Bicycle manufacturer Trek Bicycle Corp., Waterloo, Wis., relied on service bureaus to create physical 3D models of bicycle components. The company also prototyped tooling mockups and accessories such as shoes and helmets. It sometimes took a bureau several days and a lot of paperwork to create a model. Now the company has moved prototyping in-house and generates parts in just hours via a Connex50 3D printer from Objet Geometries Ltd., Billerica, Mass.

“The machine is clean and office friendly,” says Manager of Trek’s Prototype Development Group Mike Zeigle. “And it produces parts that rival those made with SLA in terms of quality and finish. But the biggest advantage is that the machine — unlike other technologies — can print parts and assemblies made of multiple materials, with different mechanical or physical properties, all in a single build.”

Parts produced on the Connex have fine details and a smooth and durable surface. The machine can print so-called “living hinges,” soft-touch parts, and overmolds. Printed parts closely emulate the look, feel, and function of a wide variety of end products.

Most recently, the machine played a key role in the company’s launch of its new Speed Concept 9 Series bike — a time-trial bike used in the Tour de France and Iron Man Hawaii. The frame design features aerodynamic cross sections that lower wind resistance and improve speed. Almost every part of the new design was prototyped on the Connex and then shipped from Trek in Wisconsin to a California wind-tunnel-testing facility, where sample frames were tested at wind speeds of 30 mph or more.

“The designers had several ideas for the aerodynamic features and wanted to see the impact on wind resistance,” says Zeigle. “We printed multiple parts on the Connex that the designers could snap onto the bike frame and then test in the wind tunnel.” The team even 3D-printed durable accessories such as water bottles and bento boxes to make testing conditions more realistic.

“That we could print multiple iterations quickly let us experiment more while still making the deadline,” says Zeigle.

The operator of Trek’s Connex printer, Lupe Ollarzabal, says that having the machine in-house has boosted the company’s productivity. “The Connex let us get a new product to market quicker and get a better product to market on time,” he says. “The machine, thereby, provides a win-win for us and our customers.”

Trek’s designers now find themselves prototyping a lot more frequently. “Most of the prototypes we create are things we never would have prototyped before,” says Zeigle. “When we outsourced or had to rely on our in-house milling operation, it was just too costly and time consuming to do a lot of prototyping. The Connex has also helped us significantly reduce tooling mistakes that can add weeks or months to a product launch.”

In other news ...

Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corp. n!Fuze lets small teams collaborate on designs

Available this June, the Web-based SolidWorks n!Fuze lets users collaborate on designs with engineers and designers inside and outside of their organization. The program targets smaller companies that lack a formal PDM or PLM system or that have limited IT resources. The software ensures that versions are managed properly and it makes sure that comments are not lost in a discussion thread.

As an add-in to SolidWorks software, n!Fuze provides a window in the software from which users can drop or drag files. In another approach, users can simply view designs or post non-CAD files with the n!Fuze Web client. Lastly, users can view and comment on CAD data using n!Fuze mobile-device apps. The add-in the Web client supports Microsoft Windows. n!Fuze apps will work on the iPhone, iPad, and other mobile devices in the future. The Web and mobile versions let non-CAD users see and interact with design files and collaborate as well. The program will be available through the online 3DS App Store.

Software simulates plastic injection molding

Autodesk Inc. Moldflow 2012 software provides plastic-injection- molding simulation tools for validating and optimizing plastic parts, injection molds, and the injection-molding process. The software thereby helps CAE analysts, designers, engineers, and moldmakers see, communicate, and solve potential manufacturing problems early on.

The program provides real-time molding simulation. The software can dynamically evaluate a range of plastic- part designs in significantly less time than it takes to perform a standard simulation. Moldflow even makes suggestions on how to resolve molding problems. A results viewer lets nonusers visualize, quantify, and compare simulation results.

Enhancements and new capabilities include: Simulating the filling and packing phases of injection molding; calculating the orientation of short and long-glass fibers; and determining the temperature variation in a mold. Moldflow 2012 can import and mesh solid geometry from Parasolid-based CAD systems, Inventor, Catia V5, Pro/Engineer, and SolidWorks, as well as IGES, SAT, and STEP.

Breaking barriers to product development

By Mike Campbell | Divisional Vice President Creo Product Development, PTC | Needham, Mass.

Many users indicate they are still leery of learning and implementing 3D CAD because it is too difficult to learn.

But CAD should be as easy to use as other productivity tools such as PowerPoint or Excel so everyone on the product team can contribute. In developing Creo, PTC broke down the main barriers keeping many stakeholders from feeling comfortable about jumping on the 3D CAD bandwagon:

Usability. This concept goes well beyond simple user interface improvements. Many CAD companies talk about their products as having an ease-of-use advantage. In reality, all mainstream CAD packages take at least a week for new users to come up to speed. Plus, new users must use the software consistently to remain productive. What’s needed is a design process that includes both mainstream CAD jockeys and casual users, such as project managers, marketing managers, or application engineers out in the field. In other words, providing customers the right tool for the right user at the right time gives everyone in the organization the opportunity to participate in the product-development process.

Interoperability. The lack of interoperability between modeling approaches and even within 3D parametric programs sometimes makes it difficult to use different tools of choice for various tasks. It also makes it hard to work with suppliers and other parties in a value chain using multiple CAD systems. Interoperability issues often force companies to standardize on a single system not necessarily optimal for all users. CAD systems should challenge this model and deliver interoperability between programs that lets data flow back and forth seamlessly. Data created in any mode, whether it is 2D, 3D direct, or 3D parametric, must be fully accessible and reusable in any other mode. Users can then work with their own or another user’s data in the approach of choice.

Assembly management. For designing relatively simple products with few variants, a pure CAD-based assembly modeling approach is sufficient. For more-complexproducts that may have many hundreds or even thousands of configurations, a CAD-based assembly approach may not be scalable or feasible. In these cases, a PLM-based approach is required. Today there is no deep connection between the PLM system and CAD-based assembly modeling. This limits PLM’s impact on the creation, validation, and downstream use of highly configurable, serial-number-specific product designs. CAD-based modeling needs an intelligent assembly kernel that will make CAD assemblies as dynamic as the real-world products they are trying to model. This capability will give teams the power and scalability to create, validate, and reuse information for highly configurable products.

Technology lock-in. Many users feel trapped by legacy tools. The inability to easily translate data between systems makes it difficult to retire old tools and migrate to a new technology, application, or vendor. The result is that companies either incur high switching costs or settle for limited innovation with legacy tools. CAD software needs to remove these constraints and let users incorporate data from any CAD system, unlocking multi-CAD design efficiency and value.

The CAD market is ready for a scalable suite of right-sized, interoperable, integrated design applications that span the entire spectrum of product development. Solving these design software problems will help companies unlock their potential by unleashing creativity, facilitating teamwork, increasing efficiency, and, ultimately, realizing value.

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.