Tractair Ltd., based in Brough, UK, designs, manufactures and installs air and hydraulic brake systems for special applications. The company works closely with the design engineers of major international tractor manufacturers and other OEMs to ensure that the braking systems are fully integrated. The company has been closely involved in the development of air brakes for agricultural and other off-road vehicles since 1985 and continues to adapt available technologies to meet the demands of increasing loads and speeds handled by agricultural and construction vehicles, both on and off the highway.

Top and bottom views of the multi-valve assembly — the “heart” of the air brake system. The assembly converts the signal from a tractor’s hydraulic brake system to an air signal that powers the brakes on the trailer.

Tractair has spearheaded development of air brake systems, which — unlike traditional hydraulic systems — deliver finely controlled, powerful stopping capabilities for both the tractor and the trailer for the bigger loads customers pull today. The company standardized on SolidWorks® 3D CAD software from SolidWorks Corp. (Concord, MA) to speed up the design and development process.

Tractair is using the software to design the air and hydraulic brakes that farmers, construction workers, and others driving heavy-duty tractors and off-road vehicles rely on to stop quickly and safely. Tractair’s brake systems enable customers to safely operate larger equipment carrying heavier loads at faster speeds than ever before.

“We’re working with engineering departments 50 times our size,” said Tractair Managing Director David Constantine. “SolidWorks levels the playing field because its table-driven format gives us repeatable designs that we can quickly modify to meet specific customer needs and design better products. That’s huge when you’re designing brake systems to fit on tractors for John Deere, New Holland, and Massey Ferguson.”

One of Tractair’s biggest design challenges is making powerful brake systems that can stop a 40-ton load traveling at 50 kilometers per hour fit into a tiny space. Most tractor manufacturers don’t afford much space to braking systems. The software enables Tractair to design its brake systems to accommodate its customers’ different space constraints. Physical simulation and part interference enable designers to troubleshoot engineering problems before manufacturing begins.

The software also automates many design processes. For example, auto-dimensioning helps Tractair engineers ensure that the parts that will be manufactured will be accurate, and lets Tractair modify designs quickly based on customer and manufacturing input. The software’s associativity means that engineers can amend a solid model, and have the change automatically implemented throughout the rest of the design, eliminating errors and saving time.

Another key feature is the ability to work in both 3D and 2D. With a mouse-click, engineers can produce a 2D drawing of an air brake assembly that they can work on and share with a customer or supplier. The company has used 3D models and eDrawings® e-mail-enabled design communication to graphically depict proposed air brake systems for potential customers in formats they can easily understand.

Using SolidWorks, Tractair can send customized brake system models to customers in the CAD format of their choice. That flexibility, coupled with time-saving features such as physical simulation, streamlined large assembly design, and automated bill of materials creation and updating enabled Constantine and his team to reduce overall development cycles, costs, and time to delivery.

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Motion Control Technology Magazine

This article first appeared in the October, 2007 issue of Motion Control Technology Magazine.

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