CAD Steps in for Consumer Product Design

We love case studies here on EngineersRule. They provide a great way of showing the public what can be achieved with CAD software.

But we tend to look at high-end or experimental projects on this website. In the past, we have looked at space technology, flying cars, jetpacks—things that tend to be out of the price range of most mortals.

So, in this article, we are going to take a look at a few success stories from more common, down-to-earth companies that have been using SOLIDWORKS to design and manufacture products that are more tangible and familiar, with the hope that the next time you come into contact with one of these items, you will have a greater appreciation of how the product was designed.

Leatherman Tool Group

If there is one item you absolutely need if you ever become stranded on a desert island or find yourself facing a zombie invasion, it’s the Leatherman multitool.

Founded in Portland, Oregon, in 1983 by mechanical engineer Tim Leatherman and his business partner Steve Berliner, the company has since grown to become the leading manufacturer of multitools in the world, having sold over 37 million  units since its founding.

Of course, in the old days, CAD systems were few and far between, as were the computers capable of running them.

So the multitool’s prototype, dubbed “Mr. Crunch,” was designed the traditional way—on a drawing board with pencils and a straight edge. You can see the tool’s prototype in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Mr. Crunch prototype. (Image courtesy of Leatherman.)

You will notice that the prototype is manufactured from sheet metal forming processes. The main body of the tool is basically just a piece of metal that is bent into shape. As the company grew, item braced technology and initially made use of the 2D CAD solutions that were available at the time.

But then as the company’s product range grew, and as the products evolved into more complicated forms, Leatherman decided to investigate what 3D CAD had to offer.

“Our product designs require greater use of organic shapes with more curves instead of just square, sheetmetal parts,” said Leatherman CAD manager C.J. Goodrich. “With our previous CAD package, we had neither the capabilities to model intricate shapes requiring 3D splines and curves, nor the complex surfaces required to develop innovative designs.”

So after Leatherman trialed several different 3D products in 2005, SOLIDWORKS emerged as the company’s clear choice.

You can see how SOLIDWORKS allows for the design of organic assemblies in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Assembly mode. (Image courtesy of Leatherman.)

Of course, given the sturdy and rugged nature of the tools it produces, Leatherman makes use of finite element analysis within SOLIDWORKS Simulation to ensure that its tools are capable of sustaining loads when they are applied. And having doubled its annual design output since it adopted SOLIDWORKS, the company has found a new friend with SOLIDWORKS Workgroup PDM, which enables more efficient management of the product lifecycle.

“SOLIDWORKS Workgroup PDM has really opened our eyes to improvements in our manufacturing processes,” said Goodrich. “It allows us to add manufacturing into the process earlier. Plus, we are having great success in using SOLIDWORKS software as the foundation for instituting lean manufacturing methodologies that cut out waste and redundancy during interactions between Design Engineering and Manufacturing.”

Thanks to SOLIDWORKS, Leatherman was able to increase the number of new products it produces annually by 100 percent, as well as reduce product development cycles by 33 percent.

Fender Musical Instruments Corporation

Is there a more iconic music instrument that defined 20th century music than the Fender Stratocaster? We doubt it…but if you can think of one, then let us know in the comments.

When Leo Fender and his pals designed the legendary Stratocaster back in 1954, they had no concept of CAD. As with Leatherman’s products, Fender’s early variants were designed on paper.

As the company moved into the 1980s, it joined the digital age by moving onto 2D CAD platforms. This was all well and good until Fender acquired the Jackson guitar company in 2002. As the guitarists among you will note, the Jackson range contains guitars of significant geometric complexity (consider the Jackson Roswell Rhodes, for example) compared to the more traditional Fender lines, and so Fender decided to invest in 3D CAD software.

Figure 3. Jackson Roswell Rhodes. (Image courtesy of Jackson Guitars.)

“Jackson guitars are a completely different type of guitar,” said Glenn Dominick, senior manufacturing engineer at Fender. “The geometry is complex. We can better address Jackson design challenges with 3D, particularly the neck shape, because its 15-degree angle makes tooling much more difficult to produce. Since there is no efficient way to develop fixtures on those kinds of angles using 2D, we have to use a 3D tool for Jackson guitars.”

While Fender instruments were manufactured by hand in the past, the main product lines (with the exception of their custom builds) are now manufactured by machine, and so Fender was drawn to SOLIDWORKS by the CAM features within the software, which enable repeatability and consistent quality in its instruments.

“Since we began using SOLIDWORKS software, we have been able to complete the most difficult step—developing the neck back shape—30 percent faster,” said Dominick. “That’s just one example of how SOLIDWORKS software is helping us cut time and manual steps from the process. By using SOLIDWORKS software, we have reduced manufacturing time by at least 20 percent across the board, and have boosted production throughput by creating better tooling and taking advantage of better CAM programming.”

With the help of SOLIDWORKS, Fender was able to cut production time by 20 percent across the board, reduce the time required to shape guitar necks by 30 percent, as well as increase its production throughput with improved tooling.

Sub-Zero Freezer Company

Of course, SOLIDWORKS isn’t just great for 3D modeling; it also has simulation capabilities that can greatly reduce the design iteration process. Sub-Zero freezers illustrate the range of SOLIDWORKS features quite nicely.

Like many of these company examples, Sub-Zero previously relied on 2D CAD packages for their design work but decided to move towards 3D to boost efficiency of their design workflow.

Figure 4. Small fridge, big assembly! (Image courtesy of Sub-Zero.)

“We wanted to move to solids because of the potential for greater efficiencies,” said Design Documentation Supervisor Brenda Stewart, who was the CAD administrator at the time Sub-Zero made the transition to 3D. “Improved handling of sheet metal was a big driver in the decision to move to 3D. Working in 2D, we experienced delays and missed some production dates. We believed that by moving to 3D solid modeling, we would be more efficient and gain additional flexibility to support downstream users.”

In addition to the sheet metal functions, Sub-Zero makes extensive use of SOLIDWORKS Simulation to design mounting brackets for hardware inside the units that it designs to ensure that the fastenings are able to withstand the static loads placed on them.

And if you take a look inside most refrigerators and freezers, you will notice a lot of molded plastic, especially inside the lining of the appliances. In the case of Sub-Zero freezers, these molded linings were made more efficiently by using SOLIDWORKS draft analysis.

Since incorporating SOLIDWORKS into its workflows, Sub-Zero has managed to cut its design iteration cycle time in half, as well as shave weeks off its mold development time.

Wolverine Worldwide

You may not recognize the name Wolverine Worldwide Inc. on first glance, but we are pretty sure you have heard of its subsidiary companies.

Wolverine Worldwide is the parent company of a variety of footwear brands, including Hush Puppies, Merrell, Sebago and Wolverine (to name but a few).

As you’d expect with footwear, designing these products requires a lot of curves and organic forms, so product designers at Wolverine Worldwide rely heavily on the surface modeling and deformation features in SOLIDWORKS.

These features are what drew Wolverine Worldwide to SOLIDWORKS in the first place.

“With shoe grading, we often need to utilize a nonuniform scale,” said Wolverine CAD/CAM Manager Chris Petersen. “We experienced some issues working with nonuniform scales in the previous CAD system, which, combined with the price of the software, prompted us to reevaluate our design environment. Wolverine needed a system that was easier to use, had a better price point, and was consistent with our product expansion and productivity goals.”

Wolverine has also designed an interesting innovation in its products, named “Individual Comfort System” (iCS). This system features a mechanism in the sole of the shoe that deforms the shape of the shoe when a wheel in the heel is adjusted. Naturally, this design required a lot of simulation and use of design configurations in order to model each comfort position in the assembly.

“With design configurations, we modeled each shoe position for our iCS footwear from the base design,” said Petersen. “This saved time and let us show the concept completely. We also benefit from the design visualization tools in SOLIDWORKS, including RealView, PhotoView 360 and eDrawings. Every model we create becomes a PhotoView 360 rendering, and eDrawings serve as living blueprints, which we use heavily.”

You can see some of those beautiful renders from PhotoView 360 in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Inner layers of shoe, rendered in PhotoView 360. (Image courtesy of Wolverine.)

Wolverine has shortened its design cycles by 60 percent, cut its development costs by 50 percent, reduced its material usage by 50 percent, and expanded its product line by 200 percent. Those are some impressive success metrics!

So, there you have it. All of these companies have transitioned from 2D to 3D and have used SOLIDWORKS to bring these familiar products into our lives. You can see how these companies have all reduced product development time, saved costs on materials, and shortened the time to market—and, of course, let’s not forget the most important thing—they have all continued to create innovative designs that are attractive to customers.

The next time you are fighting off zombies with your Leatherman, or attempting (and failing) to emulate those Gilmour-esque bends on your Stratocaster, take a moment to enjoy the design and manufacturing aspects that were made possible thanks to 3D CAD!

About the Author

keane 2

Phillip Keane is currently studying his PhD at the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His background is in aerospace engineering, and his current studies are focused on the use of 3D-printed components in spaceflight. He previously worked at Rolls-Royce and Airbus Military and served as an intern for Made In Space and the European Southern Observatory.

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