Using a Cloud-Based PLM System Instead of a Server: 3DEXPERIENCE Meets the Challenge
Square Robot, based in Marlborough, Massachusetts, is making their fourth appearance at 3DEXPERIENCE World, the annual SOLIDWORKS user conference formerly known as SOLIDWORKS World. The company designs, manufactures and provides tank inspection services, primarily for the petroleum industry. Square Robot has the distinction of being one of the first paying customers for the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, signing on in 2019.
The company is relatively small, with a team of less than a dozen mechanical engineers, along with a manufacturing team and field service team that operates the robots. The team of mechanical engineers are based in different locations. The chief mechanical engineer, Charles O’Connell, is based in New York. A few engineers are based at the headquarters in Massachusetts, and a couple other engineers are located in other cities across the Northeastern United States. Even before COVID, Square Robot was 100 percent committed to hiring talent that worked remotely because that provided them the flexibility to hire the best minds in the field.
The company was founded in 2016, and Charles O’Connell was one of their first hires, joining the team in 2017. Like a lot of mechanical engineers, Charles found himself pulling double duty—designing Square Robot’s first-class robots and acting as the CAD Manager. Because the company is relatively small, they don’t have an IT department and they don’t use servers. Instead, they store all their company documents in the cloud. In 2017, when Charles came on board, they were using Google Docs to manage their engineering files. Design work is being done primarily in SOLIDWORKS . The robotic design required a lot of analysis, which was done using Matlab.
It didn’t take long for Charles and his team to get frustrated with Google Docs. Google Docs didn’t provide any notifications if a team member “checked out” a document, and revision control was almost a full-time job.
Charles reached out to Square Robot’s SOLIDWORKS reseller, Tri-Mech, to see if they had a suggestion for a PLM solution that wouldn’t require a major investment. They wanted to keep their documents in the cloud to facilitate collaboration between the engineering team and allow their employees to continue to work remotely. Additionally, having a cloud-based PLM solution meant that regardless of where their field technicians were sent, they had access to the latest information.
The 3DEXPERIENCE platform turned out to be a perfect fit. It allowed the engineering team to continue working in SOLIDWORKS without having to do any messy conversions. The platform manages revision control, and team members are notified instantly when an updated component is uploaded into the cloud. They simply perform a “refresh” and can see what has changed in real time.
A benefit of being one of the early adopters of 3DEXPERIENCE was that Dassault listened to any changes or feature enhancements Charles and his team made. Because changes were made that were tailored to Square Robot’s workflow, they were able to be even more efficient in their design process. At this point, the Square Robot team considers the 3DEXPERIENCE platform a crucial part of their success as a company.
SOLIDWORKS remains their primary design tool while the 3DEXPERIENCE platform is used to manage their entire engineering database.
Government regulations require regular inspection of chemical storage tanks to ensure that the tanks are structurally sound, not leaking or outgassing any dangerous fumes.
Square Robot’s main product is an autonomous inspection robot. This robot is dropped into a petroleum tank and uses phased ultrasound to determine wall loss in the tank. Their product is unique in that they do not require the tank to be emptied, an operation which can cost up to $2 million dollars. A Square Robot field technician operates the robot from outside the tank and monitors its performance.
There are some serious design challenges. The robot is powered with lithium-ion batteries which can spark an explosion in a fuel tank if not designed and operated properly. Square Robot has designed a mechanical pressure sensor and switch that controls whether it is safe to tun on the power.
Additionally, there is often debris in the tank, such as rust, which can interfere with the robot’s transit. The robot is equipped with on-board sonar to detect debris and a brush system that allows the robot to clear debris from its path before it moves forward.
The engineering team has met and conquered the challenges using custom built SOLIDWORKS API macros that allow them to calculate mass properties, best operational velocity and more. The ability to write custom macros using the SOLIDWORKS API has helped the engineering team in a myriad of ways, from auto-generating engineering drawings to performing buoyancy calculations on models.
Post-COVID, many companies are struggling with hiring new talent and figuring out how to support remote or hybrid work models. Square Robot is ahead of the game having already established a work process and the tools—using SOLIDWORKS and 3DEXPERIENCE—to manage 100 percent cloud-based collaboration and protecting their intellectual property by using a cloud-based PLM system.
About the Author
Elise Moss is a senior mechanical engineer with a BSME from SJSJU. She is a regular contributor to engineersrule.com as well as a published author of CAD textbooks. Elise is currently traveling through the United States on horseback. You can read more about Elise here.