Designing gears can be a mind-boggling complex endeavor, but over the years, that process has been made more efficient — and maybe even a bit easier — with the creation of innovative software solutions.
Those software solutions can often mean the difference between success and failure, which is why optimal gear design has become an important element of Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence’s catalog of expertise.
Within that catalog for gear production are software and other services that benefit design, engineering, manufacturing, and quality inspection, according to Stewart Hughes, team leader Gear and Manufacturing Technology, Applied Solutions at Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division.
“Our Romax software is widely used in the design phase, where its combination of system-level analysis of rotating machinery and fast parametric modeling is powerful enough to generate a wide array of solutions so that an ideal solution can be identified without producing and testing several prototypes,” he said. “Our computer-aided-engineering (CAE) software enables design and manufacturing engineers and analysts to collaborate and share responsibility for product quality with colleagues throughout the process, which streamlines workflows and fosters collaboration while providing the ability to make improvements more easily.”
That is supported with robust CAE software that can simulate material behavior under a variety of conditions, structural performance and fatigue, vibration and acoustics, and the interactions of parts and fluids, according to Hughes.
“We increasingly use these in conjunction with simulations of the specific production processes that affect the performance and cost of final products,” he said. “Hexagon’s design and engineering solutions include software such as MSC Nastran or Marc for finite element analysis (FEA), Cradle CFD for computational fluid dynamics (CFD), and Adams for multi-body dynamics (MBD). When producing parts in-house, our computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software can be used to quickly plan, test, and produce metal gears and shafts using CNC machining. We also support additive processes for more established methods and are leading software developments to support emerging technologies such as metal binder jetting.”
When it comes to gear inspection, measurement can be performed using precision measurement machines (PMMs) or specialized gear inspection systems that use Hexagon’s QUINDOS gear measurement to program CMM (coordinate-measuring machine) inspection, according to Hughes. Q-DAS IMC (intelligent machine control) software analyzes production data in real time and performs statistical analysis to predict when parts will fall out of tolerance and automatically adjusts CNC tooling offsets to enable lights-out production and reduce rejection rates.
“Our Applied Solutions team offers complete design and development services for electro-mechanical systems consisting of gearboxes, actuation systems, motors, and power electronics, including automotive ePowertrains, wind-turbine drivetrains, wave- and tidal-energy power take-off units, marine and aerospace gearboxes and ePropulsion systems, and any other applications that use gears,” he said. “It also assists customers with failure and root-cause analysis investigations, process development, and knowledge transfer across a range of industries.”
A greener future
Ensuring gears are designed and manufactured optimally may be the brains of the Hexagon operation, but the company’s mission goes beyond that, according to Hughes.
“Hexagon’s mission is to provide the hardware and software tools needed to ensure responsible product development for a greener future, and so operating with regard for environmental issues is an integral aspect of our business philosophy,” he said. “We implement production processes with consideration for sustainability and the pursuit of ecologically friendly product development. A fundamental principle of our environmental initiatives is the careful use of resources in our manufacturing whenever possible.”
It’s also important to Hexagon that the data the company collects is put to work as efficiently as possible by creating scalable end-to-end solutions that leverage the power of data by creating more efficient and productive processes throughout the product lifecycle — from planning, design, and engineering to production and metrology and, finally, maintenance and repair, according to Hughes.
“We achieve this end by continuously developing innovative technologies to combine the physical and digital worlds,” he said. “Digital twins are fundamental to delivering a sustainable future because they help manufacturers innovate by better understanding the impact of a new product design and make their production processes more efficient by helping to conserve material and energy.”
Improving gear simulation
It’s important to Hexagon that gear industry experts — those who understand the challenges of gear and transmission design, engineering, and production — play an important role in the evolution of what the company can offer gear manufacturers, according to Hughes.
“Hexagon’s gear experts have helped continually improve gear simulation over the past 30 years by ensuring that real-world-manufacturing hurdles are explored in a simulation environment and that gears are designed for the chosen manufacturing process,” he said. “A good example is our dedicated gear-cutting software, which simulates the effects of the tool and machine kinematics on the 3D topography of the machined flank. In addition, we are now able to take these designs straight into our CAM software that automatically selects part features and tooling to turn the part.”
Those many innovations have allowed Hexagon to evolve with the gear industry’s need for robust design and engineering software by offering the ever-greater ability to identify potential manufacturing problems during the design phase to reduce time and cost, according to Hughes.
“By reducing the time required to perform robust FE and CFD analyses, problems can be identified much earlier in the design process, enabling products of higher quality and more efficient design to go to market faster,” he said. “For example, Romax transmission design software now embeds CFD knowledge to ensure that even non-CFD experts can take advantage of advanced simulation to optimize lubrication and improve efficiency. The democratization of advanced simulation tools allows for the creation of more — and better — designs in a shorter timescale. Our gear-engineering and production-solution tools enable manufacturers to use measurement data in combination with virtual engineering to plan and program production. As the industry moves quickly to Industry 4.0, we are helping leading companies to employ cloud-native solutions to orchestrate operators, robotics, and autonomous-guided vehicles within the manufacturing plant to help bolster production efficiency.”
Addressing customer needs
However, Hexagon’s impressive product offering isn’t where the story ends. It’s important to also make sure the company’s customers are treated properly, according to Hughes — especially when challenges arise.
“Hexagon’s approach to customer challenges is to view their planning, design and engineering, production, and inspection processes holistically instead of as individual, unlinked processes,” he said. “Too often, manufacturing problems are addressed without regard to the entire production chain when significant benefits can be made by first understanding how each process contributes to the whole. Hexagon has a global account and sales team with industry and application expertise who listen to customers’ challenges to understand their fundamental needs, then identify technologies within our portfolio that meet their needs. Where required, our Applied Solutions team with experience in manufacturing, inspection, design, and analysis, can support customers to undertake projects ranging from product optimization to turn-key powertrain development to process development and planning.”
As the sector continues its move toward Industry 4.0, Hexagon is creating and bringing together technologies to make that happen, according to Hughes.
“The right technologies for the right applications will improve designs and enable manufacturers to achieve greater efficiency and sustainability, minimizing energy, material, and waste,” he said. “In the field of gearbox design specifically, we are proud to design end-to-end solutions that are innovative and meet the needs of the moment — such as the rapid development and production of electric vehicles, which we’ve been supporting since 2010, and renewable energy, which we’ve been working in since 2005. To date, Hexagon has undertaken over 100 electric-vehicle design and optimization projects and more than 37 wind-turbine gearbox design certifications contributing to 9-plus GW of installed capacity and is developing technologies to support smart factory development.”
Hexagon is based out of Stockholm, Sweden, and was founded in 1992. Its Manufacturing Intelligence division has been around since 2001, but its roots can be traced back to Brown & Sharpe and the Swiss company Kern & Co., established in 1833 and 1819 respectively. Kern & Co. was a forerunner for Hexagon’s Leica products.
Since then, Hexagon has evolved and continued to add software and complementary emerging technologies through more than 160 acquisitions in the past 20 years, many related to design, manufacturing, and inspection. Among Hexagon’s acquisitions was Romax Technology, an industry leader in electro-mechanical drivetrain design and simulation solutions acquired in 2020. Hexagon employs 21,000 across 50 countries and generates 3.8 billion euros in sales annually.
As Hexagon continues into the future, Hughes said that the company is looking to further consolidate its standalone software solutions.
“A lot of simulation tools are currently standalone software solutions used by either manufacturing or design engineers, and many design centers and manufacturing plants are in separate locations, making it difficult to access the latest quality data,” he said. “Traceability between quality of parts that fail in service, reliability data, and warranty data often does not exist, and the performance of machines and cutting tools for productivity and quality of parts is often not recorded or only recorded on local computers. Paper is still used widely to communicate requirements in manufacturing, but more efficiencies can be gained by making processes digital and connecting the data.”
Preventing issues before they happen
Linking processes together through data helps in achieving greater efficiencies across the board, according to Hughes.
“Development time can be reduced by using quality data to confirm that parts can actually be manufactured before the chips start flying, and whole real-time production data can be used to prevent tolerance issues before they occur,” he said. “When problems inevitably do occur, a digital thread lays the groundwork for tracing individual parts at the touch of a button — back to the material, machine tool, cutting tool, etc., that was the root of the problem. Eliminating a physical paper trail also means that there is less risk of human error, as data is transferred digitally to machine tools and inspection devices.”
Connecting software, machine tools, and inspection devices that can share data through a single platform will enable manufacturing staff, including shop floor and management personnel, to access the same data in real time, according to Hughes.
“This has only become truly feasible today, by using AI (Artificial Intelligence) to analyze these large volumes of data and make the link between virtual engineering and the physical world and measured data,” he said. “That said, engineers will always be needed to create new ideas, and the next technology revolution and our focus is on creating robust software solutions that improve their decision-making, creating more efficient processes, reducing material waste and pollution, and conserving energy.”