User Story

Autodesk Inventor : Leatherman Tool

In 1975, Tim Leatherman was on a low-budget trip through Europe. He got fed up with his standard scout knife. It just wasn't much help on old hotel plumbing and his unreliable car. What he really needed was a compact pocketknife with full-size pliers, but no such tool existed.

"I made notes of what I really needed," says Leatherman. "When I returned to the United States, I went to work in my garage and started designing a new kind of tool - one that would replace the old pocket knife with something more useful." He says he was "trying to build a pocket tool that met not only my needs, but the needs of others as well."

Tim spent the next eight years using his engineering background to design such a tool. In 1983, after working with hundreds of prototypes, he and Steve Berliner founded Leatherman Tool Group, Inc. (Portland, OR) and began production of the original Leatherman Tool, known as the PST.

Today, Leatherman remains the leader in sales, quality and innovation within the compact multi-purpose tool market. Close inspection reveals the quality and attention to detail that make their products more useful and effective. All parts are polished to ensure smooth operation and reduce the potential of corrosion. Screwdrivers are ground sharp and square to hold a screw. The Phillips screwdriver is specially modified to perfectly fit both #1 and #2 sizes. Hard-wire cutters have been incorporated that cut material no competitive product can handle.

Outdoor enthusiasts comprise a large portion of Leatherman's market. Leatherman tools are also popular with electricians, mariners, stagehands, farmers, do-it-yourselfers, emergency services personnel and an ever-expanding range of professional and recreational users.

Richard A. Chilton, senior manufacturing engineer at Leatherman Tool Group, designs and/or implements new equipment to assist in the manufacture of the Leatherman Multi-purpose folding tools, and trouble shooting existing equipment. "Our customers expect quality, functionality, availability, and good prices for our products," Chilton says. "We are able to accommodate those challenges by starting at the computer - with the drawing program. The better the drawing program, the easier the end products are to conceive. The same goes for machine design. If the drawing package is an intuitive one, such as the Inventor software from Autodesk, design options are very easy to introduce, evaluate, and steer through the process of elimination while, moving forward toward the end design. Inventor allows, through assembly constraints, motion to be applied to the moving components. Each component moves through its respective cycle while maintaining its constrained position. We no longer have to move each component independently to achieve the final, end cycle, position. We can now watch the system components interact simultaneously with each other. Necessary changes are made with very little effort and drawings are automatically updated," adds Chilton.

Chilton uses the "motion" generator, through assembly constraints quite a bit. "It is a tremendous tool," adds Chilton.

He also says that the Adaptive Technology that is unique to Autodesk Inventor software is another very useful feature. "I am, just now, getting familiar with the real power of Adaptive Technology," says Chilton. "The capability allows component parts to be designed to fit another particular component, or assembly, and, not only maintain its position relative to that component, but be sized to fit, automatically, with specific tolerances introduced by the designer."

The Leatherman engineer users say Inventor is easy to learn and use. Chilton says it took him just a couple of days to generate solid models once the system was installed.

Chilton says, "In about a week and a half, I was producing working designs. Ease of use is not Autodesk Inventor's only attribute, however. The software also translates .dxf,. iges and .sat files, both directions, very well. It renders very well, with real building materials such as metal and aluminum as choices instead of leaves, bricks, and grass like so many of the other 3D drawing packages. Inventor was designed for machine designers," reports Chilton.

Besides being easy to learn and use, Chilton says that Autodesk Inventor is faster than other competitive MCAD products. In addition, the technology enables Chilton and other Leatherman users to easily spread their design information throughout others areas of the Leatherman company, where the information provides a great deal of value. By being able to render extremely well with Inventor, they can leverage their design information to create great presentations. Inventor allows .wave files to be generated through the "motion" system for design evaluation and presentations. The ease of manipulation of drawings makes the designs flow well.

As an ex-Mechanical Desktop user, Chilton and the design team at Leatherman considered other MCAD products, yet Autodesk Inventor won out. "We opted for Inventor because of its ease of use and support through Autodesk reseller Ketiv Technologies, Portland, OR," notes Chilton. "I think ease of use was the strongest selling point. Inventor was easier to use and it had a couple of bells and whistles that the others did not."

Chilton has not used Autodesk Inventor long enough to measure quantitative advantages, however, he does recognize a much shorter design timetable as a result of using the software. "This is advantageous, and the shorter machine design time it affords us helps us remain competitive," adds Chilton. In addition, as a result of implementing Autodesk Inventor, components used for the machines he designs have undergone fewer changes.

Chilton concludes, "The use of technology is moving faster every day. The one trend I see growing stronger, is the use of computer generated pictures for sales. They can be used within the company for sales presentations, and or market studies, and in the public domain to promote, actual sales. The more realistic they are, the more believable they are. Autodesk has recognized this and has developed Inventor to fill that void in the machine design arena."

Author: Laura Carrabine

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Page last modified on October 5, 2000
Copyright 2000 by John Stark