IMI introduces CoLab Software to improve customer lead times up to 40%

IMI Critical Engineering, a global leader in flow control solutions, specializes in delivering advanced technologies for industries requiring high safety and reliability standards, including oil and gas, power, petrochemical, and more. The company's expertise spans over a century, focusing on valves, actuators, and services that enhance operational efficiency and safety.

Industrial Equipment
Using CoLab since
Use Case
Design Review

The Challenge

Customers choose to work with IMI because they have the technical expertise to solve challenging application related problems. It’s no surprise that IMI’s growth strategy is centered around customer focus and adaptability.

“We’ve created sprint teams to talk to customers and listen to their biggest problems. And from that, we've been able to generate solutions – and sometimes new businesses – to solve those problems,” explains Technical Director Robert Taylor.

As a result, Robert says, the engineering team must be able to design and validate new solutions more quickly than ever before: “If we're able to construct a solution for a customer, then the design of that solution will cast a shadow across the entire product lifecycle. So, we must have all the right people around us to make good decisions during that design phase.”

To give customers the best experience, IMI’s engineering team must move quickly. But they also need to seek design input from the appropriate subject matter experts, who are sometimes located in other offices: “We have teams located in different countries, so we're not always in the same room. It may be difficult to get feedback from an experienced engineer who has something valuable to add,” says Robert. 

There are subject matter experts (SMEs) outside the engineering team with valuable feedback as well: manufacturing, sourcing, suppliers, and customers. It’s a lot to keep track of, and relying on informal discussion - without any recorded feedback - can lead to mistakes: “I've been burned quite a few times by people saying ‘’you can machine that’ or ‘you can get this material’ but you can't,” says Design Engineering Manager Adam Thomas.

100DSV DRAG® Spray Water Control Valve

The Solution

IMI’s naval marine engineering team partnered with CoLab to formalise their design review process, while making it easy to involve the right SMEs.

With CoLab’s Design Engagement System, the team at IMI can kick off design reviews virtually. Their subject matter experts can access the review, no matter what office they are in, via their web browser and interrogate all the relevant CAD models. By making it easier to participate in reviews, IMI generates more feedback to improve their designs. 

CoLab makes it possible to provide design feedback without having meetings. But that doesn’t mean that IMI has eliminated meetings entirely. Instead, they have made their meetings more productive: “You can capture basic errors with CoLab outside of meetings. And when you actually get people around a table, you can talk about the really detailed or complex information,” notes  Adam.

Before implementing CoLab, IMI documented and exchanged feedback between meetings using CAD viewers, production drawings, and screenshots of 3D models. This was the only way to work with SMEs that don’t have access to CAD – including suppliers and customers. Since moving to CoLab, the team is finding it easier to scrutinise designs, because they have more options for interrogating the model and recording comments in context:

“E-Drawings is a lot more basic because if a model has been saved in a particular configuration, then it will just represent that one configuration. So, if it's exploded, it will leave it exploded. We can't look at different configurations like we can in CoLab,” says Robert.

“With complicated assemblies, it’s easy to miss things. If you're marking up a drawing, you can't necessarily see exactly what somebody's looking at,” adds Adam. “But with CoLab, you can zoom in, pan around, section, isolate and hide things. You can see hidden details and you can see components that are buried deeper in an assembly. You put the pin on the specific area. That's probably the most useful feature for catching errors.”

As a byproduct of doing their work in CoLab, IMI also generates auditable records of their reviews. Now, the team can be confident that the right people have looked in detail at a given design: “Before, there was nothing in the system to define what constitutes a good design review versus a bad design review.” explains Robert. “With CoLab, we build it into our workflow.  We have to make sure that we've got certain signatures from a certain engineer of a certain skill level to get the true qualified sign off on a design.”

IMI has integrated CoLab with SolidWorks PDM, so when they release a component to production in their PDM system, the workflow prompts the user to confirm that the appropriate reviews have been completed in CoLab.

The Impact

IMI’s goal was to adapt their design review process so they could respond more quickly to customer needs. So far, it has paid off in two major ways: the company is shortening lead times for customers and identifying opportunities to save cost.

To shorten lead times, IMI’s engineering team is engaging with colleagues on the sourcing team. Using CoLab, the sourcing team can access 3D models and start negotiations with suppliers, instead of having to wait for production drawings to be released to MRP. As a result, they can surface lead time related design improvements, before a design freeze:

“Maybe there's a particular shape of metal that's on a shelf now rather than the shape we're requesting later. Then we can manipulate the design,” explains Robert. “So, it's offering an opportunity to shorten lead times. We're looking to reduce the lead time to one customer by about 40 percent.”

From a cost perspective, IMI is uncovering design and materials improvements that would otherwise go unnoticed. In a recent example, a team designing a cryogenic valve spotted an opportunity to use stainless steel in place of a more expensive material, while still meeting the spec: “It sounds simple, but just the fact that more people are reviewing it compared to the spec, is really useful. This move to stainless steel is significantly cheaper,”  Adam notes.

Because IMI’s technical team can communicate more effectively about designs - both internally and with the customer - they’re winning more new business. In the quoting phase, IMI uses CoLab alongside their customers to form an understanding of key requirements and design the best solution. As a result, they recently won a new contract, which they hope to develop into a multimillion-dollar line of business:

“We were able to utilize CoLab to define and solve the customer problem more quickly and effectively, resulting in this contract,” explains Robert. “We're now getting on board one of the older legacy submarines. When the customer qualifies us as a vendor in that phase, it opens up the whole aftermarket and upgrade business. We’ve also started discussions about their new submarine – all because we made a great impression by solving a small problem first.”

Better products start with better design conversations.

  • Foster more meaningful design conversations by removing collaboration speedbumps
  • Keep your product team and your customers informed
  • Standardize your review process and track everything automatically
Get a live demo of a design review in CoLab