As the leader of machine tool company development group, Mark Tingley led a team focused on leading edge technology. But in 2008, he left that company and founded his own enterprise, Accelerated Machine Design & Engineering (AMD&E), a Rockford, IL engineering firm with a footprint throughout the U.S. and beyond. The impetus behind Tingley’s entrepreneurship is among the best reasons to start a business—recognizing a specific need. “I saw a need for both engineering solutions and high level systems engineering coupled with detailed design,” he says. “It’s the ability to manufacture prototypes in short order, along with manufactured production systems, and it’s been a rocket ship ever since.”
In addition to the quality and innovation of their work, much of AMD&E’s success can be attributed to their ability to serve a broad customer base: aerospace, automotive, oil & gas, energy, pharmaceutical, bio chemistry, bio technology, automation, and other general industrial markets.
“Our skill set and capabilities were directly suited for aerospace and aerospace manufacturing,” says Tingley. “But our process and engineering capabilities translate into just about any industry. Right now, there’s a lot going on in pharmaceuticals, lab automation, automation of bio chemistry processes and bio science processes, and we’re able to service a large amount of clients on the exploratory side of that industry.”
Regardless of industry, Tingley insists that the creative process is always a collaborative effort as they move from initial idea to finished development by way of a curved or helical process (see chart). It also involves multiple iterations and the contribution of ideas from multiple sources. “As we take it through the process, we like to include feedback from a lot of different people from both inside and outside AMD&E,” says Tingley. “We like to get user feedback from our clients and get them involved in the process as they are comfortable.”
That process usually requires Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS, Autodesk Inventor, and occasionally Pro-E and other professional software applications. “We’ll look at sets of things and explain why they won’t work, or steer the client in a certain direction because of specific reasons, and we’ll support those with all the 3D artwork.” Naturally, providing 3D assets to clients means that the creative process involves a fair amount of rendering. Although Tingley admits that most of the renderings don’t reach photorealism until the final stages and that many are focused on marketing activities, his firm also relies on them extensively as communication tools throughout the design process. “A picture is worth a 1000 words,” He says. “A rendering is worth a million words.”
Armed with that understanding, AMD&E goes a step further by also providing animations. “That was some of our secret sauce from the earliest stages,” he says. “When you can see a design exploded, going together in an animation, or see it as a part going through a process—if you look at it as an animation, that’s so much easier to communicate than with a flow chart, diagram, or something like that. We were also early adopters of 3D as one of our value-added tools.”
AMD&E design projects require multiple tools and software packages (see chart) and their engineers are required to be experts in analysis, simulation, good design practices, materials, and manufacturing practices. This level of expertise, coupled with a command of their software and hardware tools, requires rigorous focus. “This means we have to have best-in-class engineering tools and hardware that will perform at a level that keeps things moving,” says Tingley. “Our engineers can’t be waiting on results.”
Dogs From Day One
From its inception, AMD&E needed computer workstations capable of not only supporting light duty SOLIDWORKS tasks, but also analysis, simulation, and rendering. In the beginning, they rolled the dice on Dell 690 desktops and Precision mobiles as the best options available (without spending on high end systems). Unfortunately, the result was less than adequate.
“I think they were dogs from day one,” laughs Tingley. “Our survival depended upon finding something more proficient and this just wasn’t acceptable. A lot of times, our users would open a model, then go use the restroom, get a cup of coffee, and get ready for the next shift so to speak. Anytime you wait, you lose your train of thought and you lose your motivation. You might set up to perform a task, but by the time the model opens, you mentally might already be on to something else. It was very frustrating.”
As Tingley discusses the complications and level of frustration that arise from relying on inadequate tools his tone turns more serious—especially when he recounts the events of 2009.“That year we had a number of large projects running simultaneously and each one required the design of large assemblies and massive amounts of finite element analysis,” he recalls. “Every day, we spent hours waiting for meshes to update and simulations to solve, and more hours waiting for large assemblies to open and drawings to update. Each one took between eight and twelve hours. If we didn’t mesh the model correctly, we may not know that for four hours. Or if we applied a boundary condition incorrectly, we may not know that for eight hours. Every error we made, we wouldn’t find it until the next day, so we lost a day for every mistake. In addition to that, we just had so many simulations to solve that we didn’t have enough hours in the day. I have to applaud our team. We had guys that pulled multiple all-nighters in a row in order to hit deadlines. If not, we would have missed the deadline and probably lost the contract. We could have lost our entire customer base and reputation, so we did what we had to do to keep that intact, but it was all at the toll of our staff. I knew that wasn’t going to work as a long term strategy.
In search of a solution, AMD&E conducted testing on the latest Dell and HP workstations and carefully reviewed both manufacturers’ SOLIDWORKS standards performance tests. After thorough evaluation though, they found themselves right back where they started. “Dell and HP didn’t do any better than what we already had,” says Tingley. “We would’ve invested significant dollars and gained zero improvement.” The firm was looking for solutions that would provide the necessary performance with the mobility to work where their clients were located (or where the challenges arose). They also evaluated MySolidBox, @XI, and MSI—all to no avail.
The Way It Should Be
Following further fruitless evaluations of MySolidBox, @XI, and MSI systems, an online search led Tingley to an article in Desktop Engineering (now Digital Engineering) magazine. After reading it, Tingley made a phone call to BOXX and was immediately struck by the difference between the discussion he had with a BOXX performance specialist and previous conversations with other hardware manufacturers. “With Dell, it was apparent that they had a sales pitch, but didn’t really understand our challenges,” says Tingley. “HP was sort of the same way, but when we talked to the guys at BOXX, they’re actual SOLIDWORKS users and understood our challenges right away.” (BOXX uses SOLIDWORKS to design their own workstation and render node chassis). According to Tingley, none of the competitor systems they previously evaluated had the “fit & finish and level of support” demonstrated by BOXX.
AMD&E initially opted for GoBOXX mobile workstations and then began adding APEXX workstations in the years that followed. The difference in the firm’s workflow was immediately apparent, but while many BOXXers go to great lengths to describe the euphoria of using their new BOXX for the first time, Tingley is much more matter-of-fact. “That first time, the thought process was, ‘This is the way it should be,” he recalls. “It’s that simple. Heck yes, that’s the way it should be.”
“The way it should be” means that (according to Tingley) Finite Element Analysis, which used to consume six to eight hours, now takes less than 30 minutes. Renderings that used to take fifteen minutes now take seconds. Tool paths with the firm’s CAM programs used to require 30 to 45 minutes, but now only take a few. AMD&E engineers used to have to break their products into multiple subassemblies just to get them to open. Now they break them down into subassemblies that make sense for their product. “The bottom line is that we used to work for our computers,” says Tingley, “now our computers work for us.”
Tingley admits that there was the usual infighting over who was granted the privilege of using the BOXX systems versus who was forced to slog on with the Dells, but eventually all interested parties were satisfied as AMD&E transitioned into a complete BOXX firm. “We use them in a lot of different ways,” says Tingley. “We love the APEXX workstations. They handle our large assemblies, simulation, FDA, and animations, but we also need that same solution in a mobile package. We do a lot of work onsite at customer facilities. We work at our vendor facilities or sometimes we’ll even go to a local brew pub and have a creative session. Regardless of location, we need that level of horsepower in a mobile package. Prior to that, we weren’t really able to do thorough design reviews— especially for analysis and simulation of large assemblies. We’d have to create screen shots, and then talk through them and if you didn’t have the right screen shot, you’d lose a week or whatever. With GoBOXX, we’re able to take that right to our customer and have a good, thorough design review within a collaborative environment.”
No Time to Waste
With 30 years experience in business development, client acquisitions, machine tool building, and engineering service, Michael Sullivan, AMD&E director of business development, contends that upgrading to BOXX was essential not only for fostering a collaborative environment, but for company growth as well. “We have a very agile environment with two to six projects going on simultaneously and four or five engineers on typical project team,” Sullivan says. “We can take a napkin sketch and bring it all the way to lifecycle cost. With electric, mechanical, and design engineers working on the same platform, BOXX systems allow us to have a collaborative environment for creative ideas. From a competitive standpoint, that’s a big part of our current strength and ability to grow the company. The industry is moving toward intelligent manufacturing—smart factories. Our challenge is to build the smartest machines in the world and BOXX is helping us do that at an accelerated rate. It’s amazing when you consider the amount of time allowed to provide a full plant material handling modernization with workstation off loaders. As a firm, we’re asked to do these things in a relatively short period of time. There’s no way we can do it without the technology BOXX offers.”
“On initial engineering, we have to deliver some type of results in four weeks or less,” adds Tingley. “On complete manufactured systems that we build, we’re looking at very complex systems that we deliver on a 16-20 week timescale or sometimes 30 weeks for an even more complex system. There’s no time to waste.”
Speaking of waste, Tingley estimates that prior to choosing BOXX, AMD&E was losing serious time and money. “If you consider the number of engineers and factor in the value of time, we were easily losing $20,000 to $50,000 per year,” he admits. It’s a sobering statistic, but AMD&E can’t afford to spend time dwelling on the past. As they look to the future, the firm is moving further into 3D. “We’re using 3D electrical software now so we’re adding another component to project management capability,” says Sullivan. “There are several advantages to it, so we’re continuing to demand more out of it by finding reasons to use more modules and features of platforms like SOLIDWORKS and others.”
The need for sustained growth is also critical when competing in an increasingly global marketplace. “The entire engineering and manufacturing industry has reached a point where companies are looking for offshore partners to provide low cost engineering and design services at discount labor rates,” says Sullivan. “We have remained competitive through technology investments, efficiency tools, and innovative automation of hardware and software solutions. We rely on BOXX as a way to keep us competitive. BOXX helps us put items in space, in the ground, and in humans.”
“What we’re saying here is genuine,” say Tingley. “BOXX has great products, they work for us, and we love them.”