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With CATIA’s Help, Blu Homes Makes the Earth Greener

by Bill Martin-Otto on 22 May, 2012 in CATIA


Can innovative design software save the prefabricated home industry? Dennis Michaud, vice president of product development at Blu Homes in Massachusetts, thinks so. He believes CATIA software’s expertise in the aerospace and automotive industries has paved the way for precise applications in the manufactured home building industry.

About ten years ago, prefabricated homes were hailed as the affordable route to esthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly homes. In the intervening years, however, the downward spiral in the housing market—as well as poor performance in the factories where modules were constructed—conspired to push prefabricated homes out of the spotlight.

Add to that one seemingly intractable problem: Factory-built housing modules need to be narrow for shipping but wide for living. Blu Homes came up with an innovative solution: Make foldable houses!

Michaud learned about CATIA while getting his degree at MIT. “Because of the kinematics we employ for folding our homes for shipping, our real challenge … is the need for a fairly abnormal level of precision compared to what the building industry is used to,” Michaud says. To overcome an 8.5-foot shipping width limitation, Blu Homes’ origami-like designs let the front half of a house slide into the back half for highway transportation. Avoiding clashes and obstructions requires extreme precision, which CATIA delivers.

Traditional site-built homes, where a carpenter can saw and shim, tolerate variances of up to .5 inches (1.27cm) from the original design. Blu Homes’ variances cannot exceed .00625 inches (0.15mm). CATIA is able to achieve this 87 percent increase in precision home design, while garden-variety architectural software, according to Michaud, simply cannot.

“Maybe there are other software tools that would have allowed us to design the individual sub-assemblies in isolation, but I believe CATIA is the only tool that allows us to design the house in its entirety in full precision,” Michaud says. “I can’t imagine how we would simulate our folding house designs in 2D CAD, for example.”

Watch the video below to see how Blu Homes are constructed:

Thanks to the precision afforded by CATIA, Blu Homes can ship more home per mile and save their customers thousands of dollars in shipping costs while reducing their own carbon footprint.

A Blu Homes owner benefits from CATIA’s precision in other ways, too. Because the Blu Home modules are airtight, heating and cooling costs are lower. In addition, designers can quickly evaluate the financial, design and ecological impact of using a wide array of different materials in CATIA. With new eco-friendly and lighter weight materials constantly coming to market, CATIA allows designers to substitute new and better materials on the fly. It also allows designers to help owners choose configurations that will minimize energy use.

Used in tandem with CATIA, Dessault Systèmes’ visualization tool 3DVIA lets Blu Homes owners virtually walk through various design configurations and choose tile, cabinets, paint, etc., right down to the smallest detail. Blu Homes’ online Configurator, built on the 3DVIA engine, even meshes with Google Earth, allowing owners to select the optimal site orientation of their homes in order to maximize (or minimize) sun exposure and prevailing breezes.

Blu Homes is gaining a lot of recognition in the green building industry. Their updated Sunset Breezehouse has been selected as the 2012 Sunset Magazine Idea House, an annual showcase of trends in construction, design and sustainability. The house will be accessible for public viewing this August, in Sonoma County, California. The area is becoming a profitable one for the homebuilder.

Being green, and using CATIA to facilitate that goal, makes financial sense for Blu Homes. The software garners performance gains not only in design tolerances, but also in every aspect of product management. For example, when changes are made in CATIA to a Blu Homes model, the software makes the engineering adjustments, calculates the cost, and sends the changes and a bill of materials to the machines and workers on the factory floor. To drive efficiency even further, Blu Homes has imminent plans to drive its automated NC (numerical control) machining directly from its CATIA models.

Will CATIA help Blu Homes ensure a bright future for prefabricated homes? Let us know what you think.

Image: Blu Homes.

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