As the COVID-19 pandemic raged on during 2020, SOLIDWORKS employees, like most office workers, worked remotely. Faced with an inability to see one another and a dearth of creative outlets, company executives tried to think of a way for employees to connect and build something together. A collaborative project that the entire company could have a hand in and could take ownership of, all while using tools in 3DEXPERIENCE Works portfolio. Thus, The Grand Challenge was born.
In just eight weeks over the summer, over 500 SOLIDWORKS employees around the world joined together on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform to create a digital space station. Pushing 3DEXPERIENCE Works design tools to the limit, teams of eight each created a different module to be housed on the station.
The station itself is 2.2 kilometers in length and 800 meters in diameter, giving each team a 100mx72mx68m module to create whatever they wanted. Over 50 teams worked together to build more than 10,000 unique parts with 3D Creator and 3D Sculptor: life support systems, recreational arenas, food support systems, waste processing plants, and beyond.
Not all SOLIDWORKS employees are designers, of course. This project included many non-CAD users as well from departments such as legal, human resources, finance, marketing, IT, and more. As a result, the Grand Architects of the challenge created different roles to help make people with different skill sets comfortable. Each team had a Mission Director to lead the design, a Mission Specialist to lead the way with 3D design and modeling, and a Creative Collaborator to help keep tasks organized. Teams also had a Storyteller to keep track of the team’s progress and share updates with the Grand Challenge 3DSwym community, and a Chief Dreamer to visualize the theme for the module and keep the team organized. Regardless of skillset, everyone had a role in The Grand Challenge.
The Grand Architects organized inter-company “Mission Readiness” webinars to teach participants how to use 3DEXPERIENCE Works tools, such as the parametric design tools in 3D Creator and the Sub-D modeling tools in 3D Sculptor. People learning how to use CAD for the first time felt empowered and included, with one person in the finance department saying, “I am from a computer background, but I did not know anything about 3D modeling before [the Grand Challenge]. This is the first time I tried to model, and I really enjoyed it. I learned a lot and I will not stop modeling!”
Now that The Grand Challenge has ended, what will become of this digital, grand model? It will be built, of course. SOLIDWORKS turned to Dimensional Innovations, a longtime customer, to create a scale model of the space station. Dimensional Innovations is an experienced design, build, and tech firm known for creating immersive experiences for clients like Disney, Google, Home Depot, Audi, the Minnesota Vikings, and much more. SOLIDWORKS provided Dimensional Innovations with the full-sized space station model, and they scaled it down to 2 meters so they could start building.
“We’ve used SOLIDWORKS for years. Working with a company that you’ve known for so long and seeing their side of things was a cool experience,” said Jason Cornett, Engineering Manager for Dimensional Innovations. “Getting involved with the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, seeing how it works, was really cool.” He went on to say, “It used to be like this: I would be working on something in SOLIDWORKS, save it out, send it to somebody, and then they could work on it. Now anybody with an internet connection can work together, and share thoughts and make design adjustments in real time.”
Fabricating the model is a complex endeavor. Dimensional Innovations has turned to SOLIDWORKS CAD to help with hardware and production drawings, using the full suite of SOLIDWORKS and 3DEXPERIENCE Works tools to bring the space station to life. The digitally designed details The Grand Challenge participants worked on will not be sacrificed with the scaled down model.
The model is a showpiece that will be displayed in the Dassault Systèmes U.S. headquarters in Waltham, MA. “We had to make sure the space station could work with Earth’s gravity in a scaled-down size in the orientation we want to display it in, make sure structurally it will survive the assembly, transportation, and the display process,” said Jared Nelson, Lead Engineer of the project at Dimensional Innovations. The finished model will hang and slowly spin on an axis to give it an extra dynamic aspect. The team at Dimensional Innovations had a lot of fun figuring out the mechanism to make the space station rotate on Earth. They created a flexible round belt that could flex in two dimensions: flexing around pulleys as it transfers power, and also flexes through the curved legs holding up the model.
Dimensional Innovations is using many different techniques to create the real-world model, such as metal working, CNC cutting, high-end 3D printing, electronics, lighting, special paints and graphics, and more. A lot of effort and expertise is going into it, and both SOLIDWORKS and Dimensional Innovations are excited to see the final product.
Grand Architect and SOLIDWORKS Digital Community Manager Ryan Priddy concurred. “It was exciting to see how passionate our employees were when they came together around a common theme, and jumped into creating CAD parts,” he said. The Grand Challenge provided SOLIDWORKS employees with a way to meet new people they probably would not have interacted with otherwise, all while working together to build something creative, inspiring, and new. And now they can look forward to coming together again and seeing the real-world expression of their collaborative efforts, knowing for sure that The Grand Challenge slogan is true: Everyone is a Creator.