Vestas: Effective Design Reviews for a Team of 1800

In the 1970s, an oil crisis gripped the US and parts of Europe, with prices at the fuel pump spiking and cars stretching around blocks as drivers waited for gas.

At the same time, a “back-to-the-land” movement was in full force with modern-day homesteaders fleeing cities and cutting ties to the urban grid…only to find they didn’t have the engineering know-how to keep the lights turned on.

No matter where or how you lived, it seemed, the world needed alternative energy.

It was in that environment that Vestas unveiled its first modern wind turbine, a 10-meter rotor with a production capacity of 30 kilowatts. The company’s timing couldn’t have been better, and the technology took off.  Now you can find tens of thousands Vestas turbines generating power in 73 different countries.

Here’s a closer look at one of the company’s recent wind farm installations, the Al Tafilah project in Jordan, supporting the electrical needs of 150,000 people:

How many engineers does it take to build a windmill?

Along with success has come a growing staff of technical professionals. Today, the R&D team at Vestas employs 1800 people, innovating turbines that deliver more power and more options for handling different wind speed profiles, operating in extreme weather conditions, and even reducing shadow flicker from the blade movement.

An international technical team of that size can solve many engineering problems for the world. However, they create a few internal challenges too.

With departments and colleagues in seven different countries, communications and especially design verification became challenging for Vestas. With 1800 people, how do you conduct design reviews? How do you confidently make a decision?

Many companies try to communicate product ideas and changes with spread sheets and screen shots, but for a company the size of Vestas, that was hardly a reliable solution.

Getting the technology in place

Before I tell you how Vestas approached the problem, it’s helpful to know what the company already had in place. For many years, Vestas has used PTC Creo Parametric to design its products.  Built on the foundation of Pro/ENGINEER, the original parametric 3D CAD technology, PTC Creo Parametric is the most powerful and flexible 3D CAD software on the market. Designers and engineers can create parts and assemblies, and then create manufacturing drawings automatically with complete confidence that those drawings will always reflect the current 3D design.

The company keeps track of all its design data with product data management (PDM) tools, like PTC Windchill. PDM solutions manage and publish product data, adding comprehensive change management capabilities. PDM is ideal for complex manufacturing environments like that found at Vestas in which stakeholders scattered around the globe are tasked with approval responsibilities.

As for design reviews, PTC Windchill includes PTC Creo View, visualization software that anyone can use to access the PDM system and view, inspect, and mark up 3D models—making the review process easier, more robust, and less time consuming.

Beyond Visualization Software

In 2008, a Vestas executive challenged the team to take visualization even further and explore the adoption of virtual reality.

After some careful research, the company chose a combination of solutions that mixed an extension of PTC Creo View (DIVISION Mockup) with third-party VR tools. With this solution, designers, the service department, logistics, and production staff can actually work in a virtual environment to interact with and verify designs.

Team members use head-mounted displays to explore digital models.

The result is that participants quickly familiarize themselves with the equipment and team members from many different disciplines can contribute to design—R&D, service, logistics, production, etc. This approach was used to develop the service crane seen in the image below.

Crane created with VR technology.

“We have been able to compress time and effectively use peoples’ competencies,” says Egon Hygom Poulsen, Project Manager. “I estimate that we have cut the design phase in half.”

Not everyone has the resources to implement virtual reality. But anyone can access visualization software and start including stakeholders in rich design reviews with PTC Creo View MCAD.  Download the free viewer to see how easy it is to share your designs and collaborate with your internal and external stakeholders no matter how large or small your team.