DataSuite implementation provides seamless data transfer between departments in addition to productivity gains for leading caravan supplier
Central Innovation • 24 January 2019
Based in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Zone RV designs and manufactures custom-built recreational vehicles and sells direct to the public. Over its four years of operation Zone RV has built a solid reputation on the innovative design and fabrication of its products.
“The founders came from a boat-building background and wanted to apply a similar approach to the design and build of high-end off-road caravans,” explains Zone RV head of design and engineering Brad Marshall. “So they went down the path of making caravans from composite materials like carbon fibre and fibreglass, which until then wasn’t very common in the industry. Essentially we have been viewed as disruptors as we had a unique approach to the design and build.”
Brad explains the key points of difference in Zone RV’s product construction: “There’s no wood in our caravans, it’s 100 per cent composite panels. This means each caravan is ultra-lightweight and fully bonded together, so they’re arguably the strongest caravans in Australia. It’s much more like the way you would construct a boat. It’s a very strong construction which will last longer – the way we design the internal cabinetry actually forms a substructure within, so we use this to make it a really strong unit. The flooring itself is similar to flooring you’d use in a racing yacht.”
In the 12 months since Brad came on board, the business has undergone a massive growth phase – “it’s been a big transition from the initial success,” he affirms. “This is a small business that’s grown very rapidly over the last year.
“When I started there was no use of SOLIDWORKS, so we converted over to it from the previous CAD package and Central Innovation gave us great support and assistance. We’ve since set up DataSuite to enable us to move data across platforms, and that’s been a big assist in terms of managing the large amounts of data used in our bespoke designs.”
“Our products are highly customisable, each unit can be fitted out differently and the customer will typically buy off the design, so we needed a way to be able to push the data across to our Manufacturing Resource Planning system quickly and efficiently, and DataSuite gives us that functionality – essentially it fills the gap between the engineering department and production. We’ve linked SOLIDWORKS with the MRP via DataSuite and we’re currently bedding that in. By the end of the year it will be fully rolled out.”
Automating the data transfer process in this way improves workflow, avoids the errors introduced via manual data entry, expedites time management and helps streamline the operation. “In the past, once we designed something it would be in our inventory management or just in people’s heads. Now we have the ability to automate the transfer of all the critical build data, the inventory build control has become a seamless process between design and production,” Brad explains. “Without DataSuite, we’d probably have to employ more people, especially data integrity specialists, to convert our designs into building materials.
“We currently output a new product every one to two days, and because our products are highly customisable, essentially that means we’re outputing a new design every one to two days, and that adds up to a lot of data.”
The implementation of DataSuite was a major project for Zone RV and has taken several months. “It’s been a work in progress from both our point of view and Central Innovation’s – it was definitely a joint approach to get it working and functioning the way we needed it,” Brad reports. “As with any software project, it’s had its challenges, but now we’re this far into it, I think we’ve really ironed out the issues.
“Certainly the Central Innovation support team and technical staff have provided great assistance”.
“We had to go through a two-step process – we needed to clean up the inventory list in our current database, but we also needed to look further ahead and make sure that we would have the functions and capabilities to be able to handle initial project data. In other words, we had to do a data cleanse as well as identify gaps in our SOLIDWORKS modelling so that we could sort the legacy data while also maintaining daily production by imbedding design process information and parameters as standard.
“It was a challenging process because I don’t think Central Innovation had performed a DataSuite implementation before which linked to Fishbowl, the MRP system we use. So it was a little bit different to what they were used to but they certainly rose to the challenge.”
The initial DataSuite implementation is phase one of Brad’s longterm plan to streamline design and production processes. Phase two will be connecting SOLIDWORKS to Zone RV’s workflow management and project management software. After that he’ll look at also connecting in the sales process. “Ideally we’ll be able to sit down with the customer and be able to take them through a virtual build of the caravan in 3D, which will give them the clearest conception of the finished product.”
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