products, scientific, medical, mechanical machinery and transportation. More recently Innova’s expertise in 3D engineering design and design analysis systems has won them some key industry awards as well as enabling them to grow the company year on year.

“One of the real advantages of SOLIDWORKS is that it’s very easy to use and it ‘thinks’ like an engineer things,” said Mark Bradford, Managing Director of Innova. “This means that our customers get up to speed very quickly and soon start to see a return on their investment. For companies like Fenland, SOLIDWORKS not only facilitates the design stages but also generates ‘parts lists’, manufacturing data and photo realistic images for brochures and customer presentations. It’s very rewarding to see how much of an impact it has on the commercial performance of our clients’ businesses.”

‘Ease of use’ has become a mantra for all SOLIDWORKS users. The idea is that the tool is kept simple to use, so that more energy can be focused on the design project and less on actually using the software. ‘Ease of use’ is what the developers of SOLIDWORKS constantly strive to improve. Indeed, they have now released a 3D graphics package for children based on the same technology.

“My daughter is a keen fan of Cosmic Blobs,” said Andrew. “It’s a great graphics package for children and it really does demonstrate how easy this technology can be to use and how exciting it is to create 3D art that has such a life-like dimension.”

The team at Fenland Leisure has just created a new catalogue for their extensive product range and many of the new designs that feature in this catalogue are photo-realistic 3D models that have been created in SOLIDWORKS. Fenland have found that not only is this approach a powerful way to represent their play area equipment designs but it also saved a lot of time and money compared to the previous method of assembling every product in an ideal environments and investing in expensive photo-shoots.

“SOLIDWORKS has proven to be very good value for money,” said Andrew Sparrow. “It seemed a big outlay at the time, but we’ve recovered this investment many times over. The team at Innova also deserves a lot of credit. Their technical support throughout has been brilliant, they have always shown a lot of commitment to what we are trying to achieve.”