A change by design

Trailer manufacturer adopts a new CAD/CAM system for its nine manufacturing facilities

The FABRICATOR December 2005
December 13, 2005

Great Dane Trailers, one of the world's largest trailer manufacturers, wanted to consolidate on one CAD/CAM software system across its nine manufacturing locations. Following a recommendation from one of its machine suppliers, the company adopted SigmaNEST CAD/CAM nesting software, and just in a nick of time.

Great Dane Trailers
A Great Dane just happens to watch over the entrance of Great Dane Trailers.

You don't become a big dog in manufacturing without knowing about technology and innovation. For the last 100 years, Great Dane Trailers has followed that strategy and is now the largest trailer company in the world.

The company started in 1900 as Savannah Blowpipe Co., making the cyclone-shaped sheet metal blowpipe systems sawmills and furniture manufacturers in the southeastern U.S. commonly used. The company shifted gears in 1931 when it hired a craftsman who built trailers under the Great Dane name. Since then the company has focused on trailer building and development, from lightweight tank and van trailers made of high-tensile-strength steel in the 1930s to the first refrigerated van trailers in the 1940s to even lighter trailers made of aluminum in the 1950s. The innovation continues today as the company introduces new trailers with highly engineered walls and roofing systems that stand up to the rigors of the road and not-so-careful forklift drivers.

To keep up with innovative design, engineers need the proper tools. By 2003 Great Dane engineers no longer had the proper tools.

Great Dane's designers were desperate for help because one of the CAD/CAM packages they were using was no longer supported by the original manufacturer. The system was teetering on collapse, and a crash didn't promise to be an easy thing to resolve.

Additionally, Great Dane wanted to settle on one main CAD/CAM package. It was using a couple, and a 1997 merger with Pines Trailers brought even more CAD/CAM software into the corporate family. Sharing files among the company's multiple facilities was becoming a headache.

Any Recommendations?

Great Dane 3400XP
Great Dane's 3400XP from W.A. Whitney is used to plasma-cut thin gauges of steel. The machines are now programmed using files created with SigmaNEST software.

Great Dane has nine manufacturing facilities in the U.S.: Brazil, Ind.; Danville, Pa.; Greenville, Miss.; Jonesboro, Ark.; Kewanee, Ill.; Memphis, Tenn.; Savannah, Ga.; Terre Haute, Ind.; and Wayne, Neb. In these factories, Great Dane manufactures flatbed and van trailers for hauling dry freight and refrigerated foods. Main product design takes place in Brazil and Savannah, although smaller custom design activity does take place at the other facilities.

The company's varied product lines have a substantial amount of standard specifications, but the products also can be built to customer requirements. Such an approach to design and manufacturing can put a strain on efforts to improve productivity in Great Dane's factories. That's why the new CAD/CAM software had to be up and running shortly after installation in early 2004, according to Alan Whiten, a Great Dane project leader.

"When looking for a software solution for our company, we went with what we knew was reliable and efficient and had the ability to successfully program and run our many W.A. Whitney machines," Whiten said.

Great Dane has nine Whitney punch/plasma combination machines spread over its nine facilities. Great Dane has an 3400XP at each of its facilities to punch and plasma-cut parts from aluminum and steel up to 1/2 inch thick. Its 3700ATC, which is housed at the Savannah plant, processes parts from material up to 3/4 in. thick.

Because Great Dane had such a large investment made in W.A. Whitney machinery and the company enjoyed a long-term relationship with the machine tool builder, Whiten contacted W.A. Whitney and asked for advice on choosing software to program and run its machines. Great Dane did not purchase the software option with its previous W.A. Whitney equipment acquisitions.

Whitney recommended SigmaNEST. The recommendation wasn't too much of a surprise considering W.A. Whitney encourages users of its punch/plasma machines to rely on SigmaNEST to program them. The machine tool builder did its own extensive research of nesting software back in 1999.

Trailer undercarriage
Great Dane manufactures all components of a trailer, including the front trailer support and the undercarriage.

Whiten felt comfortable with the recommendation, he said, because the SigmaNEST software product from SigmaTEK Corp. had been around for 13 years and had more than 5,000 installations.

Making the Switch

SigmaNEST had the makings of a suitable software selection, but the key to the entire implementation was speed. That really became evident when implementation began in early 2004 and Great Dane's widely used existing CAD/CAM system crashed simultaneously.

Company engineers figured out a way to continue generating manufacturing code for older parts that previously had been designed with the old CAD/CAM environment, but they were not so fortunate with regaining the ability to design new parts.

Bill Sutherland, a production engineer at Great Dane's Brazil facility, said that SigmaTEK worked closely with the company to solve this problem over the following weeks. Once the software was up and running in Brazil and Savannah, SigmaTEK installers concentrated on Great Dane's other locations.

SigmaNEST software
The SigmaNEST software gives the designer a graphical representation of how parts are cut on one steel sheet to maximize material usage.

Having used the software for more than a year now, Sutherland said the company's designers have found a new level of efficiency. They now can import various CAD file formats, and as long as the design is in the correct scale, the designers can rely on automatic tools within the software to generate quick plan turnarounds. With the previous CAD/CAM software, Sutherland said designers would have to redraw the geometry of all imported files created with a different CAD/ CAM software.

Building off the successful CAD/ CAM implementation, Great Dane is planning many joint projects with SigmaNEST in an effort to increase its productivity and efficiency. Great Dane and SigmaTEK have begun to investigate an Internet-based integrated design and manufacturing process to give customers the ability to order customized trailers online. These orders then would seamlessly filter into SigmaNEST, and the software would produce the correct work orders for the jobs.

Great Dane officials believe this automated system will remove more time from the order-to-production cycle and allow for more efficient just-in-time manufacturing. It's one more step that Great Dane is taking to ensure it survives the dog-eat-dog world of today's manufacturing environment.

Great Dane Trailers, 602 E. Lathrop Ave., P.O. Box 67, Savannah, GA 31402-0067, 912-644-2100, www.greatdanetrailers.com

SigmaTEK Corp., 11820 Kemper Springs Drive, Suite 100, Cincinnati, OH 45240, 513-674-0005, fax 513-674-0009, www. sigmanest.com

W.A. Whitney Co., 650 Race St., P.O. Box 1206, Rockford, IL 61105, 815-964-6771, fax 815-964-3175, www.wawhitney.com

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The FABRICATOR is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971.

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