Designing a Better Bow Used to Take Centuries—Now It Takes Weeks

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Figure 1. One model from the Outdoor Group’s Elite bow series. (Image courtesy of the Outdoor Group.)

Some 64,000 years ago, something groundbreaking occurred. For the first time ever, a human drew back the string of a bow and loosed an arrow into the sky. While we don’t know what that early human’s target may have been, or whether the arrow’s flight was true, we do know that shot marked a huge leap in the technological abilities of humans.

You see, making a bow and arrow isn’t the easiest thing to do. In fact, according to research published in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal, making a bow and arrow from scratch takes 22 raw materials, several semi-finished goods like bindings and glues and as many five separate production stages.

For early homo sapiens, the process of creating the bow and arrow was a spectacular leap into a sophisticated world of manufacturing that would follow our species through a technological evolution. Although the achievement of building the first bow was a seminal moment in history of our species, what’s most incredible is that even today the bow and arrow can be equally as challenging to make as it was an eon ago.

That’s especially true when you’re attempting to design the world’s best competition bows.


Building a Bow with Digital Manufacturing Technology

Though the technologies that drive bow-and-arrow design have changed dramatically since the weapon’s invention, this classical weapon can still be extremely complicated to manufacture today. However, with unified digital manufacturing technologies like integrated CAD, CAM and simulation, that job is becoming a bit easier. Take, for example, the case of the Outdoor Group and its goals of producing some of the finest, most shootable bows on the planet.

The Outdoor Group is a parent company of Elite Archery, Perfect Form Manufacturing, Scott Releases, Custom Bow Equipment, Duel Game Calls, Solid Broadheads and Winner’s Choice Custom Bowstrings. In an arrangement that’s similar but, undoubtedly, more sophisticated than the first bowyers, the Outdoor Group has marshalled together a number of the industry’s finest firms to collaborate and cooperate on the development of its bows.

As you imagine, cobbling together that many disparate entities can be a challenge—and the Outdoor Group’s lead engineer, Mike Derus, agrees. “In launching a new product development organization that is tasked with integrating the product designs of our subsidiaries into a unified effort, we needed a robust yet easy-to-use development platform,” Derus explained. After testing a number of CAD options, Derus and his team chose Dassault Systèmes’ SOLIDWORKS to bring the workforce together. Here’s why:

First off, a unified platform like SOLIDWORKS allows all of the Outdoor Group’s subsidiaries to work in harmony using the same tools and design validation methods as one another. Second, with a set of unified models in place, designers would be able to create bow-and-arrow systems built around each company’s already-proven designs. All an engineer would need to do is examine a previous model and reference any fasteners or joints where two or more components would come together.

To prove that point, the Outdoor Group has reported a 50-percent reduction in design cycle time and an annual revenue growth of more than 30 percent since it first adopted SOLIDWORKS in 2010.

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Figure 2. Two of the many components that outfit the Outdoor Group’s Elite Bows. (Image courtesy of the Outdoor Group.)

Finally, because of SOLIDWORKS’ strong integration with CAM tools like MasterCAM, designers don’t have to wait for machinists or tooling engineers to come back to them with the bad news that their part is either impossible to manufacture or just too expensive to build. Now, engineers can use tools built into SOLIDWORKS to validate whether a design can be made. By laying down tool paths and configuring feed and speeds, engineers can gain insight into the manufacturability of their ideas. Not only can that insight help designers; it can also aid the end user as well.

“The combination of SOLIDWORKS and MasterCAM enables us to take advantage of a totally automated manufacturing environment,” said design engineer Dan Kelly. “We’ve reduced our manufacturing setup times by 50 percent and improved the quality of our machined parts, both in terms of industrial design and ergonomics.”


Manufacturing Certainty Can Buoy Product Promises

Aside from being able to reduce production times and cut manufacturing costs through the use of CAD and CAM tools, the Outdoor Group has also realized another benefit of digital manufacturing. Because of its extensive use of digital simulation tools, the Outdoor Group has been able to extend a fully transferable, lifetime warranty to its customers for its products.

“With SOLIDWORKS Simulation Professional software we can validate and even optimize design performance,” Derus said. “By using simulation to prototype and refine our bow designs, we simply make a better bow. Elite bows are designed for reliability, which is why we can offer our no-questions-asked lifetime warranty.”

Building a technically sophisticated piece of machinery has always been a difficult prospect. In fact, if something is technically sophisticated, there’s a good chance that it’s going to take some clever engineering and design to make that system work properly.

Fortunately for designers today, they don’t have to spend the millennia that their forebears did to make progress. Today, engineers and designers have sophisticated CAD, CAM and simulation tools that allow deep insight into a design’s flaws and strengths before a real-world object is ever produced. That saves valuable time, plain and simple.

Because of digital manufacturing, technological innovation in all manner of products can be accelerated. That’s not only better for bow-and-arrow makers, it’s better for humanity as a whole and it will likely set an entirely new pace for innovation.

About the Author


Kyle Maxey is a mechanical designer and writer from Austin, TX. He earned a degree in Film at Bard College and has since studied Mechanical and Architectural drafting at Austin Community College. As a designer Kyle has had vast experience with CAD software and rapid prototyping. One day he dreams of becoming a toy designer.

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