Case Study

World-class mechanical sealing specialist chooses Solid Edge for 3D modeling

AESSEAL (Solid Edge and NX)

Solid Edge has empowered AESSEAL's design team to work more effectively, enabling the company to develop and introduce the complex products that are now demanded by the highly competitive mechanical sealing industry


The AESSEAL group of companies are world-class specialists in the mechanical sealing industry that design, manufacture and distribute precision engineered mechanical seals and sealing systems. It is an incredibly competitive industry and AESSEAL has become the only major international new entrant in the last twenty years.

The company has sold several million seals since 1979 and has increased sales by more than 20 percent year over year, to reach an expected turnover for 2004 of £46m. Today, they export 75 percent of its output to 64 countries worldwide.

The keys to AESSEAL’s success are continued product innovation and development and a strong belief in customer service. Over the years the company has started to develop increasingly complex products. It was becoming more time consuming and laborious to create the sophisticated designs that were needed and the designers found it difficult to visualize complex products using the 2D computer aided design (CAD) software the company had relied upon for many years.

A need for 3D modeling software

In 1999, AESSEAL had ambitious plans to broaden the product range and to introduce even more speciality components. Recognizing the extra burden this would place on the design team and the 2D CAD software it was using, the company tasked senior designer, Chris Newton, with the objective of finding more effective 3D CAD modeling software that would enable the designers to do their job more effectively. If they continued to use their old 2D CAD software, the designers would find it almost impossible to visualize and create many of the new components that were planned for the future.

There were growing inefficiencies and wasted time because the designers were restricted by what they could do with the software. “It could take two to three days to create and lay out the design of intricate components such as helical scrolls – a part which is incorporated into pumping devices,” Newton explains.

On top of this, it could take another full day to transfer information from the 2D CAD package to the machine tools that are used to manufacture the components. This cumbersome process required engineers to perform trigonometric calculations and re-program the machine tools manually. All the while, the machine tools were sitting idle and it was estimated that they were running at 20 percent efficiency.

Eliminating bottlenecks

By upgrading to 3D CAD modeling software, the company was hoping to eliminate bottlenecks and to reduce the time it took to bring products from conception to production.

The company felt the solution that most suited its needs was Solid Edge® from Siemens, a powerful 3D CAD software that embeds design data management capabilities. This, complemented by Solid Edge’s superior core modeling and process workflows, greatly eases the design of the increasingly complex products required to meet today’s changing market demands.

In addition to Solid Edge, AESSEAL realized that it could benefit from the total integration of NX™ CAM, the machining module from Siemens’ NX digital manufacturing portfolio. NX CAM enables the 3D designs that have been created on Solid Edge to be programmed to create CNC part program files that can be loaded directly onto the multiple machine tools on the shop floor at any one of AESSEAL’s production facilities worldwide.

One of AESSEAL’s priorities was to choose a design product from a major player that was sure to be around and providing ongoing support for years to come. The company built a short list based on the large well established suppliers of 3D modeling software which included Solid Edge, Solid Works, Pro Engineer and Mechanical Desktop from Autodesk.

Solid Edge passed all the tests

When Newton started checking off the criteria he wanted in the new software, the list soon began to narrow and it was obvious that Solid Edge passed all the tests.

First, Solid Edge was able to run on PC workstations, which AESSEAL preferred to the more expensive UNIX systems that other packages required.

Next, Solid Edge allowed the designers to easily switch between 3D and 2D if they needed to. For example, some of the designers wanted to be able to put initial thoughts on an electronic drawing board in 2D to help them think through a design and conceptualize it. With competitive products it was not as straightforward to do this.

Another major benefit was the fact that Solid Edge could integrate totally with Siemens’ NX CAM software, enabling AESSEAL to streamline the complete process from product design to getting the designs into manufacture and onto its machine tools as electronic files.

But the overriding reason for Solid Edge being chosen was that it was far and away the easiest to use. Newton explains, “I’ve used a wide number of CAD packages in my time and I can quite clearly say that Solid Edge is the easiest to pick up and run with. It’s so intuitive. After completing the initial introductory training it’s possible to go away and use the package to design quite complex products.”

Finally, Solid Edge was interoperable with AESSEAL’s other applications such as Algor, its Finite Element Analysis (FEA) package. The analytical tool allows a trained engineer to take the 3D component models and simulate how they will react in the field under different conditions such as temperatures and pressures. This process is now a key part of AESSEAL’s new product testing process that helps assess whether a design is sound or faulty.

The company initially purchased a single seat of Solid Edge at its global headquarters in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, United Kingdom, from the Siemens value added reseller SOLID Applications Ltd. Within months, AESSEAL was adding more seats and it now runs 17 seats on a PC network in Rotherham, another couple in Derby and Peterborough and nine seats in Pune, India, as well as one in China and another in Knoxville, Tenneessee, United States, for a total of 30 seats.

A smooth migration to Solid Edge

Technically, the migration to Solid Edge was very smooth. AESSEAL continued to run its existing 2D software for a time, with Siemens and SOLID Applications conducting on-site training for the company’s design team. The solution is incorporated into AESSEAL’s workflow software, ADMIT, which allows designers to store and retrieve designs and instigates the various approval and checking processes that a design needs to go through before it is passed.

At the same time as introducing Solid Edge, AESSEAL implemented NX CAM, which it purchased direct from Siemens. The company currently runs five seats of NX CAM on its network in Rotherham and India.

The biggest challenge in moving to Solid Edge was probably more a cultural one versus a technological one. Many of AESSEAL’s designers had grown so used to working in 2D over the years that it was a difficult process for them to transition to 3D. But the fact that Solid Edge is so easy to pick up, use and embraces a complete hybrid 2D/3D design workflow has helped to make this pill a little easier to swallow.

The most significant benefit

The most significant benefit that has emerged from using Solid Edge is that the company has empowered the design team to work more effectively, enabling the company to develop and introduce the complex products that are demanded by the market more quickly than previously.

The design team is able to visualize and develop designs with greater ease and elegance, so that the time to complete complex jobs has been slashed. Newton notes, “By using Solid Edge the time that the designers take in completing complicated jobs, such as designing an intricate helical scroll, has been slashed from two days to around half an hour.”

Added to this, with NX CAM the complete process has been automated so it only takes minutes to program and transfer 3D designs generated on Solid Edge into CNC files, which can be fed directly onto the machine tools on the shop floor. Previously, for a complex job, this could absorb a day of manual programming on the machine tools.

Solid Edge has also transformed the way that AESSEAL communicates with casting suppliers who make the castings for use in the manufacturing process. In the past, the company would have to share the raw design data with casting suppliers who would then have to re-create AESSEAL’s designs using their own design software. Using Solid Edge, AESSEAL can email the 3D model as an IGES electronic file which the casting suppliers can incorporate into their systems.

Finally, the 3D models created on Solid Edge are powerful sales and marketing tools. The 3D models are imported into AESSEAL’s Interactive Product Animator marketing software to create stills and animations that can be used in presentations and corporate videos.

“Mechanical seals have hundreds of precision parts inside that have taken years to develop,” says Jonathan Woodhead, AESSEAL’s worldwide marketing manager. “But from the outside they just appear to be a hunk of metal. By enabling customers and potential customers to see animations and 3D models of what is actually going on inside the seals, we can provide much better insight into what people are buying and produce more persuasive sales messages.”

Queen’s Award for Innovation

Solid Edge was instrumental in helping AESSEAL win its sixth Queen’s Award for Innovation in 2003 for a range of products for use in refineries. One of the patented features of the winning product range was a 3D pumping scroll, part of a mechanical seal that forces cooling fluid around the seal to ensure it can work at high temperatures and ensures it is kept lubricated. This is an extremely complex component that can only be properly visualized and designed in 3D. Before implementing Solid Edge, AESSEAL’s designers would have been unable to create the necessary designs.

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