At one time gadgets like the iPhone and iPad were mainly useful to make day-to-day life easier for the public, from checking up on emails to social networking. But now the technology is proving to offer a business advantage for engineers.
The 3D computer-aided design software developer Autodesk has produced several applications for the mobile devices that are ideal for engineers: Sketchbook, AutoCAD WS, and Inventor Publisher.
Steve Bedder, who handles technical sales for Autodesk, says that the three apps can help engineers in various ways, including reducing the length of a project, improving collaboration across teams and saving money.
He says: “The tools will help engineers interact and shorten times to market, reduce the number of errors, reduce the number of physical prototypes they build, and make them a lot more productive. They are able to do a much better job in a much shorter space of time.”
Sketchbook is intended to help design engineers. At that moment of inspiration, it allows them to jot down ideas on the iPhone or iPad, while on the go, without the need for a pen and paper. Bedder says: “Design engineers, no matter where they are, if they have that eureka moment, they can use the digital sketch they have created. It is great to be able to get those concept designs down in the digital format.”
The app is especially useful with the iPhone because it has a camera. This can be used if a design engineer, for instance, needs to illustrate a problem with a piece of machinery and provide a solution for his team, who are working 200 miles away. The engineer can take a photo of the problematic machinery and then use Sketchbook to draw over the top of it to demonstrate what the solution could be. This sketch can then be emailed to the team.
Bedder says: “It is a tool that will enable design engineers to capture a lot more detail digitally, but also share that with other engineers.”
In a similar way, the application AutoCAD WS allows engineers to collaborate together on a project – looking at and working on the same on-screen CAD drawing – without being in the same place. Using their iPads, an engineer in one office can access the same AutoCAD drawing file that an engineer in another office is working on. They can apply mark-ups, sketch geometry and even add text, and any changes they make can be seen straight away.
Bedder says: “The app can be shared with people interacting with the AutoCAD drawing, even if they are on the other side of the world, all sharing their input at the same time. This offers realtime collaboration between engineers, making sure that drawings are kept up-to-date.” The Inventor Publisher application is another example of how this type of technology can give engineering companies a business advantage. It allows a manufacturer to take 3D digital prototype data and then produce the technical documentation that is required for it, such as installation manuals or maintenance instructions.
From this the user can create Word documents, Excelspreadsheets, PDF documents, even interactive websites showing, for instance, how to maintain a piece of machinery.
Bedder says: “For an engineer who goes out on site, rather than taking huge manuals and binders, all they need to take along is the iPad or iPhone – and have all that digital information right at their fingertips.”
Derbyshire firm Land Instruments, which manufactures temperature measurement devices, is one company that sees the benefit of using such applications.
Mechanical design manager David Leadley says that the company has big plans to use the applications within the next 12 months. He says there will be some distinct advantages – including demonstrating products to customers in 3D.
“With things like iPhones and iPads, they are so much more user friendly than setting-up laptops or bigger computers,” he says. “It gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our product in a 3D virtual world. That gives us the ability to take our products and be able to share them with the customer in a very tactile and friendly manner.”
There are plans for Autodesk to develop more apps for the iPhone and the iPad, which the company says will also benefit engineers.
Leadley says: “There are a lot of people looking at this type of technology now.”