Autodesk Grant Powers Biodiesel Initiative

Springboard Biodiesel moves from SolidWorks to Autodesk Inventor to design new Intelligent Local Production biodiesel processor.

April 2, 2010—When Springboard Biodiesel CEO Mark Roberts heard about the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program, two things came to mind. First, he thought his company, a manufacturer of small-scale biodiesel processing systems with a new product in the works, was a natural fit for the Autodesk program that provides software grants to emerging clean tech companies in North America. Second, he remembered that his company’s license fees for SolidWorks were up for renewal.

“I was swayed immediately by the idea of the grant,” recalls Roberts. “But the guys who would be using the software needed to agree that moving from SolidWorks to Inventor would be the right thing to do.” So the engineering staff conducted trials, using a web-based test drive version of Autodesk Inventor. “As a group we decided we could make the switch. We found the two products to have comparable functionality, and that in some situations Inventor offered better functionality.”

springboard biodiesel plant
A virtual prototype of the Intelligent Local Production biodiesel plant using Autodesk Inventor and Autodesk Showcase.

Springboard Biodiesel, based in Chico, California, manufacturers equipment for the small-scale production of ASTM D-6751 compliant biodiesel (suitable for all diesel engines). Their current line can process up to 400,000 gallons of biodiesel per year; the majority of customers are making 20,000 gallons or less per year. The company has been working on a new type of biodiesel processing plant, which it calls the Springboard Biodiesel Intelligent Local Production (ILP) processor. The ILP will enable users to choose a broad array of feed stocks. “In the biodiesel industry today, most turn soybean oil to diesel,” says Roberts. “But soybean oil costs more than diesel.” Springboard Biodiesel believes that the best way to provide biodiesel economically and support its proliferation is by enabling local, profitable production from the least expensive feed stocks. The ILP addresses this challenge by providing the means for small-scale, local production of fuel-grade biodiesel from a broad spectrum of sources—everything from low-quality, used cooking oil to high-quality, virgin soybean oil.

Using Inventor “allowed us to more efficiently collaborate and design the new componentry for the ILP,” Roberts says. “We are designing new components, not building from off-the-shelf parts.” Roberts says the Autodesk digital prototyping approach has helped the company move through the design process faster, in part because they “haven’t fabricated something that might have an error in it.” The company is also using AutoCAD Electrical “broadly for electrical schematics.” Roberts says “it wasn’t that hard” for his team to get up to speed on Autodesk Electrical; “there was no need to learn a new language, so to speak.”

“My focus is: how quickly can we get out there in the marketplace with the best product, and what’s going to help us do that?” said Roberts. “That’s where Inventor has been very helpful. We are able to design more effectively, more efficiently and just plain faster with Inventor. We can introduce a brand-new system, from start to finish, in just six months—which is pretty impressive for a small company.”

Springboard is also starting to use Autodesk Showcase, to market the forthcoming ILP. “We can render what the ILP will look like, and even create a movie, before there is a physical system fabricated. Showcase has been very helpful for trying to gather early interest among potential buyers.”

The first ILP will be ready by July, and will be set up at Springboard Biodiesel headquarters. It will be used to show customers the product’s possibilities and capabilities. ILP systems will then be manufactured to order. “We will have a pretty nifty biodiesel plant and be able to show potential customers how they can replicate its capabilities.”

The goal is local production of biodiesel, next to a soybean farm or a rendering plant with extra grease, or a canola farm, etc. “The ILP can match supply and demand” notes Roberts. §