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MI-Partners designs and validates complex mechatronics systems with NX
More and more, companies now focus on their core activities. But companies that carry out their own innovation work sometimes get stuck in a conceptual framework. This can be a major problem for firms that require a flexible approach to resolving complex product development issues.
MI-Partners BV is based in Eindhoven (Netherlands). The company specializes in mechatronics design, which constantly requires unique contributions to the thinking process during the concept stage of new machine or device development. MI-Partners’ projects frequently require the company’s designers to improve machine productivity by increasing production precision, performing feasibility studies or developing new technology.
Since its establishment in 2007, MI-Partners has served an international customer base, mostly located in Europe and North America. According to Leo Sanders, MI-Partners co-founder, “We are contacted by companies to carry out research or develop entirely new concepts. They call on our broad experience, as well as our open-minded project approach. We also are hired for our capacity, but mainly the customers are looking for unconventional solutions. Their in-house R&D groups sometimes lack perspective. In contrast, our team is able to think outside the box.”
These requirements explain why MI-Partners often is given carte blanche by its customers to seek the best solutions. “The briefs (we receive) are often specified in broad terms,” explains Sanders. “The productivity of a chip machine may need to increase twofold. Or the positioning of a wafer may need to gain extra accuracy in nano-meter terms. Or feasibility studies may be carried out on the basis of whether or not a customer decides to enter a new market. But the way we implement the end solutions is completely up to us.”
MI-Partners’ projects mainly focus on the concept design phase, during which MI-Partners’ designers develop and validate the concept with a prototype. Then, the results are handed over to the customer, who gets the design ready for production.
“For us, a project often starts with a functional requirement. A system must carry out a function or perform a function better and faster than previously,” says Ronald Schneider, system designer at MI-Partners. “At the beginning of a project, the requirements are still at a high level, including a number of ‘must’ and many ‘should’ requirements. Our job is to determine what is really relevant and which requirements will not subsequently translate into functions.”
During this stage, MI-Partners’ team works on the system at a high level. “This way we continually validate the solution with respect to the requirements,” Schneider explains. “We use Matlab, among other systems, to set up, analyze and validate the high-level concepts. These analyses are primarily in one dimension. Once the solution meets the requirements at the high level, we can start setting up the digital concept in three dimensions quite fast. We set up the 3D concept in NX, which is the standard in mechatronics design. When we try to increase the productivity of an existing machine, it is handy for us to be able to take over the existing geometry. Then, we are part of the OEM’s supply chain.”
Schneider would not want to work without NX™ in other developments as well. He notes that after an initial ramp-up period in becoming proficient, “There are actually no boundaries, whether it involves components that require very high precision, sheet work, or generating production drawings for subcontracted prototype components.”
The concept is developed from a rough idea to fine detail with the help of ongoing CAE analyses that check whether the design meets the requirements. Traditionally, MI-Partners used Ansys® software for that purpose. But Schneider believes that it would be better to perform the iterative part of the work in an integrated CAE solution. “MI-Partners has been in existence for two years, during which we have faced a huge work load and our staff has – on average – grown by one member every month,” he explains.
With this in mind, Schneider intends to evaluate NX Nastran® software as a means of implementing these iterations faster. This approach would enable his team to eliminate the step where the mesh and the load case have to be produced again. Instead, the team could use these elements directly on the adapted geometry in the recalculation.
At MI-Partners, machine control is defined in terms of functions. Schneider explains, “Together with our control engineers, we determine the function, which is then analyzed and validated with Simulink. The concrete realization of the machine only takes place in a limited way in NX. This mainly involves the simple components and critical electrical components and cables that are incorporated in the design, such as an emergency stop button or a mounting plate. All the other parts are not so relevant, because they are re-developed when the machine goes to mass production.”
When MI-Partners develops and builds prototypes, it prefers to use programmable components, such as motion controllers, because they are highly flexible. In the series production stage, this functionality can then be converted into PCBs.
MI-Partners uses NX extensively when it reviews design concepts. “We show the function via the live NX model or we use NX images to explain how our concept works,” says Schneider. “We don’t produce any extensive simulations or visualizations. In fact, we have many discussions with the client’s R&D engineers. As a result, simulations and visualizations do not provide much added value.” When the concepts are approved, a decision is sometimes made to build a prototype in order to demonstrate the functions.
At MI-Partners, the project manager is responsible for constructing the prototype, as well as procuring all materials and components. “For us, parts lists are not that terribly important,” explains Schneider. “The project manager works with the designers to determine what subcontracting will take place. This is later managed in an Excel worksheet.”
Depending on the nature of the subcontracting or purchasing arrangements, digital drawings or STEP models are sent with it, including annotations, such as dimensions and tolerances. “Because of our high precision work, we apply strict quality standards,” says Schneider. “We require our subcontractors to provide test reports for those areas that we pinpoint in the model as needing quality measurements. This is something we check.”
Thanks to the intensive interaction within MI-Partners’ multidisciplinary development team, work meetings are sufficient to avoid typical version-related problems. “However, there is room for improving our working method when it comes to facilitating collaboration across large structure projects where many developers are involved,” notes Schneider. “We want to leverage more of the capabilities of NX in this area as we move forward.”
For MI-Partners, NX is the ideal tool when working on the technology front. According to Sanders, “With NX, we not only have the design standard in the world of mechatronics in-house, but we also have all the options at hand to improve our processes. The primary role of NX is still focused on the 3D development of concepts. We are thinking of using integrated CAE to run iterations faster and more efficiently. And looking forward with NX, we have the opportunity of extending all of our activities. We believe NX is the choice for the future.”
MI-Partners develops complex mechatronics systems, creates new concepts and performs customer-specific feasibility studies.
"With NX, we not only have the design standard in the world of mechatronics in-house, but we also have all the options at hand to improve our processes."
"There are actually no boundaries, whether it involves components that require very high precision, sheet work, or generating production drawings for subcontracted prototype components."
"Looking forward with NX, we have the opportunity of extending all of our activities. We believe NX is the choice for the future."
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