User Story

Optima Wheel : SurfaceWorks and SolidWorks

La Mirada, CA-based Optima Wheel designs and manufactures custom, after-market wheels for the automotive industry. Founded in 1989, the company maintains a manufacturing site in Mexico. Optima Wheel products are designed to suit any vehicle - from cars to off-road units to light-duty trucks.

Customer demands drive our business. Our designs must be aesthetically appealing yet functionally accurate. We rely heavily on free form surfacing design to obtain the manufacturable shapes we need. The advantage of using tightly integrated computer-aided design (CAD) products such as SurfaceWorks and SolidWorks provides me with a full 3D electronic database that I use to manufacture all our products. I know that what I design on-screen will be exactly what I obtain from our manufacturing operation. This "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" approach is critical and has enabled us to shrink lead time from what used to be eight to 12 weeks to just four to six weeks. The technology has allowed us to eliminate 50% of the product development cycle. That is key to our competitive edge.

Before we implemented SurfaceWorks, we created and manipulated physical models. Since implementing SolidWorks in 1995, I've noticed a significant change in the way we design. I can conduct multiple what-if design iterations on-screen, determine what model best suits my needs, and obtain what I want much faster and more efficiently.

Customer requirements
Our customers, primarily tire and specialty wheel distributors, focus on product functionality, aesthetic appeal, and very high quality. Our products are strictly made of aluminum. Prior to designing a new wheel design, we conduct design surveys to determine what customers are looking for. We provide a conceptual rendering and ask customers for feedback. Based on their input, we develop a marketing strategy and proceed from there. We've made real progress shrinking the design-for-manufacture time, however, our ultimate goal is proceed from the customer survey data to model the product in 3D and then make the mold and finished product in four weeks. Our customers are realizing the advantages of our faster product turnarounds. In the consumer after-market world, it's whoever responds the fastest makes the profit. The product may only live for two years, so the faster we can deliver new products, the more orders we get.

SurfaceWorks advantages
SurfaceWorks allows me to do free form design that is very important for wheel designs. Most of the shapes can eventually be modeled in SolidWorks; however, I cannot obtain the complex surfaces that are required. Wheels are much more complex than what they seem due to the shapes that consumers want such as swooping surfaces. Additionally, the wheel has to carry the full weight of the car. So, we have to design a shape that is aesthetically appealing, but is also functionally precise. If it's not functional it can result in loss of life - a critical factor to keep in mind while designing. The safety and compliance issues in wheel design are tremendous.

SurfaceWorks allows me to quickly and accurately change the shapes that I need so that the wheels are structurally safe. I can easily control the actual electronic data that I will use. In this business, there's no room for guesswork. I have real precision confidence in using SurfaceWorks.

Another very critical advantage is the full integration between SolidWorks and SurfaceWorks. I can model not only the part but also the mold tooling and any other tooling that is necessary for manufacturing. I know all the geometry is integrated and related. The combination of the two packages is a real time saver.

Benefits of using SurfaceWorks
We've realized a real cost savings using SurfaceWorks both in terms of time, materials, and money. The software also allows me complete control of the product and all the manufacturing components associated to it. I can't stress enough the importance of seeing what you will obtain after manufacturing. Before I cut any steel or spend $20,000 on a mold, I can be assured that the 3D design is exactly what we will get. Another big advantage is that I can use PhotoWorks in SolidWorks and generate a rendered image to send to customers. They are truly amazed when they see something so real and dynamic.

Before using SurfaceWorks and SolidWorks, I sent 2D drawings to manufacturing. We tried to build a 3D model from data. The mold maker would try to interpret what was there and build a model from that. This process proved to be inefficient and time-consuming.

Using SurfaceWorks and SolidWorks we can create the shape we are going to maintain and know what we need to get it built. All the data interrelates back to the original electronic data. That is the key to the process. The electronic data eliminates all the variables. Before we ever go to market or sink hundreds of thousands of dollars into the product, we keenly focus in the conceptualization stage to see what we will obtain before going too far with planning.

For instance, there's a wheel in our catalog that was created with SurfaceWorks, SolidWorks, and PhotoWorks that shows an actual rendering of a product. We designed the wheel and used it in the catalog as the company's"real product" and customers couldn't tell the difference. That particular wheel has a scoop in the spoke. There's no way to design that surface using SolidWorks. I tried and tried but was unable to obtain the shape I needed. Then, I used SurfaceWorks and created my sketch geometry and manipulated it to the shape I wanted. It was fast, easy, and accurate. I sent that model to the mold maker and told him to cut that shape. He integrated it with his CAM system and two days later I had the mold. The process accelerated twofold. It was unbelievable. The picture in the catalog is exactly the same wheel. Using SurfaceWorks, the design took me about 12 hours. Before then, using SolidWorks, I fought for nearly two weeks with no results.

Technology today
The 3D CAD marketplace is so diverse. So many of the products are too expensive. SurfaceWorks is priced right and its functionality suits my requirements. The advantage I see with SurfaceWorks for the mechanical designer is to finally be able to cost effectively implement shape and complex surfaces to designs. While the package doesn't offer all the bells and whistles such as finite element analysis, I don't need it. Why spend $30,000 on a computer, $30,000 on software, and three years learning how to use it?

The way I evaluate software systems is unique. I've evaluated systems such as I-DEAS, Pro/E, Solid Edge, and Mechanical Desktop. I've used some of them for up to six to eight months. Out of all the products, the combination SolidWorks/SurfaceWorks is the best bang for the buck. For SurfaceWorks, I spent approximately two and one-half weeks going through the tutorial and learning how to use the technology. It was very easy.

Author: Todd Himes, Optima Wheel

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Page last modified on February 17, 2000
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