The ability to quickly explore a range of design ideas supports continuing innovation
NX enables a UK shower manufacturer to retain and grow its technological lead
Shower power and performance
With a turnover of more than £40 million and 300 employees, Aqualisa has come a long way since 1977 when it was founded to develop the bi-metallic thermostatic shower valve. In May 2001, Aqualisa was the first UK company to launch a digital shower (Quartz Digital) with ease of installation, one-touch controls and consistent temperatures. It produced a second award-winning digital product line (Axis Digital) featuring dual switches in 2004 and followed up in 2006 with a line of wireless and battery-less remotes that can be positioned outside the bathroom.
Aqualisa specializes in domestic showers. As part of its long-term strategy Aqualisa is constantly developing new concepts to suit different sectors of the market, from the workaday installer to the boutique style developer. Aqualisa was, for example, the first company to provide an easy-to-install exposed digital shower in which water flows inside the riser rail.
“In the world of showers we’re quite cutting edge,” says Glenn Porter, engineering project manager at Aqualisa. “We are the world’s leading manufacturer of digital showers, and we were the first shower manufacturer to have a truly digital shower in the market.”
The biggest business challenge for Aqualisa is time to market. “We are always incredibly busy yet we manage to do things that other companies do not,” asserts Porter.
No loss of legacy data
Aqualisa has been using 3D CAD since the mid 1990s. By 2004 it was clear that a major upgrade was needed. “We looked into simpler and cheaper packages,” says Tracey Nertney, senior design engineer. “It was important to us that we could bring over legacy data, so our main criteria was compatibility. The NX™ digital product development solution from Siemens PLM Software gave us the option of transferring all of our history.”
Aqualisa bought nine seats of NX from the Siemens PLM Software reseller, Team Engineering. The company also purchased 12 seats of Teamcenter® digital lifecycle management software, which it uses to manage product data. “The support we received was excellent,” says Porter. “Having people who know our situation is reassuring,” adds Nertney.
NX has become the software of choice for each new project. By the end of 2007 the last product designed on the old system was complete and Aqualisa was ready to bring over ten years worth of CAD data from different systems.
A tool that supports creativity
“We found that NX was easy to learn and easy to use, which means that we all got up to speed quickly,” says Nertney. “There is often discussion about which system is easier but all of our users agree that NX is the best. It is more stable and more intuitive. And the ease of use cuts the time it takes to design. It is twice as quick to create a drawing, for example, especially with detailed views. This used to be a two-stage process. Now it is done in one click.”
The design team is finding that assemblies are also quicker and easier to create in NX. “I am working on a front end at the moment,” comments Porter. “It has taken 30 to 40 hours so far. It would have taken 50 to 60 before. We can quickly explode an assembly to see all parts and automatically label them for bills of material. It’s so easy; we just press a button to produce a balloon.”
The ilux range, which took two years to develop, was the first full line to be produced using NX. According to Porter, it would have taken four months longer on the old system. “We did not just develop a controller, we also designed two handsets and spouts with complex curves,” he says. The installer-focused Opto Digital line was produced in a record-breaking nine months – a task that would have taken a year previously.
“The increased speed of modeling means we can pursue more ideas in the same amount of time so we can select from a broader spectrum of ideas,” Porter adds. “Our next product will be better because of the flexibility NX allows, and we hope that the resulting product offering will help grow our market share still further.”
The first few products designed in NX have set high standards. Of two controllers released in September 2007, one won CORGI Product of the Year. The other is ilux Digital, a top-of-the-line shower and bath controller with the highest degree of sophistication yet achieved.
Optimizing existing data
One benefit for Aqualisa’s designers is that NX allows them to bring data over from the various packages they were using before. Much of the data is compatible with NX and so can be fully integrated into a new design. Even when data is not fully compatible it can still be read, and with direct modeling extension (DMX) functionality, it can be modified as well.
“DMX allows us to take dumb data and do things like resize holes and move walls,” Porter explains. “This is especially useful when we want to re-use components or remodel them.” Aqualisa works with external industrial designers who focus on the appearance of a product and may utilize another specialist system. DMX modeling enables Aqualisa’s team to accept a design with complex surfacing and take the data forward.
Nertney is pleased with the extra capability that the design team finds in NX. “It is really helpful to have the NX strength wizard,” he notes. “We would have had to purchase this functionality as an extra within our previous system. The NX rendering module is also very useful. NX also has an integral surfacing package, which was an add-on with our previous software. We are looking to work quickly and creatively, leading the market as we go. NX provides just what we need.”