Concept to reality at Warp Speed Phase


Design and prototyping service bureaus step up to the challenge facing molders and OEMs today - cost-effectively creating new products at a lightning-fast pace to capture market share and ensure success.


Besides death and taxes, life offers one more sure thing - change. Few enterprises reflect this fact more accurately than companies offering rapid product design and development services. IMM recently visited several major product design and development powerhouses to learn when and why it makes sense to outsource these kinds of tasks. For this first installment, we toured a relatively new facility constructed by Compression Inc. in Eau Claire, WI, one that mirrors its five other product development centers around the country.

Formed four years ago, Compression was the original brainchild of Todd Ray, Darrell Pufahl, Bob Leasure, and Will Verity, now the company's chairman. Its motto, carpe diem (seize the day), embodies its mission - to dramatically compress time to market while helping optimize product design. Verity believes the trend toward this particular type of outsourcing, fully evident in the automotive industry, is the wave of the future for other major markets as well. "Lean design staffs coupled with an ever-increasing pressure to get products to market faster are a reality in medical, consumer, information technology, and a host of other industries," he says.

Compression is not process-specific; however, its people have a fairly extensive background in molded plastics. A majority of its business involves injection molding, and customers include both OEMs and custom molders.

How does this group take time out of the product development cycle? For one, engineers at Eau Claire rely on CAD/

CAM/CAE tools, working from a single database for design, optimization, rapid prototyping, and tooling. Using one set of data from concept through production minimizes time, error potential, and costs, according to design engineer Tim Edwards. "And in addition to technology, we rely on each other. One of the best tools I have is the ability to quickly check de-signs with our toolmakers and molding experts, then incorporate that knowledge up front into the CAD model," Edwards says.

Another key to speed is flexibility. "Our philosophy is to provide whatever service or combination of services a customer needs, from CAD and prototyping through CAM and tooling, rather than selling a set package," says Pete Koenig, director of the Eau Claire center. When it comes to rapid prototyping, that means offering any and all of the currently available methods (see story below). Across all six product development center locations, equipment is electronically networked so that jobs can be routed as capacity warrants. Several RP machines are configured to run specific materials. When Compression gets an order for a prototype in ABS, for example, operators route the STL file directly to equipment running ABS, saving additional setup time. At the Eau Claire facility, roughly half of the manufacturing floor space is devoted to prototyping.

On the other side of the shop floor, four CAM programmers using Cimatron software translate the molded part design into cutter paths to create tools. In addition to prototype tooling, the Eau Claire facility produces aluminum and steel production tools, many of which are inserts for either a standard MUD frame or an in-house mold base. Customers typically purchase production tools and MUD inserts for high-volume production runs, Koenig says. Molders who aren't geared for low volumes often find it more cost-effective to outsource these runs to Compression, which retains the in-house inserts.

Compression plans to open an R&D center this June within its facility in Irvine, CA, according to Todd Ray, vice president of technology. "We want to centralize this function, to be able to integrate technologies, evaluate new and future methods of producing RP tools, and work on specific customer issues," Ray says.


Facts and figures

Compression Inc. began as a one-person operation a little more than four years ago. Current stats on the privately held company indicate a growth explosion in that time.

Locations. Six product development centers (Indianapolis; Atlanta; St. Louis; Eau Claire, WI; Irvine, CA; Shelton, CT) and six service centers (Detroit; Chicago; Seattle; Miami; Orlando; Austin, TX)

Software. Primary CAE: Pro/E (60+ seats), Pro/Mechanica, Pro/CDRS, Ansys, Moldflow, C-Mold, Alias, Cosmos/M, Surfacer; Secondary CAE - Unigraphics, Autocad, Cadkey, I-deas, Catia. Primary CAM: Cimatron, MasterCAM, Catia

Hardware. 70+ SGI workstations

RP equipment. SLS machines, SLA machines, fused deposition modeling, CIRP, urethane casting, CNC machining

Tooling production. QC-7 aluminum, P20 steel, and RTV silicone tools

Toolmaking equipment. CNC machining centers, EDM machining, grinders

Molding equipment. Van Dorns - 85, 170, and 230 ton

Website. www.carpediem.com


Prototypes this weekend, molded parts a week later

Harman-Motive (Martinsville, IN) designs and manufactures automotive audio systems for JBL, Infinity, and Harman-Kardon brand names. It has also been a customer of Compression Inc. since its inception.

When Harman acquired BMW as a customer, its first project included highly aggressive timetables. How aggressive? "We delivered STL files for five parts to Compression early Friday afternoon," says Ernie Latham-Brown, director of mechanical engineering at Harman-Motive, "and we needed functional prototypes for BMW engineers to approve by Monday at 9 a.m."

Harman electronically delivered solid models of speaker enclosure parts to Compression on Friday.

Using SLS equipment, Compression spent roughly 30 hours generating prototypes and 40 hours on design review, setup, inspection, and finishing. All five parts were delivered to Harman prior to the deadline.

By 9 a.m. Monday, Compression delivered SLS prototypes, less than 70 hours from receipt of the solid model files.

Next on the agenda, Harman needed its first batch of molded parts (seven components this time) in a week. Compression relied on several resources to pull this off. First, designers used computer-aided verification and tool building software. Second, parts were designed with drafts, tapers, and shutoffs for easier transition to tooling. And third, Harman supplied only six critical dimensions to reduce tool building time. "Because of our long-term working relationship," says Latham-Brown, "we know which information will help speed the tooling process and guarantee a higher quality mold."

Checking the design via finite-element analysis verified that the PC/ABS material chosen could withstand structural requirements.

Harman sent 30 tool design databases to Compression covering molds for seven parts. Using QC-7, Compression produced the tools and sent the first molded parts out in one week, then molded about 150 parts for BMW's preliminary verification and assembly.

Compression machined eight aluminum molds and produced 60 speaker enclosures. Harman estimates that outsourcing saved six weeks in product develop-ment time.

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