User Story

MDS Precision Fabrication, Inc. : Autodesk Inventor

Los Angeles, California-based MDS Precision Fabrication, Inc. designs and manufactures sheet metal components such as enclosures, racks, panels, shelves, wire management parts, and brackets for the telecommunications industry. Its products are manufactured according to the Electronics Industry Alliance/Telecommunications Industry Association (EIA/TIA) specifications. Its primary customers are those within the premise-wiring arena.

According to Mike Simms, MDS president, the company constantly attempts to minimize expensive prototypes and deliver cost-effective, high quality products on time. The company purchased Autodesk Inventor software to help achieve these goals. Prior to migrating to a 3D solid modeling platform, Simms manually sketched parts and numerically programmed them to a CNC machine. "My customers needed to see a physical part before approving the job," explains Simms. This tedious process required Simms to program parts for hours on end. "It was an arduous effort," notes Simms.

KETIV Technologies of California, Autodesk's Top Mechanical Reseller for the Western Region, and recipient of the Top Customer Service and Support award, introduced Autodesk Inventor software to Simms. Kanwar Anand, KETIV's representative, says, "We knew that the software would help MDS become more productive because part designers can model in 3D versus time-consuming manual sketching and subsequent numerical programming. We wanted to help bring MDS into the world of 3D."

As a result of implementing the technology, all MDS designs are initiated and completed in Autodesk Inventor software. "The flat pattern capability makes it so easy," notes Simms. "I no longer program at all. The software does all the work that I was doing before.

3D Design Helps Communicate Ideas
Simms says that he and his 20-member team are able to complete designs in just hours that used to involve days prior to implementing the technology. In addition, he says the software is easy to use and the company can output more jobs in less time. "That means more profit for us," adds Simms. "Using the assembly function, we can make working electronic prototypes for customer reviews. The feature eliminates the need to generate 2D drawings of individual parts that are hard to explain to a non-technical person. The 3D representations are easy to understand and immediately recognizable. Now we can show a customer how a part will look and feel before committing to expensive prototypes."

In addition, Simms, his colleagues, and customers enjoy sharing ideas using Autodesk Inventor. "A picture is worth a thousand words," notes Simms. He uses the software to quickly communicate ideas and new concepts. He lauds the collaborative environment that Autodesk Inventor facilitates between MDS and its customers.

Last Minute Design Project
Simms says that he and his colleagues recently began work on a unique wire management panel to guide wires or fibers in the front and rear of an EIA equipment rack. The device also has a latching removable door in the front.

According to Simms, "The customer approached us to design the unit because they were having a lot of trouble getting the project off the ground. They sent drawings to us and we determined that their design would require thousands of dollars in tooling. In addition, the part would be expensive to manufacture and structurally weak when complete."

Simms offered to re-design the part using Autodesk Inventor software even though the production schedule was overdue. He says that within one hour of landing the job, the job, he completely redesigned the part for more cost-effective and efficient manufacturing. "I sent a PDF file of the exploded view of the solid model and a dimensional drawing to the customer" notes Simms. "I also sent an AVI file to show how the door opens and lifts off the unit."

The customer deemed that Simms' design would cost 50 percent less to manufacture and provide better functionality than the original design modeled in Pro/ENGINEER. Just two days later, Simms sent the customer a prototype. As a result of that fast turnaround and accurate solid modeling, that customer is sending all their new work to MDS.

Prior to implementing Autodesk Inventor, Simms evaluated Autodesk Mechanical Desktop and CADKey products. "We selected Autodesk Inventor because of its ease of use," says Simms. He says MDS put off purchasing a CAD system for several years because Simms and his colleagues heard horror stories about long, painful learning curves. "We can't afford downtime in this business, as new projects constantly keep us busy," adds Simms.

When an engineer from a customer site explained that Autodesk Inventor would allow him to design a part the first day he tried using it, Simms was intrigued. "I asked KETIV Technologies to provide an Autodesk Inventor demonstration and I bought the software on the spot," says Simms. Since that life-changing experience, Simms is amazed with how intuitive the software is. "Using Autodesk Inventor software for the first time was as though I have been using it for years. The technology has changed my business. I don't know how I got by all those years without it," notes Simms.

Winning Customers Over
Today, Simms offers customers virtual prototypes via PDF files of assembly line drawings and exploded views. He also provides AVI files to show animation of moving parts. He says his customers are very pleased with doing business this way versus the old methodology. "My customers use the virtual prototypes for design reviews and discussions. Together, we can tweak models and eliminate any inaccuracies before cutting any metal. When it's time to manufacture the part, it's exactly what they expected and required," says Simms.

While winning new business using Autodesk Inventor, Simms is also saving money by eliminating the need to provide multiple prototypes per job. Since prototypes are expensive - between $50 - $150 per hour for shop floor machining time - Autodesk Inventor helps MDS reduce its overhead by reducing the overall number of prototypes required by customers. "Once customers see the solid model and the animation, they have a much clearer idea of what their part will look like and how the parts will interact during performance. They are much more comfortable with the design and don't require multiple prototypes," explains Simms.

He credits KETIV Technologies in providing the support services and technical expertise for the software demonstration and subsequent implementation and training. He says vendor selection is as important as the technology itself. "The KETIV staff is top notch," says Simms. "Their professionals are ready, willing, and able to help with any questions we've had with the Autodesk Inventor upgrades."

Simms says that while the software is easy to use, it's a very comprehensive, robust program that offers multiple features. To keep up with all the functionality, techniques, and new tips, he browses the Autodesk Inventor forum every week. "The Autodesk Inventor community is blessed with a devoted following. Private websites like are indispensable, offering hundreds of free parts and tips to the users," adds Simms.

Trends in the Marketplace
Simms says there should be more collaboration between product engineers and manufacturing engineers. He believes that technology such as Autodesk Inventor software will facilitate that effort. "As a result," adds Simms, "by working together and sharing information, part quality can be improved, costs can be reduced, and time to market slashed. Eighty percent of the drawings that we receive today can be improved through better communications. Many of our customers are selecting Autodesk Inventor based on our success with the tool in just the last six months. Via the Internet, we will be able to work together as if we are in the same room. The more eyes that concentrate on a project, the more likelihood that additional ideas will percolate and problems will be resolved. As a team, we are far more successful than individuals working alone."

For more information about Autodesk Inventor software, visit For more information about KETIV Technologies of California, visit

Author: Laura Carrabine

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Page last modified on June 8, 2001
Copyright 2001 by John Stark