A New Approach to Sheet Metal Design is Unfolding

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Direct Modeling Approach provides 10x Time Savings in Model Optimization and Flattening

by Serge Jonnaert & Emmanuel Vendeville

From initial concept to manufactured product, sheet metal design is still very much a two phase process. Designers and engineers conceptualize a product in 3D CAD software, taking a mostly mechanical design approach, with or without the use of embedded sheet metal functionality that provides a minimal amount of insight into whether a part can be manufactured or not.

The second phase is usually handled by a production design engineer with deep domain expertise in sheet metal fabrication. In many cases that function is provided by the company that will or would like to manufacture the part and is executed in function of the equipment, tools, and capabilities available. They are the ‘translators’ that need to assure a maximum fidelity to what the designer had envisioned with a minimum of compromises to manufacturability, tolerances, part strength, and assembly fit.

The problem with the need for ‘translation’ is that the originator may not be aware of the richness of the ‘available vocabulary’ causing potentially self-imposed constraints in the design. However, it is far more common that 3D sheet metal designs submitted to the production design engineer are completely redone to accommodate production capabilities and constraints.

Few designers are truly familiar with the sheet metal fabrication process, even fewer have visited a manufacturer’s shopfloor in recent years, and one could argue that it is unrealistic to expect them to. With most sub-assemblies and parts sent for bid to multiple contracts manufacturers it is unreasonable to expect a designer to remain actively involved, especially when other intermediaries such as purchasing come into play.

To illustrate this issue, imagine a control panel that is designed to be folded from a sheet that is 16ft wide. Unfortunately, the manufacturer or contractor considered to make the part only has folding machines that are capable of handling sheets up to 12ft wide at the folding stage.


To keep the business, the manufacturer is essentially forced to split the panel design into two parts and to redesign the assembly process from bends to welding, to counter-folds with electrical welding. This usually requires a complete redesign of both parts and their geometry in function of the final assembly.


The net result of most such exercises:

  • An assembly that is now fully optimized to the capabilities of the manufacturer, but looks different from what was intended, which may not please the originating designer.
  • Time lost by the originating designer in executing a 3D model that could not be produced by the manufacturer.
  • Time lost by the production design engineer in reworking the entire 3D model, modifying geometry, as well as folds and nesting for optimal manufacturability.
  • The risk of multiple time consuming iterations until all parties involved are satisfied with the end result.

There has to be a better way. Imagine a single platform that can be used to import existing, or direct model 3D geometry and can generate the sheet metal models with automatic recognition of flanges and reliefs, automatic detection of boundary regions, and has an advanced unfolding algorithm for optimized sheet nesting, all without geometry translations that can invariably introduce additional errors.


A solution that can accommodate these requirements was recently introduced by Bricsys NV (Belgium). Its BricsCAD V15 platform was developed over a twelve year period by long time CAD/CAE industry experts to be a better, more affordable alternative. It has received critical acclaim for its advanced functionality, compatibility, native 2D/3D DWG file support, and a better user experience with its innovative QUAD cursor. More and more engineers and designers are moving to BricsCAD because of its broad API support and the rapidly growing worldwide network of third party developers.

Early on, Bricsys recognized the opportunity to optimize its advanced 3D direct modeling capability to sheet metal production. While developing some breakthrough capabilities using its native 3D DWG engine it also engaged Christian Lecomte and Emmanuel Vendeville, recognized industry experts in sheet metal CAD and founders of CatalCAD, the developer of technologies that were over the years adopted by companies such as Mitsubishi, Schmidlin-TSK, Nestle, and SpaceClaim.

The result is BricsCAD V15 Platinum, a ‘concepting to sheet metal production ready’ solution that at $990 offers an unprecedented value.

Going back to our example, with BricsCAD it is no longer necessary to rework the entire design into two separate parts. Instead, you simply cut the panel into two and adjust the link elements for their assembly, all done directly on the original design file. A quick correction that can be made entirely in BricsCAD in less than five minutes, a potential savings of hours of rework.

Customers report an easy 10x time savings for model optimization and flattening using BricsCAD V15’s direct modeling approach over the traditional “features-based” 3D CAD post-processor. The productivity gain increases exponentially with geometrically more complex parts.

BricsCAD’s Direct Modeling technology provides all the functionality necessary to model your designs in 3D and then unfold them, in addition to gathering your internal or client files, allowing you to progress much faster to the manufacturing stage. A model that cannot be unfolded can be transformed into one or several feasible and foldable parts in just a few mouse clicks applied directly to the original 3D model, without any new capture, thereby eliminating the risk of introducing new errors by entirely reworking the geometry.

Here are a couple of videos demonstrating the sheet metal capabilities:

With the add-on BricsCAD Communicator you can also import CATIA V4/V5, IAM/IPT (Inventor), PAR/PSM (Solid Edge), ASM/PRT (Pro Engineer), SLDASM/SLDPRT (Solidworks), SDL, STE, STP, STEP, and IGS files and even export models back out to STE, STP, STEP, IGS, IGES, CATIA V4/V5, VDA/VDA-FS3D, 3D PDF, and Sheet metal CAM software. An industry first, BricsCAD also supports LVD direct .OSM (Open Sheet Metal) optimized model output.

BricsCAD V15 is available for a 30 day free trial. Click here http://bit.ly/1EEbA9p

Serge Jonnaert