Designing safe wetrooms for persons with limited mobility
Solid Edge supports company’s market-leading position through speedy proof of concept, early marketing and easy customization
Impossibilities made possible
Originally established to provide wetroom and shower solutions for users with limited mobility, Impey UK Ltd. derives its name from the slogan “Impossibilities Made Possible Especially for You.” A family company with a reputation built on customer care and attention to detail, Impey has won several awards and has grown from seven to 80 employees in 12 years. Having worked closely with local authorities and occupational health experts to provide bathroom adaptations within private residences, Impey has also won the respect of architects and developers and is now a major player in the luxury bathing sector.
“Installing a wetroom that enables level access and meets building regulations and environmental health standards is extraordinarily challenging,” says Matt Toms, Impey research and development manager. He should know, as he was once the company’s chief installer.
“Historically, the drainage gradient had to be created manually,” adds Toms. “In many situations this was a huge obstacle. That difficulty led to one of our early, best-selling products – a one-piece shower floor former that drops into an existing floor, dramatically reducing installation time and complexity.”
Impey uses the brand name Aqua-Systems and refers to products according to four key functions: floor formers create the gradient in the wetroom floor; water-proofing systems or tanking membranes protect from leaks and prevent water damage to the building structure; wetroom screens enable certain sections of a wetroom to remain dry if required; and accessories include undertile heating, towel rails, robe hooks and gully cover options.
The constant challenge for Impey is to maintain its leadership position in the field. To help meet this challenge, the company invests heavily in research and development. “Patents are really important to us,” comments Toms. “That means speed, flexibility and confidentiality within the development process are crucial.”
Until 2005 the company used a 2D CAD system and passed drawings to manufacturing partners all around the world. But before that could happen, Toms’ team had to build a working model. “When dealing with drainage, for example, you have to get it exactly right or you could end up with a puddle of water that never disappears,” explains Toms.
This proof-of-concept process involved making molds by hand, a task that took several days. Then Toms saw Solid Edge® software in use at a supplier company and described the decision to purchase as a “no brainer.” Impey initially bought one license from Siemens partner Cutting Edge Solutions Ltd. and later added two more. At the same time the company bought a CNC router so it could produce its own models and prototypes.
“We tend to stick with traditional CAD modeling, especially surfacing,” Toms adds. “But we use all the capabilities of Solid Edge, and the real benefit for us is the opportunity to create a new concept, then quickly build a physical form for testing. If we need a jig, we can model all the production tools as well. And if we need any support, we have Cutting Edge Solutions Ltd. I can honestly say the overall service package they provide is among the best of any supplier we use. They respond quickly to all inquiries. The help and advice from their knowledgeable staff is always accurate. On the rare occasion they are unable to give solutions immediately, they keep me updated and work together with Siemens to find the solution.”
A 98 percent timesaver
It previously took two or three weeks to produce a prototype component by hand. Now it takes just a day to produce two or three, a timesaver of 98 percent. Whereas it took one month to produce a shower tray pattern by hand, a complete range can also be done in a day, even less.
Although Impey produces some glass-reinforced plastic molds onsite, other molds are made elsewhere. When that is the case, Toms notes, “It’s absolutely imperative that we send a 3D model. Because the 3D model gives us complete accuracy, we can produce several identical molds here. That also saves us time as we can quickly and easily conduct different tests simultaneously. That is important when we are competing with other companies to come up with new ideas. It also reduces wastage further down the line as we identify any errors very early on.”
Such accuracy has in fact allowed Impey to design products that it could not have considered before Solid Edge. “We originally developed the Level Dec by hand, but using Solid Edge has helped us to be more creative while some current projects simply could not have been done in 2D, says Toms. “The Level Grade, for example, would not be possible without Solid Edge.” Looking like a multi-colored jigsaw, this is a modular matrix made of interlocking parts. When the sections are clipped together, a gradient is preformed into the product so tradesmen can screed to the ridges on the matrix with perfect results every time. Solid Edge verifies the special configuration and confirms that the pieces will actually fit together
Impey runs an installer program, regularly conducts workshops at the company’s training facility and now uses Solid Edge to create training and installation guides. In fact, the guides are now produced 70 percent faster. The guides previously were produced manually and involved an array of different people. Someone had to build a complete wetroom set, with tiling that had to be allowed to dry. Someone else took photographs that were passed to a picture editor while a marketing coordinator wrote the appropriate instructions. This process took 15 man-days. In contrast, the free rendering capability of Solid Edge enables a series of images to be extracted from the 3D model to form a step-by-step pictorial guide. One person can complete the process within five days. “Fantastic” is the verdict of Steve Trigg from Events, Media & PR. He adds, “We would not consider using photographs again.”
Importance of mass customization and visualization
Toms observes that there is no easy way to create a range of shower trays in different sizes without a 3D model. “Once we have constrained the basic design,” he says, “we can edit parts by dimension and save new versions. It may take two days to create a 3D CAD model of the first standard part, but then all subsequent size-adjusted parts can be produced in three hours each. Likewise, if we decide to make an appearance change, it is no problem.”
According to Toms, the 3D model also provides an audit of quality within the design process. “We have to prove to our customers that we are going through the correct stages of design, and that we test and check all of our procedures,” says Toms. “Now we have a means to trace a product and maintain standards. At the same time Solid Edge produces bills of materials, and this eliminates any potential error or omission – particularly with customized products.”
Life is also made easier for Toms when the research and development (R&D) department presents progress reports to Impey’s board of directors. “2D drawings are difficult to understand, even for experienced engineers,” Toms explains. “In contrast a 3D image is self-explanatory and gives a clear idea of a proposed component or product, which means quick approval by the board and accelerated time-to-market.”
R&D-driven patents and profits
Solid Edge has given Impey complete control over its R&D process and its intellectual property. Impey can achieve so much on its own that it can easily supply each supplier with several molds to use in the manufacturing process. This means that the 3D model and more importantly the ideas within it do not need to travel. Toms is very clear that R&D drives patents and profits and he regards Solid Edge as fundamental to business success and growth. “We could not have produced our best products using 2D,” he says. “The geometry is just too complicated. This means we have moved from simply making shower trays to providing complete shower solutions, and we are well positioned to continue successfully innovating well into the future.”