Issue: Jul 2009


A Short History of Software at Romax



by Steve Barclay

How did Romax evolve from a team of R&D engineers into an award winning technology provider to the world’s gearbox and drivetrain industry? Here, Rupert Poon, Chief Software Architect looks back to when Romax was in its early years.

1990 – 1993 Fortran, Green Screens and Standards

In the traditions of many engineering companies, Romax started off using the Fortran programming language. This was used to create some successful programs which implemented standards, such as journal bearing design and bearing selection. The most famous incarnation was created when the USA’s National Institute of Standards and Technology chose Romax to create a suite of programs for sale under their own name. However, PC technology was marching on and in 1993, at a time when object-oriented programming (OOP) was in its infancy, Romax Technology saw the potential of applying it to large, complex engineering design and analysis solutions. Romax was wise enough to collaborate with Bath University on the first investigations into Object Oriented Engineering Design which would attempt to find ways to apply OOP methods into engineering.

1994 -1995 – The Genesis of ‘RomaxDesigner’

In 1993, Windows NT 3.1 emerged out of Microsoft, and finally we saw a platform upon which we could build. We saw that our vision of a rich, graphical interface which would make interacting with computers a far more rewarding experience coupled with the ability to run on inexpensive desktop PC’s was now within our grasp. However, keen as Romax was to move onto this platform we had to find a means to achieve our goal cost-effectively and yet quickly. After extensive research in the conventional choice of C++, software developers at Romax were convinced by the merits of Smalltalk, an OO language used by many investment banks at the time and it is still favoured by world leading banks today. This language proved advantageous with its ability to create software quickly, yet it was flexible enough to grow and mould as the requirements changed, as they inevitably do and will continue to do.

With the software & hardware technology ready, so it became time to create a new system to meet the engineer’s needs for fast analysis and design, which we named RomaxDesigner. The working concept came from within Romax, and following a relatively short gestation of one year, RomaxDesigner emerged out of the development laboratory and into the real world. It was here that the most important changes occurred in partnership with our customers. We tested the new product in collaboration with one of the premier gearbox design contractors in the UK. During this early collaboration it was common for new features to be suggested in the morning followed by emailed samples of the new feature in the afternoon. This was the responsiveness to the customer that was to characterize the new generation of Romax software which would follow.

In 1995, when a large off-road vehicle manufacturer looked to upgrade the gearbox for one of their most popular vehicles, it came to Romax to provide a design & analysis critique of the gearbox. In partnership with the Design Unit at Newcastle, we were able to make key recommendations on the gears, bearing and shaft design. As part of the analysis, it was necessary to add spigot bearing analysis to RomaxDesigner, a key feature for gearboxes of this class. Our customer would also provide a proving ground for the then new advanced bearing modules, their feedback allowed us to make significant improvements to the design of key bearings.

The Build Up of RomaxDesigner – a flexible tool for companies of all sizes
It was finally in 1996 when we started a long partnership with a US automotive component manufacturer. Many of their needs in manual gearbox design were met by RomaxDesigner over a period of 6 years, including the development of new modules such as the interface to the popular Ohio State’s LDP (Load Distribution Program). This was to characterize the build up of RomaxDesigner’s capabilities until it became the accepted standard in gearbox design.

Not all of our customers are large multi-nationals. In fact, we also work with a medium sized UK gearbox manufacturer for the motorsports industry. RomaxDesigner has been used there continuously since 1996, helping them design robust transmissions in a short time. Our roots may have first been established in automotive soil, but since then, we’ve branched out successfully into may other areas including off-highway, heavy industry, rail, marine, aerospace, hybrid and wind energy.

An Award Winning Full Suite

As RomaxDesigner reached maturity, with a wealth of new modules and improvements, the close relationships we had fostered with our customers led to the development of significant new capabilities. From the year 2000, one of the most significant capabilities, one which unbeknownst to Romax we would later receive an honourable mention in the Automotive News PACE Awards for, was the ability to model NVH (Noise Vibration Harshness) in an innovative and robust model. It was also coupled by the ability to incorporate FE elements for gearbox housings within RomaxDesigner.

This set of capabilities, aptly named, RomaxNVH enabled our customers to analyse and quantitatively predict gearbox dynamic behaviour. RomaxNVH was first in the world for accurately predicting gear whine vibrations in planetary automatic gearboxes and enabling upfront design optimisation for NVH, without the requirement for hardware testing. Combining these tools with our unique planetary transmission error capabilities yielded a product which was truly innovative and has led to a step-change in what is possible with virtual product design within NVH.

Accurate prediction, the speed at which the analyses can be carried out, and the fully integrated software environment are key benefits; as these all contribute to an overall reduction in process time. The RomaxNVH software offered customers a tool which was not available anywhere else.

It was previously impossible to predict the noise levels from planetary automatic gearboxes due to the complexity of predicting the planetary transmission error, but due to our innovation, we made it not only possible but commercially available.

A New Beginning

Most stories have a beginning, middle and an end, but Romax begs to differ. With the foresight of long experience, coupled with the enthusiasm of a multi-talented and flexible team, we have struck out into the new fields of wind turbine gearbox design and broken the mould. Here we have rapidly found success, with a profitable 2MW wind turbine design with Samsung. Working for Dalian Huarui, we were able to design & test the first offshore wind-turbine gearbox for installation in Sinovel, China. To match this development, a new generation of software known as RomaxWIND has been created. With these achievements, we are confident that we will continue to grow in this new and highly relevant industry of the new millennium.

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