SRP applies 3D heat to its design

November 27, 2008   by Luigi Benetton

A Superior Radiant Products operator spot-welds sheet metal parts to produce an enclosure for a gas-fired, infrared patio heater at the company’s Stoney Creek, Ont. plant.
Photo: SRP

Patio lizards who pursue their outdoor socializing late into the fall tend to cluster near the outdoor heaters placed between restaurant/bar patio tables to protect patrons from nippy fall temperatures.

These gas-fired, high- and low-intensity infrared space heaters are among the products made by Superior Radiant Products (SRP) Ltd. in Stoney Creek, Ont., which makes heating equipment for commercial, industrial, agricultural and residential markets.

Engineers are taking note of gas-fired infrared heaters thanks to the energy cost savings they deliver. An indoor riding arena, for example, lowered fuel bills by 39% while increasing the total heated area.

Pat Caruso, SRP’s vice-president of engineering, and his colleagues rely heavily on innovation to distinguish the company’s products, so it was not too surprising SRP won the first place award for “Most Innovative HVAC Product” at Canada’s Ciphex trade show.

But awards don’t pay the bills. “When people called in with problems with our equipment, we could almost always trace the problem back to the installation,” Caruso explains. “Yet it was hard to say to the contractors who did the installation, who are our customers, ‘You didn’t follow the manual.’ So we decided to give them a better manual.”

By “better manual,” Caruso means less text and better graphics than line drawings or artist’s conceptions.

Competition among radiant heating manufacturers is fierce, to say nothing of the heating market in general. “The forced-air industry has a large marketing machine. Our challenge is to educate the people who make decisions, the people who pay the fuel bills,” he adds, noting North American market penetration for radiant heaters is about 15 per cent.

“The capital expenditure needs to be justified.”

When a trial CAD software package crossed Caruso’s desk, he installed it and rendered several drawings. Quickly realizing that SRP could better serve its key audiences using 3D diagrams, he embarked on a systematic quest to find 3D CAD software.

A 2D/3D package called Solid Edge was selected after speaking to representatives of CAD developers, visiting a trade show and trying demo versions. Without formal training and working from built-in tutorials, he created an assembly model of SRP’s EvenGLO patio heater, a new product that had been developed in AutoCAD, and used the assembly for pictures in the manual.

SRP’s gas-fired, infrared heater assembly depicted in a 3D rendering.

Graphics, though, work on several levels in a manufacturing business, so Caruso “spread the wealth.” Pleasantly surprised at how photorealistic his images were, he massaged them some more and passed them to sales and marketing staff, some of whom thought they were photos.
His audience falls into at least two categories, according to Dan Staples, director of Solid Edge Product Development for Siemens PLM Software. “Both end users and people within the manufacturing company need to communicate information clearly.”

Curiously, the introduction of this 3D rendering package proved more of a learning experience than SRP expected. “Solid Edge is not doing something right,” was SRP’s design team’s first reaction.

The reason: folding sheet metal requires calculations for bend allowance. Sheet metal stretches as it’s bent, so unfolded, its dimensions are smaller than the final form.

“We stamp our sheet metal in a flat form to make our boxes,” Caruso says. “Solid Edge allows us to unfold a design and generate a flat.”
In the past, designers had to manually calculate bend allowance, and that’s subject to error. “In this redesign, we found that we were punching something incorrectly for the past 13 years. Initially, we questioned Solid Edge’s flat pattern generation. But then we realized, looking further, that there was an error made.”

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