To consistently deliver market leading products you need a world class approach to engineering.
For us, this means employing the best engineers with a wealth of individual and collective experience. It means planning projects rigorously and applying individually tailored development processes during their implementation. It means using cutting-edge tools and techniques to develop and test our ideas. And it means integrating our engineering thinking, closely with our other in-house product development skill bases to deliver unified project results.
World class engineering is at the heart of most projects we undertake and guarantees our clients the highest probability of success, even with the most technically challenging developments.
Innovation creates competitive advantage. So how do you create, capture and leverage technical innovation? The first step is identifying the right problem statement.
You can get good ideas by throwing together the kind of creative, talented, diverse, highly qualified and experienced individuals that we employ and nurture at DCA and asking them to solve a problem. But to get great ideas you need to add a structured creativity process.
All our engineers receive formal creative thinking training as part of their professional development, learning about setting up the right attitudes and environment for creativity and about the application of techniques such as TRIZ, SCAMPER, De Bono’s ‘Random Entry’ and many others.
However, these techniques and processes are only part of a successful approach. The first, and often the most challenging, part of solving engineering problems is knowing how to ask the right questions – defining the right ‘problem statements’.
Only by asking the right questions in the right ways can we develop the best problem statements against which to apply our creativity process and techniques.
Intellectual property is a fundamental element in the creation of commercial success for most of our clients.
You can engage our experienced team to provide strategic strong thinking and day-to-day assistance with the management of intellectual property rights. This can range from long-term, high-level strategy development to individual project focused work. It can involve support for patent circumnavigation or help to explore patent landscapes.
Planning for IP
Crucially our design teams can place the intellectual property needs of the project at the heart of their thinking from the very outset of planning the project, as well as during the creation of the product itself.
Our innovations and creative work have helped our clients with over 3,900 patent applications and more than 1,700 granted patents worldwide since 2000.
IP risks and opportunities
In order to deliver the level of service that our clients demand, DCA has long-standing relationships with some of the world's leading patent agencies and patent litigation specialists.
Our experienced and knowledgeable staff will work directly with these specialists and your own experts to help minimise intellectual property risk and maximise your potential intellectual property advantages.
Technical project planning and management
Our mechanical engineering team has applied our proven product development processes to a wide range of successful projects.
This means we are able to plan and deliver projects ranging from complex multi-disciplinary development programmes to short, focussed technical studies.
Our project management teams bring substantial expertise and innovation to technical development planning, resourcing and communication.
Our goal is a transparent and controlled delivery of a world-class design service to build commercial success for our clients. Our track record of successful project delivery speaks for itself.
We are constantly evolving our product development processes, built on fifty years of experience and incorporating state of the art tools and methodologies.
Working within the various regulatory frameworks associated with our specialist market sectors, we develop bespoke programmes of work that balance rigour and flexibility appropriately to best meet the commercial objectives of our clients.
The management and communication of development risk is central to our ethos. We believe in an evidence-based approach, with strategic decisions informed by technical, design and commercial insights. In this way, we manage the development risk profile purposefully, progressively and transparently throughout your project.
It isn’t glamorous, but we believe that a clear and structured approach to design documentation is fundamental to project success.
Careful planning of the documentation strategy is needed to ensure that key documents are available to inform, support or capture strategic design decisions throughout your project.
We understand that not all of our clients require the same level of documentation and that this is largely driven by the regulatory environment of the industry in which they are operating. Our ISO 9001 and ISO 13485 certified development procedures are constructed to allow us to operate efficiently and effectively within the consumer, transport and commercial product sectors, as well as in compliance with key international standards and regulations governing the medical device industry.
Engineering robust solutions
Will your product always perform safely? Are you confident it will be robust enough to withstand every anticipated use and misuse condition? How will performance be affected by manufacturing and environmental variation?
Understanding, modelling and controlling the parameters that influence product performance and safety is fundamental to a successful outcome. Through many years' experience of designing safety critical products we have developed processes and techniques that drive robustness and reliability into our designs. Our approach is underpinned by our highly-qualified engineers whose exceptional technical capabilities in design and analysis are amply supported by our virtual and physical prototyping facilities.
We make extensive use of mathematical and computational models to understand and assess the potential performance of our concepts from an early stage.
The insights we gain influence concept selection and technical development decisions, ensuring that the solutions we propose are robust to variation and maximise the probability of successfully meeting specified requirements.
Beyond the integrated modelling and simulation capabilities within our Creo Parametric and SolidWorks computer-aided design packages we make use of highly complex first principle calculations, bespoke mathematical modelling and state-of-the-art specialist software such as Moldflow Plastics Insight and ANSYS Mechanical Finite Element Analysis. All of our engineers use simulation tools as an integral part of the development process, but we have also developed a team of specialists who undertake the most complex computational fluid dynamics, injection moulding simulations and non-linear analyses.
Physical prototypes allow us to formally verify product performance, validate our mathematical and computational models and develop our understanding of complex systems.
Our in-house prototyping workshop includes high-speed five axis CNC machining centres, precision 3D printing, vacuum resin casting and laser cutting machines. Staffed by an experienced team of technicians, this allows us to produce and rapidly iterate high quality engineering rigs and prototypes.
Our test laboratory is equipped for a wide range of functional testing and inspection equipment, including environmental test chambers, automated force and torque measurement, precision balances and CMM touch probe and vision based measurement systems.
Understanding the impact of manufacturing variation on a product is key to the success of a project and cannot be addressed as an afterthought.
To achieve reliable performance, a comprehensive approach to analysing and specifying manufacturing tolerances must be employed from the start of development.
This is especially true for high-volume products where our highly analytical yet pragmatic approach helps to ensure that critical functionality is maintained effectively and efficiently in production.
We use a variety of tools and techniques to analyse and control component tolerances, including specialist variance analysis software such as CETol, Minitab and KISSsoft, as well as detailed bespoke tolerance models developed internally by our engineering team.
Our development of safety critical products in all market sectors, and class-leading medical devices in particular, requires a rigorous approach to risk management.
We analyse risk from systems, detailed design and human error view points by deploying a wide range of tools such as Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA), Fault Tree Analysis (FTA) and Hazard and Operability (HAZOP) studies. These risk management techniques are used at appropriate stages of the development process to identify, investigate and mitigate risks in a transparent and controlled manner.
Mathematical modelling of engineering systems
To offer our clients robust solutions built upon fundamental engineering principles we usually develop mathematical models representing the mechanical, electronic and fluidic systems involved.
Our designs often incorporate sliding and rotating components acted upon by sprung elements or an external user. They may also interface with fluid systems such as syringes, valves or nozzles and electronic sensors or actuators. By applying fundamental engineering theory, we create mathematical models to understand the behaviour of whole devices or sub-systems, and their sensitivity to variation.
Using Excel as a modelling platform offers us intuitive parameter entry, system diagrams and outputs such as graphs and statistical data. Through the use of macros, we routinely solve time-dependent interactions and equations with no analytical solution. Alternatively, our MATLAB® software allows us to perform tasks like hydraulic system modelling more quickly and create sharable applications representing system responses.
Specialist finite element analysis
ANSYS Mechanical allows us to evaluate full product assemblies in complex non-linear conditions such as free-fall impact. Comprehensive control of all simulation inputs, such as mesh parameters, solver type, contact definition and non-linear material properties, provides greater confidence in the results. This can provide valuable guidance on component design and material selection. By correlating ANSYS studies with high speed video footage of physical testing, we can also diagnose unanticipated product behaviour.
The recent addition of ANSYS High Performance Computing capabilities allows our team of specialist trained engineers to solve up to 4 times faster and run more iterative simulations within the project timeframe.
Integrating mouldability with design
Designing parts without considering the moulding implications can result in unforeseen, and generally expensive, manufacturing issues. To address this risk, we utilise Moldflow Plastics Insight, which incorporates practically every moulding process and one of the largest plastics material databases.
Moulding simulations incorporating different part geometries, materials, gate locations and configurations, cooling channel locations and processing parameters can quickly highlight flow obstructions that might result in short shots, air entrapment or require high injection pressures that can increase rates of tool wear and component flash. Core pin deflection analysis can identify potential misalignment of the interior and exterior part geometry. We can also quickly identify the risk of low temperature weld lines, sink marks or other moulding defects.
Modelling optical systems
Simulation tools underpinned by fundamental optical theory and a statistical approach to the behaviour of light allow us to model complete optical systems, incorporating injection-moulded light guides or lenses, LEDs and optical measurement systems. They also allow interactions with the wider system, such as the effect of absorptive plastic casework, to be modelled and predicted.
Iterative design activities like optimising the incident flux on an indicator light surface – undertaken within the simulated optical environment prior to physical prototyping – increase the likelihood of meeting optical performance targets with fewer time-consuming and costly design-build-test loops. Parametric links with our CAD software mean that, when needed, physical prototypes can be manufactured directly from the ray tracing simulation.
Computational fluid dynamics
Simulation of complex fluid flow and heat transfer problems helps us optimise our designs and reduce physical prototyping.
We can employ ANSYS Fluent or SolidWorks Flow Simulation software to model challenging turbulent, transient and multi-phase systems in diverse applications, ranging from the thermal management of electronics systems to the particulate dynamics of drug delivery devices. Our CFD specialists can interrogate the results to highlight critical flow parameters and reveal issues such as recirculation, cavitation or overheating.
Either as standalone fluidic models or coupled with structural and thermal analyses, these virtual prototypes provide valuable insights into phenomena that would otherwise be difficult to visualise with physical models, allowing us to make informed design decisions against specific product performance goals. High performance computing nodes and parametric simulation capabilities parallelise our solving processes to provide high resolution results and run sensitivity analyses efficiently.
Design for manufacture and assembly
Developing a product with class-leading performance is not easy. Achieving this within highly competitive production cost targets is even harder.
But this is exactly what we have repeatedly delivered for clients competing globally across a wide range of industries, from one-offs to billions-a-year and everything in between.
From the start of every development project we engineer our designs for manufacture and assembly, considering materials and processes; testing and inspection; servicing and maintenance; disposal and recycling. We leverage our ability to design assembly processes and equipment as an integral part of the product development programme to promote manufacturing efficiency and eliminate late stage design changes.
The right choice of manufacturing approach, materials, equipment and processes is fundamental in determining how a product performs, how long it lasts and how much it costs.
When selecting potential manufacturing solutions for a product we evaluate the functional and quality requirements, the predicted sales volumes and the complete life-cycle, including issues like maintenance, disposal and recycling.
Our engineering team is highly skilled in selecting appropriate manufacturing technologies, specifying designs for efficient and cost effective industrialisation and engaging with appropriate suppliers from early in the project.
We have developed a comprehensive worldwide network of trusted suppliers over many years which we can leverage for your projects. We can also provide technical support for the supplier selection process where new partners are required. All of which allows us to support new products to successful launch and beyond.
Design of moulded polymer components
For complicated mechanisms and efficient designs, the moulded parts that we develop are often feature rich and highly optimised. To support this complexity, we routinely develop tooling layouts concurrently as part of our design process. This helps to speed up industrialisation and supports efficient tool development and multi-cavity scale-up.
To create robust component designs, we make extensive use of our Moldflow Plastics Insight tool to simulate and analyse moulding processes. This facilitates component design optimisation before steel is cut and minimises the risk of unexpected moulding problems.
Metrology strategy is considered from the outset. We specify efficient measurement schemes to control components in challenging high-volume production scenarios and use in-house CMM and vision systems to test and develop robust measurement methods before tools are qualified.
Design for high volume manufacturing
When developing products for efficient high volume manufacture, the requirements associated with high speed, automated assembly can present significant challenges and constraints on the design.
So we typically consider the assembly process in detail before selecting preferred concepts. We begin by defining and refining the assembly process, by designing and analysing component feeding and minimising assembly nest transfers, for example. Then we prototype and test key assembly equipment. As the design develops we progress into activities such as assembly tolerance analysis, formal assembly process definition and support for equipment qualification and process validation.