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Saving time in mold design

March 1, 2000

6 Min Read
Saving time in mold design

The push for reduced time-to-market from OEMs affects both part and mold designers. Many of the success stories concerning software, however, seem to focus on part design. Details from a recent interview with Tycos Tool & Die (Concord, ON) point out the time savings possible when mold designers make use of a hybrid CAD modeler, that is, one that offers both 2-D surfaces and 3-D solids.

Tycos is a leading automotive moldmaker with a 40-year history of specializing in fascia and large exterior body panel tools. The firm employs more than 200 people as a division of Magna International under the Decoma umbrella. In fact, a majority of its tools are built for Decoma. Ron Nesselberger, assistant general manager, and Ted Visser, design supervisor, tackle duties including engineering, program management, estimating, and customer service.

"Tycos designs and manufactures molds for virtually any type of exterior vehicle part including fenders, quarter panels, bumpers, door skins, cladding, and rocker panels for the automotive industry," says Nesselberger. "Typically, we receive CAD data from our customers, and the geometry originates from a myriad of CAD systems. Data is sent to us via IGES files."

Competitive Environment
It's no secret that automotive moldmaking is one of the most challenging industries today. For example, with the increasing importance of sleek exterior aesthetics and sexy styling, moldmakers such as Tycos face increasingly ambitious mold designs. Nesselberger notes, "We also must address complex parting lines and locking mechanisms in an effort to exceed customer expectations." Prior to beginning a new mold design, Tycos carefully scrutinizes moldfilling analysis to determine the needs of the molder. As a rule, the molder supplies this data, and the results of that analysis are applied to the mold design.

Like most moldmakers, Tycos faces design and fabrication issues including timing of the tools, costs, and flexibility. "In terms of flexibility," notes Nesselberger, "from the time that we receive the initial CAD information to the time that we export our design to manufacturing, we can realize several levels of changes. The design cycle time may not change, however, so we have to be flexible enough to modify our design or the part data and still meet the deadlines. The design changes can originate from the customer or from our end as we complete a feasibility of the data supplied."

Tycos aims for on-time delivery, cost-effectiveness, and design innovation, addressing each of those challenges individually. "Innovation is driven by a need," adds Nesselberger. "We always sit down with our customer and go through a process of open-ended questions to determine exactly what the needs of the program are, such as downstream process requirements, or paint and molding issues. Our in-house design team determines the solutions to eliminate or reduce the problems that the molder may have."

Some engineering challenges are part-driven and some are process-driven. Tycos also tackles a lot of feasibility and development work at the beginning of the program to make sure that the engineers clearly understand the goals of each project. Then, Nesselberger, Visser, and their team of moldmakers, mold designers, engineers, and machinists communicate those goals throughout the company so that Tycos can comprehensively meet the customer's design goals as well as the CNC machining goals in the final tool.

"We also benchmark all of our tools in production," Nesselberger says. "That's one of the advantages that we have over most of our large competitors. Because we are an internal entity to our customers, we have complete access to benchmark the tooling and its performance for the life of the program. That incentive generates a tremendous amount of continuous improvement toward durability and maintainability. In addition, we invest heavily in technology that will generate the best return for our company."

Hybrid Switch
Until 1994, Tycos engineers worked in a 2-D drafting environment. "We didn't use 3-D software before then because we didn't have a customer base that generated CAD geometry from which to cut tools," says Nesselberger. Six years ago, Tycos implemented a popular commercial 3-D solid modeling package and a CAM product. While the move brought some productivity gains, mold designers still wanted to be able to design in both solids and surfaces.

A hybrid CAD package (thinkdesign by think3) has given designers the best of both worlds. "The hybrid surface and solid modeling functionalities enable us to utilize the most effective tool design so we can combine both 2-D surfaces and 3-D solids instead of being restricted to one or the other. As a result, we can opt between whatever process is best suited for the condition that we are trying to design," Nesselberger reports.

Six engineers were trained to use the software within a few weeks, and are using the hybrid modeler on front and rear fascia designs. Plans are to train all of the mold designers. "We estimate that the switch saves us 15 percent in design time, and as all of our users get more comfortable, we are expecting a savings of 35 percent."

Tycos has been using a CAM system (HyperMill from Open Mind) that production operators chose for its performance. To speed productivity further, the CAM software is compatible with the hybrid modeler. There is no translation required downstream at the CNC machines.

Training takes a turnHow did Tycos get six engineers up and running on new CAD software in just a few weeks? At least part of the credit goes to an innovative, video-game-based tutorial that is shipped with every copy of thinkdesign. Called the Monkey Wrench Conspiracy, the CD is designed to get mechanical designers comfortable in no time.

"Games bring a level of entertainment and fun to the experience," says think3's Joe Costello, chairman and ceo. "Once you've captured the imagination, the mind is much more open to real learning. That's true for both children and grownups."

Like its training CD, think3 has taken a revolutionary approach to the CAD market. First, it is the only vendor offering its software on a yearly subscription basis at a price of $1995 (no ups, no extras), and the program can be purchased online. A lower price, however, doesn't mean lower performance. The thinkdesign product is a fully functional midrange CAD package based on a proprietary software kernel.

"Having our own kernel allows us to have a hybrid modeler in which users can simultaneously work in 2-D, solids, surfaces, and wireframe," says Andrea Nassisi of think3. "Not only can we take in geometry from 2-D, but the whole 2-D drawing becomes part of the 3-D database, including surface finish and annotations."

Being able to use older 2-D files in the new system is one of the features moldmaking customers require. "Our customer base has told us that other software suppliers that want them to migrate to 3-D are asking them to change their process overnight and throw out 2-D legacy data," says Nassisi. "We're committed to avoiding this pitfall."

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