User Story

Century Tool and Gage Company : thinkdesign

Century Tool and Gage Company (Fenton, MI) builds compression molds and secondary tooling for the automotive, heavy truck, aerospace and personal watercraft industries. Completely self sufficient, Century Tool can provide custom services. It specializes in molded headliners, door panels, package trays, acoustical components, trunk trim applications and exterior body panels (roofs, hoods and deck lids).

Century Tool operates out of a modern 90,000 square foot facility. It operates 12 CNC duplicating mills with Fidia controllers, and its designers use state-of-the-art CAD/CAM software products including thinkdesign from think3 (Santa Clara, CA). Tim Cummings, a Century Tool designer, has worked at the company for 15 years. He imports electronic files from customers as part of the process of building mold surfaces and creating engineering drawings for manufacturing the molds. "Since our customers use a range of CAD products, using thinkdesign I can import any type of file using IGES."

Cummings is part of a 15-person design and engineering team at Century Tool. "We all have experience using a number of CAD/CAM software packages," adds Cummings. "With so many different customers using a variety of tools, it's important that we know how to use them, too." The company uses a CAM product called WorkNC and is currently phasing out AutoCAD in favor of thinkdesign for CAD.

"Up until thinkdesign came into the picture, we were a longtime 2D organization," notes Cummings. "We realized the benefits of migrating to a 3D tool would help us use solid modeling and surfacing techniques. The additional skills will help us become more competitive."

Century Tool began implementing thinkdesign in mid-2000 after Cummings received a demonstration CD from think3. "think3 allowed us to use the software for a couple months before we committed to purchasing a subscription license," adds Cummings. "We were pleasantly surprised with its ease of use, affordability, and customer support. Being 2D users, thinkdesign made it very easy to work in a 3D environment. The transition has been relatively simple. We really enjoy working in 3D versus 2D. It's a whole new world for us."

Cummings and his team used think3ís Monkey Wrench Conspiracy game-based training to become familiar with working in the 3D environment and with thinkdesign. They used the Monkey Wrench Conspiracy (now Time Mechanic) and think3's other online offerings as their exclusive training strategy. "This approach has worked well for us," notes Cummings. "Everyone can work at their own pace and become familiar with the product as they feel comfortable, although we do expect everyone to become up to speed quickly. In addition, by using the Monkey Wrench Conspiracy and online training, we aren't losing anyone to off-site classroom-type training. It's a great way to educate while maintaining production."

Currently, Century Tool is using 12 licenses of thinkdesign. Before selecting the software, Cummings and his colleagues considered high-end CAD products such as CATIA and UGS. "Before jumping on those expensive bandwagons, we wanted to make sure that we were making the right decision," says Cummings. "We knew that both of those products would be able to handle the complex designs we tackle every day. We weren't sure that some of the other 3D solid modelers would be up to the task. However, once we started using thinkdesign and trying it out on some of our most challenging designs, we realized that it is just as robust as the high-end products. Thinkdesign can handle just about everything that a much more expensive and harder to use package can at a much more affordable price."

Over the past months, Century Tool has used thinkdesign on several projects. "Using the software, I normally pull in the surface data of the part itself from the customer. If the data comes from another CAD system, it's either converted to IGES or we have converters here for Catia and for Unigraphics.

"Then we download the data into thinkdesign and we clean up anything that is not a closed solid. The software helps me make sure that itís okay to run tool paths to manufacturer the surface. Then, we build the mold surfaces with the rest of the block of steel. Once the block of steel is built, we use thinkdesign to put all the plumbing holes through it because we have to put a plumbing circuit through it. The design itself becomes quite complex with 3D holes everywhere. In addition, there are multiple jumpers to run steam to heat the mold. In addition, there are many attachments that are screwed to the mold. We are very impressed that thinkdesign can handle such complicated assemblies. One mold can have up to 60 or more components and each component can have four holes in it. Models like that can be up to 150 megabytes in size. thinkdesign handles the job with no problem at all."

Cummings says that in the past, working in 2D, there were many times when errors occurred downstream. For molds worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, this was an untenable situation for Century Tool. "Costly mistakes happened not because we aren't good at what we do, but because working in the 2D world didn't allow us to catch errors deep within the model. We simply couldn't see them."

Errors caused production delays and other headaches. "To keep our customers happy, we often absorbed the additional costs incurred due to mistakes and production bottlenecks," adds Cummings.

He says that because of thinkdesign's unique surface and solids interoperability he and his designers can switch back and forth between the two capabilities. "As a result," says Cummings, "it doesn't take long to built our molds. In addition, they are more accurate and smoother. Before, using AutoCAD, we used to just mock up a design. The tools were not as attractive and they were not easy to change either. Now when we get changes, if we have to change the run off, we can make a solid and use that to cut away at the solid that we already had. It's a lot more simple and straight forward. Our customers and management understand the solid models. It's quite a change from trying to explain a model while looking at a 2D drawing."

For more information about thinkdesign, visit Visit for more information about Century Tool and Gage.

Author: Laura Carrabine

Home | Top of page | Front of MANAGING CAD/CAM/CAE section

Page last modified on April 12, 2001
Copyright 2001 by John Stark