SHAPE is a family company that designs and manufactures woodworking solutions to household names in the commercial market: from bespoke furniture design and manufacture, to point of sale and exhibition units.
In 2005, after relying on AlphaCAM’s drawing functionality for many years, Matthew Jeckells (Partner at SHAPE) decided it was time to invest in a more sophisticated CAD system. After trialling SOLIDWORKS alongside other 3D CAD packages, SOLIDWORKS was chosen as the preferred choice. Its ease of use, compatibility with AlphaCAM, and superior drawings functionality were among the deciding factors.
The designers at SHAPE have completely left 2D CAD behind and design everything from the simplest of things to the most complex in SOLIDWORKS – right through from conceptualisation to development. The reasons for this are threefold: accuracy, speed and output.
With sophisticated assembly analysis tools like interference detection built in to SOLIDWORKS, SHAPE can be sure that things like cross-halving joints and dovetails fit perfectly. More accurate designs mean fewer mistakes on the shop floor.
At the conceptual stage, it is very easy to model up some geometry and get an initial design in front of you, much like you could with a pen and paper. When you do this in SOLIDWORKS, however, this work is not wasted – it is there for you to build on and refine in later development stages. For SHAPE, this has been an important part of rationalising and speeding up their design workflow.
It is much easier to communicate design intent with a 3D model than with just 2D drawings alone. SHAPE was recently asked to come up with ideas on how to display a mobile phone as part of a tendering process for a multinational mobile phone manufacturer. They quickly modelled up several display stands and showed them to the client. The quality of the visuals sold the designs to them and was integral in winning the job.
When it comes to editing in 2D, be it for repurposing a design or simply making a change to it, SHAPE often found it easier just to redraft it entirely. Matthew Jeckells, Partner and designer at SHAPE said: “As long as you’ve modelled your design correctly in the first instance, it’s easy to make a change and have everything update as it should.” SOLIDWORKS includes in it the ability to set up parametric relationships between dimensions. This means that when you make a change to any dimension, all associated references update with it, making it easy to edit your designs.
There is always the danger that when designs move from the drawing office to the shop floor, some design intent is lost along the way. Issues may arise due to inaccurate drawings drafted by the designer, or misinterpretation on the part of the factory worker. Users of 2D CAD programs will be all too familiar with the scenario, as were SHAPE before implementing SOLIDWORKS. Now, however, 2D drawings are created as a by-product of the modelling process in SOLIDWORKS. SHAPE can therefore be sure that if the virtual prototype fits and functions, a physical product built to the derived 2D drawings will fit and function too, thanks to the accurate 2D drawings that SOLIDWORKS can produce. SHAPE also finds that the drawings that SOLIDWORKS creates are much easier to understand than the ones previously produced in AlphaCAM. Transferring ideas from the drawing office to the shop floor now results in fewer mistakes being made in production, reducing waste and rework, saving time and money. SHAPE still use AlphaCAM for control of their manufacturing processes, and its integration with SOLIDWORKS is seamless. Operating inside SOLIDWORKS, AlphaCAM provides automatic feature recognition and associative toolpaths, ensuring parts are machined exactly as designed—even when the design is changed. Time-consuming and error-prone file transfers are eliminated.
In an industry where 2D CAD is prevalent, SHAPE has opened their business to new avenues thanks to SOLIDWORKS. They find it easier to sell their designs to potential clients, and have streamlined their workflow thanks to intelligent modelling capabilities and more accurate workshop drawings. Matthew Jeckells, Partner at SHAPE CNC said: “Innova System’s level of support has been fantastic over the years. Their SOLIDWORKS trainers helped us get up and running with the software very quickly, and their ongoing support service means that if we need an answer to a how-to question quickly, they’re just a phone call away.”