Getting to know… Tarpaulin Configurators with Planen Planen

April 19, 2021 by Ezequiel López

Join us as we interview the team behind the Planen Planen online configurator. Christian Stegmaier, Simon Vorhammer, and Amlis Botsch share the story behind this application revolutionizing the purchasing and manufacturing process of trailer tarpaulins by combining a web 3D configurator and CNC machines.

Planen Planen uses ShapeDiver to create a web-based B2B configurator for the digital fabrication of car trailer tarpaulins. It was created as a joint effort between Stegmaier Textile Solutions and Vorhammer Computational Design.

The company Stegmaier Textile Solutions produces trailer tarpaulins using CNC-controlled machines. Every order required them around 25 minutes to process as there were a lot of individual factors to design and take into account. With Planen Planen, this processing time has been reduced to orders as fast as 1 minute, creating a highly capable and effective system in the trailer tarpaulin world. Combining Grasshopper with multiple tools, Planen Planen created an easy-to-use interface that anyone can understand and is capable to export production-ready files.

Planen Planen started as a tool developed to optimize in-house manufacturing processes, but was later launched as a convenient on-demand solution for competitors and essentially anyone in the trailer tarpaulin business to use it as a selling and optimization tool.

We interviewed the Planen Planen team to learn more about this project, how it was built, and how it's becoming a game-changer in the tarpaulin marketplace. If you ever wondered what goes behind-the-scenes when creating a world-class online configurator powered by Grasshopper and ShapeDiver, then this is it.

Check out the complete interview and the transcript to some of the best questions below.

Hello everyone, thank you for joining us today. Why don't you tell us a bit about Planen Planen?

Christian: "Planen Planen is a configurator for tarpaulin covers of trailers. This is a quite complex product in terms of production because every piece is tailor-made to fit the different sizes of the customer's trailers and to fit the customer's needs regarding, for example, the closure details.

There are a lot of parameters to choose from and that's why we decided to go for an online configurator. We are producers of these covers and before we started with this project, everything was done by hand. The target of this project was to get a ready-to-cut file so that we can automate the whole process.

The first idea was to optimize our process in-house, but the second idea was to open this as a service on demand for our competitors since they faced the same problems."

Before this configurator, how long did it take you to process a single order?

Christian: "The process to provide all the data for the fabrication took us, let's say, 25 minutes for every single client now it takes us just one minute, and then we are ready for production.

The real trigger was the chance to open this to our competitors and the C customers. So at the moment, we are not at the stage to get our c customers on this platform but this is the next stage of development."

Did you already have ShapeDiver and Grasshopper in mind?

Simon: "We knew of the possibilities to use ShapeDiver combined with Rhino and Grasshopper to convert this into an online configurator. We did this very soon, however, we first started developing it as a pure offline tool using Rhino and Grasshopper and Human UI for the user interface.

So we didn't want to let Chris use the Grasshopper file itself because there were so many parameters and also you can't really do dependencies between parameter inputs so we had to build a custom user interface.

I've been using Grasshopper for some time, it used to be called "Explicit History" when I started using it, so I think that must have been like 12 years ago. So there really is no alternative to it in terms of flexibility. It's really a set of very flexible tools that allow you to do anything."

Can you tell us a little bit about how the Grasshopper file is set up?

Simon: "Everything you see in our Grasshopper file is separated into sections. We have a 3D section and a 2D section that we use to draw the geometry. But everything you see on screen is not the same geometry we use for .dfx output and .pdf output."

What were the main challenges when developing the Planen Planen Grasshopper file?

Simon: "There were a few. Number one challenge, for sure, was performance. These trailers look very simple at first, they have a very simple geometry. But in combination with all the different closure types, roof geometry materials, folds, double folds, the way it unfolds for cutting, and the way it nests in the material generates a lot of complexity. So yeah, performance was a big challenge.

For example, for all the 3D stuff we started generating in grasshopper, we started experimenting and watching the ShapeDiver tutorial videos on how to improve performance. But then we switched to external meshes that were transformed through the shape of other components and then we learned that we could even improve performance by loading the geometry, like the static geometry, only at the beginning, and then let all the other transformations be handled by the API."

What languages did you use in this configurator?

Amlis: "The configurator itself it's all client-sided so we're using java and HTML for prototyping. We also stuck to jQuery because had in mind that in the long run, in order to implement it into some web platform, like WooCommerce, that already included jQuery we'd need it. But all in all, we started from scratch since there is no real framework that would help us here we have this. Thankfully the nice API ShapeDiver provides brings a lot of functions and methods to interact with the model. It kinda started on a small scale and then grew because, as we mentioned, it's a very simple product but with a lot of sophisticated independencies and a huge amount of details."

What files are you exporting from this configurator?

Amlis: "After the design and production phase the output will be a small archive including a PDF of both the assembly plan and the plan where we include all the dimensions. For the CNC machine, this will also include a DXF file that gets sent directly through email."

What has been the response of your early users and early clients?

Christian: "Clients are usually small companies. And these small companies have a big problem, they have no time. So they need to save time, that's why they like to use it. The second thing is, if you look at the configurator, it's clean and fantastic, with a focus on the product, and with the parameters in a very logical order. So it is so simple to use it as a customer, and that has been the response overall."

This has been great! It's always great to see a team that uses Grasshopper and all the knowledge that you've learned, and create an online application that can serve as an inspiration. Thank you very much for joining us today.

Christian: "Thank you very much for having us as well."

Would you like to see the Planen Planen configurator for yourself?

Check out the Planen Planen in action!

That’s it for our new edition of >>Getting to know..<< Don’t forget to visit to learn about more projects.

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