aldowa > facade design Dassault Systèmes


Dutch facade designer and manufacturer Aldowa was tasked with engineering thousands of interior panels for the new Saint-Denis Pleyel metro station, a key transport hub, part of Grand Paris Express project. Aldowa combined its expertise with 3DEXPERIENCE to automate the design of almost 6,000 facade panels.

Facade design goes digital for Grand Paris Express metro station

Set to be the main host station for a major sport event that will be held in Paris in 2024, Saint-Denis Pleyel is part of the impressive Grand Paris Express (GPE) transport project, connecting new neighborhoods to the French capital city by rail. When complete, it will be one of the busiest and largest stations in the metropolitan area. It will accommodate four metro lines more than 28 meters deep underground. Composed of nine floors including four underground, this structure is one of the most complex due to its proximity to urban centers – Paris, Saint-Ouen, Saint-Denis – and its multimodal aspect.

Dutch company Aldowa is responsible for Saint-Denis Pleyel’s impressive interior facade. It has taken on the challenge of engineering, manufacturing and installing almost 8,000 square meters of stainless steel and enamel panels, as well as the entire associated infrastructure.

The facade manufacturer has built a strong reputation on its ability to make the wildest ideas concrete and workable, so is used to taking on big projects. Yet Aldowa recognizes that the scope and scale of new developments such as Saint-Denis Pleyel is only growing. This complexity has steered it to adopt a new integrated design approach and invest in the digital capabilities, such as generative design and construction, to match, powered by the 3DEXPERIENCE® platform on cloud.

“The industry is definitely becoming more ambitious,” said Misja van Hattum, responsible for innovation and engineering at Aldowa. “Generally speaking, larger and taller buildings require different ways of working and more prefabrication and preparation offsite instead of traditional on-site installation. As a company, it means we are doing different kinds of projects with a greater degree of complexity and that’s why we’ve chosen to work with 3DEXPERIENCE.”

Saint-Denis Pleyel emblematic Paris train station designed by Kengo Kuma (© Kengo Kuma & Associates - L’autre image)

Modeling thousands of panels at speed

As soon as Aldowa took on Saint-Denis Pleyel, it knew it needed to find more efficient and flexible ways of working. The company had to deliver a full building model, manufacture all the facade panels and install them well ahead of the 2024 Olympic deadline. That, combined with the scale of the project, encouraged it to develop a generative design tool that could automatically create the structure and associated fixing system for almost 6,000 facade panels, of which 1,000 are unique, and handle any design changes as efficiently as possible.

“We already felt for some of our projects that their innate complexity and degree of repetition required us to work in a different way,” Van Hattum said. “This project was the perfect opportunity to apply a more automated approach.”

Aldowa was already a long-term user of Dassault Systèmes’ SOLIDWORKS design software, which provided all the capabilities it needed for the projects it had worked on over the years. Building on this, the company looked into the possibility of using the 3DEXPERIENCE platform and realized it would be an ideal fit.

“CATIA has long been used by architects to create amazing buildings, but I never considered it an option for us before because I thought the transition would be too complicated,” Van Hattum said. “The thing that made the difference was the 3DEXPERIENCE platform on cloud. It allowed us to continue using SOLIDWORKS and switch to 3DEXPERIENCE CATIA when necessary for more advanced facade projects like Saint-Denis Pleyel that required a greater level of automation. All data is compatible and accessible in the same environment.”

For this project, Aldowa partnered with the CATIA Hub, a team of design experts at Dassault Systèmes in Canada, to put in place a new methodology based on a productization concept. The aim was to develop generative facade modules that included facade knowledge and know how within CATIA, making it possible to automatically design parametric panel models and all related assembly and fabrication drawings.

Aldowa is using 3DEXPERIENCE CATIA to design almost 6,000 facade panels in an automated way.

Over the following months, the Dassault Systèmes and Aldowa teams worked closely together on the solution. This Virtual Twin as a Service approach involved developing the software to generate the panels and building structure with ongoing consultations and support to ensure it met Aldowa’s needs. The resulting feature in CATIA allows Aldowa engineers to select the walls they want to generate, define the type of wall, calculate the geometries and automatically apply the associated structural elements according to the panel’s location within the station. Functionalities were also added to give users the flexibility to add and modify certain elements such as rails or fasteners without designing each panel from scratch.

“Seeing what the experts at Dassault Systèmes could do with this technology was really inspiring,” Van Hattum said. “It made our team eager to explore the possibilities the 3DEXPERIENCE platform has to offer.”

Critically, the partnership enabled Aldowa to tap into Dassault Systèmes’ expertise and resource rather than creating custom software itself. This meant it could continue working efficiently and knew it would end up with a solution tailored to its specific requirements and would support it to meet key criteria for the Saint-Denis Pleyel project on time.

“It allowed us to hit our client’s deadlines and work even faster than originally planned,” Van Hattum said. “With CATIA, we could spend less time modelling and modifying individual components and deliver designs earlier in the process. Without it, we would not otherwise have been able to do this within the set timeframe.”

The thing that made the difference was the 3DEXPERIENCE platform on cloud. It allowed us to continue using SOLIDWORKS and switch to 3DEXPERIENCE CATIA when necessary for more advanced facade projects like Saint-Denis Pleyel that required a greater level of automation. All data is compatible and accessible in the same environment.

Aldowa Misja Van Hattum portrait > facade design Dassault Systèmes
Misja van Hattum
Innovation and Engineering, Aldowa

Switching emails for a collaboration platform

Working in the cloud has presented many benefits to Aldowa, including the ability to add new capabilities when required.

“What really interested me was that we have all the tools within the same environment, and can add extra functionality to it, for the engineering part, but also for other disciplines such as logistics,” Van Hattum said.

Yet even Van Hattum underestimated how transformative the 3DEXPERIENCE platform on cloud would be. In particular, the seamless exchanges between Aldowa’s team in the Netherlands and the Dassault Systèmes team in Canada was only possible because they could all model, test and validate designs and make changes in the same online environment. Both teams collaborated solely on the cloud, using the platform’s communication channel, called the IFWE Loop, instead of email. This made it easier to track changes, avoid report clashes and maintain an accurate list of requirements at all times. Through the 3DEXPERIENCE internal social network called 3DSwym, they also had access to Dassault Systèmes’ R&D support and the wider community, which guided them in the event of technical difficulties and ensured any fixes or improvements could be made rapidly.

“I wasn’t aware of how much the cloud would help us,” Van Hattum said. “It made the distance between our teams feel a lot smaller. We moved away from storing files in local servers and instead used the IFWE Loop to share models, ask questions and post anything that was worth sharing. We had never worked like this before, but it proved to be very effective.”

Embracing the digital shift in construction

Today, all of Aldowa’s data related to the Saint-Denis Pleyel project is managed within the 3DEXPERIENCE platform on cloud, ensuring full traceability at every stage of the development process. This helps to avoid data duplication, version errors and ensures effective information sharing with the general contractor and architect.

“With the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, we have been able to create a virtual twin of the station that we can continually add more information and detail to as the project progresses,” Van Hattum concluded. “Having a model as detailed as this allows us to detect issues before manufacturing and installation. We have always believed that using only one model is the best way forward and will save everyone time in the long run. Knowing what we can achieve with the 3DEXPERIENCE platform certainly makes us want to use this kind of technology even more in the future.”

aldowa logo > facade design Dassault Systèmes

Focus on Aldowa

Based in the Netherlands, Aldowa combines technical know-how with a creative team spirit to constantly push the boundaries of technology, material and architecture. Founded in 1978, the company has grown into a major supplier of facade products and is a total supplier to the construction industry.

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