It used to take from 90 to 120 days to move from design to manufactured part for a typical toy, but one company has found a way to manufacture their character figures in "far less time and achieve levels of detail that were difficult if not impossible to obtain in the past." The new miniature character figures from Wyrd (pronounced 'weird') Miniatures debuted at the recent Gen Con, touted as the world's largest gaming show and featured miniatures for its hit character skirmish game "Malifaux".
Wyrd and its product design firm, Ghost Studio, relied on the Freeform 3D modeling from Geomagic to digitally sculpt 40 miniatures for six new box sets. They then used the digital designs as the basis of a streamlined digital manufacturing process that moves from art to production tooling via STL milling. People familiar with stereolithography in additive manufacturing might be familiar with STL, which uses triangular facets that are able to represent just about any freeform shape.
STL allows for the creation of the "intense detail" of the micro-features of these characters, which typifies the value of digital sculpting that drives better quality products in an advanced all-digital manufacturing workflow using Geomagic. Geomagic says it differs from CAD in that it offers specific products to create 3D content from imaging the real world and real people, while also verifying dimensional quality by comparing a master design to as-built products, and simulating touch sensations in digital environments.
The move to digital sculpting with Geomagic's Freeform 3D modeling software allowed Wyrd to deliver "exceptional detail that was previously not possible to achieve in metal figurines - detail that exactly reproduces and in some cases exceeds the detail in the original line art, even for intricately detailed miniatures such as Hungering Darkness and the windswept Miss Terious."
No-flash family molds
Digital sculpting with Freeform also allowed Wyrd to get to market at least one-third faster and produce the miniatures in plastic, avoiding the approximately 80% increase in the cost of white metal over the past two years. The Freeform 3D design file now serves as the foundation of a streamlined and far more accurate plastic injection manufacturing process. Details are crisper, surface finishes are smoother, and the plastic allows better paint adherence. The precision fit of the molds' core/cavity parting lines all but eliminates the parting line flash that typically appears after molding.
The molds are family molds in which all the parts needed to build the character are on a single runner, explained George Sivy, a principle with Ghost Studio, the product design firm that did the production workflow for Wyrd Miniatures, in an interview with PlasticsToday. "We use 4x6 runner configurations or 8x6 runner configurations, and maintain consistency in the runner size to facilitate packaging. These figures within a 6x8 runner configuration typically contain figurines for the Malifaux line. Others we've done have as many as 12 figurines on a runner because the figures are smaller."
Razor-sharp parting lines
As most mold manufacturers know, family molds can be tricky to fill, but Sivy noted that the company has the ability to regulate how these cavities fill, to the extent that they can eliminate shrink, swirls and flash. "That literally took us a few years of experimenting with software programs to address the various downstream processes," he said. "We digitally create the mold splits to give us a razor-sharp edge in how they match up. These sharp parting lines eliminate flash."
Ghost Studio has invested a lot of effort and energy in engineering and fabricating the molds for Wyrd Miniatures. They've developed a means of fixturing these inserts in the CNC machines to allow for precision machining of the cores and cavities.
"For example, one part needed to be altered significantly, but because we've achieved this level of precision, we can weld up cavity that was wrong, mount it on the fixture in the milling machine, and re-cut the cavity without skipping a beat," Sivy said. "It's nothing magical, but the degree of refinement that has been accomplished means that each step of the process is totally under our control. We've done some pretty incredible stuff."
Today, using Geomagic's Freeform, Wyrd is moving from design to finished parts for five characters on one sprue in near-record time.
"It's exciting to see how freeform and talented designers are pushing the limits of detail, in ever smaller and smaller formats. Even more compelling is the savings in time that Wyrd Miniatures' work with Ghost Studio was able to realize, by creating molds directly from Freeform's digital files," said Joan Lockhart, vice president of marketing for Geomagic.
Wyrd has been able to streamline the process at the warehouse for inspection and quality control, and also realizes cost savings in shipping since the plastic figures - molded using HIPS with some sections molded from ABS - weigh less than the metal products.
$1 billion dollar fantasy industry
With an estimated $1 billion worldwide market for fantasy "war games" - where hobbyists assemble and paint miniatures and then play battle games with friends and in tournaments - character detail can make the difference between a game's appeal alongside other boxed sets.
"Characters are the soul of the game, which is why we call Malifaux a character-based game. Ghost Studio has helped us bring our characters to life, with detail and dynamic poses that weren't possible for us before," said Nathan Caroland, co-owner of Wyrd Miniatures, based in Kennesaw, GA. "The digital sculpting done with Freeform, when paired with the capabilities of plastic, lets us create miniatures that closely match the details and animation of the original artwork, making our miniatures stand out. Our customers are excited about the new poses and the intricacies of our new releases, and we hope that we're raising the bar for all miniatures by focusing on quality through Freeform."