Authored by:
George Sivy

Director, N. American Operations Ghost Studio
Boulder, Colo.
Resources:

Ghost Studio
((303) 815-6511) is a product design, engineering, and manufacturing firm.
Edited by Leslie Gordon

Freeform modeling software is a voxel-based, haptically enabled 3D design program that lets users directly manipulate digital clay models on-screen. I discovered the program in 2000 while searching for software that would let me rapidly create and manipulate organic shapes. Our company, Ghost Studio, is now using Version 11, released in December 2010.

Ghost Studio provides product-development services for the toy and hobby trade. Our work often calls for the creation of 3D digital models of battlefield-game miniatures with complex shapes, textures, and fine surface details.

In 2000, animation software offered limited ways designers could manipulate organic shapes and traditional CAD software has never provided this capability. Another challenge was that our customers require models with high levels of surface detail and complex textures, and seamless parts from perfectly matched mold cavities.

Fortunately, Freeform fits the bill for us in many ways. For example, the models are compatible with a wide variety of downstream manufacturing programs. In addition, new team members can become commercially proficient using the software in about two weeks. Interactive documentation propels new users through the learning curve. Online tutorials demonstrate efficient modeling strategies. And, best of all, when you call for support, you can talk to helpful humans instead of machines!

Almost all new projects begin with three mandates: controlling costs is critical; precision is mandatory; and time is money. Freeform successfully addresses these concerns by giving us speed and creative freedom we otherwise wouldn’t have. Further, Freeform lets us work efficiently as a virtual office with our manufacturing partner’s Freeform department in China.

Freeform slashes the time it takes to design products and complete “preproduction” tasks because it lets users generate cleaner, more-accurate models that result in products consistently meeting high-quality standards.

Back in the days of the “hand-sculpt” and pantograph, an 8-in. detailed figure would sometimes take up to two weeks to model by hand and a third week of revisions and photos to obtain client approval.

Freeform has cut this time in half or more. The software’s preproduction analysis tools streamline the entire toolmaking process to under two weeks — a stark contrast to the eight to 12 weeks typically needed to generate a mold cavity using a pantograph workflow.

In fact, the preproduction analysis tools give modelers a high degree of design control over the finished product. This lightens the burden on downstream production engineers and ensures complex organic parts submitted by our designers are compatible with our unique manufacturing workflow.

Freeform also lets designers import digital objects, including their dimensional locations and relationships, and use them as starting points for “styling” iterations. The capability to make subtle as well as gross changes to a surface (or an entire shape) by simply pushing and pulling digital clay — instead of laboriously defining coordinates for each change — greatly accelerates creative exploration.

We can quickly scale models and perform sophisticated and complex deformations. For instance, when working with a multipiece model of a miniature medieval soldier with a detailed uniform and accessories, we can simultaneously reproportion the 3D shapes of all items at once without sacrificing resolution. Freeform provides never-fail shelling and includes tools that let us prepare models for rapid output or tooling.

An Analyze Fit feature lets users easily determine how closely two pieces of a model fit together by displaying color layers and providing interactive feedback regarding adjustments.

Freeform also lets designers quickly decide how a part is to be split (for tooling) and where the parting line will be. This determines the “pull” direction, which then triggers interactive utilities for analyzing and adjusting the draft — ensuring that subtle design details that are important to the integrity of the design and the quality of the finished piece can be accurately and cost-effectively produced. Once the direction of pull is established, it’s fast and simple to create part layouts in preparation for family molds.

Although I still would like to see the integration of a CAD “spaceball” into Freeform, each new upgrade is well worth the cost of software maintenance.

Freeform Plus Organic Design System for Manufacturing is from Sensable, 181 Ballardvale St., Wilmington, MA 01887, (781) 937-8315, www.sensable.com

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.