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Case Study

Selling to a more demanding buyer

Dennis Eagle

Creating a customer focused design and development model


With a British engineering heritage that dates back to the turn of the twentieth century, Dennis Eagle manufactures refuse collection trucks and is the only company in Europe to design and build both cab chassis and waste handling body, the two elements together creating a particularly well tuned vehicle. The Elite 2 was the first cab chassis on the market with a convenient low entry enabling crew to embark, walk through and disembark with ease and safety. With approximately 55 percent of the UK market, Dennis Eagle also has a rapidly expanding customer base in continental Europe, Scandinavia and the rest of the world.

The company’s current success is largely built on its best selling products: the Phoenix 2 body and the Elite 2 chassis. Phoenix 2 meets over 95 percent of all customer requirements because it can be ordered in a range of widths and lengths to fit any standard chassis base. The innovative design of this body, in production since 2000, stems directly from Dennis Eagle’s decision to design entirely in 3D using Solid Edge® software.

From standard stock to customer configuration

Dennis Eagle’s traditional market was local authorities. It had 35 percent of a market mainly governed by necessity rather than price. However, as the number of local authorities outsourcing refuse collection services rose in the 1990s, Dennis Eagle found that 50 percent of its business was with price sensitive contractors specifying refuse trucks that met their exact needs in terms of size, capacity and productivity. With councils also facing ever-tightening performance and financial targets, those that still bought refuse collection trucks could no longer afford to compromise with one-size-fits-all products.

Dennis Eagle realized that it had to adopt a new approach better suited to this more competitive and demanding environment. The company needed to meet customer expectations by manufacturing to order and, to do this profitably, Dennis Eagle needed to streamline its design and build process. In 2000, the company decided to abandon drawing vehicles in 2D, designing them in 3D instead. The company chose to buy and implement Solid Edge for 3D design and NX™ software for surface modelling. Twenty engineers now use one of these products.

“We make vehicles for rugged environments,” explains Nick Swift, Chief Engineer. “The expected life of one of our trucks is 7 years, though the industry is now moving towards 4 or 5 year replacement strategies. Consequently, more emphasis has been placed on product development and new product introduction. Our core body product, the Phoenix 2, was the first to be designed from the bottom up using 3D and since then, all new products have been designed in the same way. We have upgraded with every new version of Solid Edge and NX and taken associated update training. Each training session has helped users to refocus and has reinforced good practice.” Swift adds, “Success is about more than software. It’s also about the support of our suppliers. Unfortunately, Solid Applications weren’t our provider at the implementation of Solid Edge but I can say that we have good support from them with regards to training and software upgrades. They do keep close to us and have a good awareness of our needs.”

Improving efficiency, cutting costs

Solid Edge has given Dennis Eagle the ability to optimize design and manufacture, carry out engineering analysis more easily and prepare jigs and tools well in time for production. The body of the Phoenix 2 is much lighter than earlier models, which required substantial welding to stiffen the structure. The smooth sided body is made from one piece of rolled and pressed steel and so the design lends itself to being reconfigured in different lengths without compromising any strength. This has enabled Dennis Eagle to generate a family of products from one design, saving considerable amounts of design time. Likewise, the company can offer customers a chassis/cab in various lengths and two widths.

Swift comments, “With Phoenix 2, we have a standard product that offers a wide range of customization and fulfills 95 percent of UK market needs. By reducing the labor content, we are more efficient and able to produce more. Since 2000 production capacity has gone up from 10 units per week to 19; from 550 to 850 bodies per year.” While the labor involved in manufacture has reduced by 30 to 40 percent, there were no redundancies and the workforce at Dennis Eagle has actually increased. Swift continues, “With just 5 percent more employees, we have nearly doubled the amount of bodies produced.”

The move to 3D has reduced both manufacturing costs by 30 to 40 percent and manufacturing time by 30 to 40 percent. Lead times are now 18 weeks. “The ‘complete on time’ standard for 2006 was 94 percent. We try to manufacture common components which we simply move around and reconfigure,” comments Swift. “Chassis layouts, for example, can be put together much more quickly. We can customize the vehicles more easily, changing the position of chassis mounted equipment, for example.”

The easy integration of Solid Edge with the company’s finite element analysis software means that the design team can quickly calculate the strain life of a product. This has improved predictions of failure and allowed the team to improve strain levels where required. In turn, this has had a beneficial effect on the cost of replacing parts under warranty. Warranty costs are now the best in the business and half the industry average.

“Dealing with 3D digital information means that communication with suppliers is much easier,” says Swift. “We electronically send Solid Edge component models across to suppliers and can get an instantaneous response, for example on specifications for the frame rails on a chassis. We send 3D Solid Edge model data to our contractor in Belgium for the punch machine and the coordinates are punched out automatically with no human intervention. Not only does this save time, it reduces the risk of errors.”

According to Swift, process automation is the next step, especially the generation of customized configurations at the tender stage. “It still takes time to receive and respond to a tender. We intend to create a customized proposal from standard details. Our aim is to join everything up in the design and manufacturing journey from beginning to end. In particular, we need to remove mundane parts of the process so that we can take account of customer demand, keep ahead of the market and focus on product design. We are improving the functionality of our MRP package and looking to buy new software to manage product life cycle management.”

Creating a customer driven company

With a turnover of around £130M, Dennis Eagle generates a 9 percent operating profit “This is extremely good for the manufacturing sector,” adds Swift. “While some of that increase is due to organic growth, design improvements play a huge role. Our profit has been increasing by at least £1m per year since 2000 when we had 35 percent of the market. Now we have 55 percent of the UK market: 1350 to 1400 bodies each year. Worldwide, DE supplies 850 in total. We gain our business through competitive tenders and whereas our success rate was 35 percent, now we win 55 percent of all tenders.”

The company’s ongoing strategy is to maintain its UK market leadership and expand into different markets. Now owned by Spanish company, Ros Roca, a market leader in municipal manufacturing and environmental engineering, Dennis Eagle is keen to take its chassis cabs into the European market. Swift is well aware of customer expectations. “As we produce utility vehicles, we have always gone for functionality over style. To compete with pan-European companies who produce in huge volumes we intend to carry out a full redesign that maintains function whilst improving ergonomics and aesthetics. Now that most of our data is in Solid Edge, we can develop our schemes much more quickly. In our experience, such a design project will take about 12 months, about half as long as previously. There’s no doubt about it, we are a lot better off than we were. Solid Edge has helped with our customer driven approach: we no longer have to say no.”

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