A collaborative approach to solution design
While some of our anti-vibration solutions are available off-the-shelf, what really makes our engineers tick is developing a bespoke answer to a customer’s challenge. Regardless of sector – rail, marine, off-highway or industrial – all applications require a holistic and integrated approach to product development. We caught up with Principal Engineer Conrad Hextall who took us through the design process, from specification to prototyping.
“As designers, we begin with the customers’ specification – they’ll give us details of the exact space envelope we have to work with, which is often the most challenging aspect of the project – as well as the performance characteristics the customer requires.
“First and foremost, we have to balance what’s critical to the customer, with the quality of performance. Usually the shape of the anti-vibration mount – relative to the space envelope available – is the top priority, followed by the temperature range in which it needs to work, and the stiffness that’s required. But we also have to design with the manufacturing process in mind, and that’s where the process of product development becomes truly integrated. Our manufacturing team need to be able to physically produce the solutions we envisage, so they’re involved from the outset to ensure our designs can one day become a reality.
“Once the required – and most effective – shape is determined, we next need to consider the rubber type and hardness to give the desired vibration isolation. With a portfolio of more than 300 different rubber formulations, we have an unrivalled base to work from – but the material we choose will be carefully assessed against the customer’s specification before we move into FEA modelling. They’ll give us precise temperature ranges, for example, and then there are other environmental factors such as the presence of oil, and even the cleaning fluids used which all could affect the performance of the rubber.
“It’s not all about the rubber, of course, and while we’re identifying the most appropriate formulation, we’re also working hand-in-hand with our metal suppliers. The same principles apply – they need to make sure that our solution can physically be built.
“In years gone by, we’d have gone through multiple rounds of prototyping and testing – covering everything from low temperatures, fatigue, static stiffness and dynamic stiffness – to ensure compliance with the spec. With the advent of FEA, however, we can reduce the amount of physical testing we do by predicting the behaviour of the mount through simulation, and this gets us closer to the characteristics of the finished article than ever before. Then we get physical, with an exhaustive test programme in our in-house lab. We might make minor tweaks to extract every last ounce of performance here, but needless to say, the integration extends to our customers – they’re involved at every stage of development to understand the art of the possible.
“We feel strongly that the system requirements of the customer should always dictate the design of the part. Our materials scientists are always working on new formulations which we as designers might be keen to roll out, but if it’s not appropriate for the application, we must always appreciate what’s best for the customer.
“Without integration at all stages – with the customer, our internal colleagues in materials and manufacturing, and our suppliers – our anti-vibration solutions just wouldn’t be as effective and innovative as they are.”