Tycos : thinkdesign
Tycos Tool and Die (Concord, Ontario, CAN) is a leading automotive mold maker specializing in fascia molds and large exterior plastic body panel molds. Tycos is a 40-year-old organization and employs more than 200 people at its Canadian facility.
Ron Nesselberger, Tycos assistant general manager, and Ted Visser, Tycos design supervisor, tackle duties related to the tooling business - engineering, program management, estimating, and customer service.
Tycos designs and manufactures molds for virtually any type of exterior vehicle part including fenders, quarter panels, bumpers, door skins, cladding, and rocker panels for the automotive industry. "Typically," says Nesselberger, "we receive CAD data from our customers. The geometry originates from a myriad of CAD systems. The data is sent to us via IGES files."
Like most manufacturers, Tycos faces design and fabrication issues including timing of the tools, costs, and flexibility. "In terms of flexibility," notes Nesselberger, "from the time that we receive the initial CAD information to the time that we export our design to manufacturing, we can realize several levels of changes. The design cycle time may not change however, we have to be flexible enough to modify our design or the part data and still meet the program requirements. The design changes can originate from the customer or from our end as we complete a feasibility study of the data supplied."
Tycos' customers demand timely delivery of tooling, cost-effectiveness, and design innovation. The company addresses each of those challenges individually. "Innovation is always driven by a need," adds Nesselberger. "We always sit down with our customer and go through a process to determine exactly what the needs of the program are, such as downstream process requirements, or paint and molding issues. Our in-house design team determines the solutions to eliminate or reduce the problems that the molder may expect."
Some of the design challenges are part driven and some are process driven. The Tycos design department also tackles considerable feasibility and development work that is conducted at the beginning of a program to make sure that the designers clearly understand the goals of each project. Then, the team of mold makers, mold designers, engineers, and machinists communicate those goals throughout the company so that Tycos can comprehensively meet the customer's design goals as well as the CNC machining goals and the final assembly of the tool.
Nesselberger says, "We also benchmark all of our tools in production. That's one of the advantages that we have over most of our large competitors. Because we are an internal shop to our customers, we have complete access to benchmark the tooling and its performance for the life of the program. That information generates a tremendous amount of continuous improvement toward durability and maintainability."
Also, as part of the up-front feasibility prior to beginning a new mold design, Tycos carefully scrutinizes mold flow analysis to determine the needs of the molder. The molder typically provides this vital information. Plastic injection molding simulation data plays a key role in determining how the mold will fill to make a quality part.
Up until 1994, Tycos engineers worked in a 2D-drafting environment. "We didn't use 3D software before then because we didn't have a customer base that generated CAD geometry from which to cut tools. At that particular time, our customers were still basically building models," notes Nesselberger. "We had some 3D capabilities in-house but we didn't have a customer to give us the opportunity to use it."
In 1994, Tycos implemented a popular commercial 3D solid modeling package and a CAM product. Today, both products are being completely replaced by think3's thinkdesign product. Currently the company plans to implement 18 seats of the technology and train the design department on the solution. So far, six designers have been trained and are using thinkdesign on real front and rear fascia designs after installing the software in early September 1999. They are already realizing benefits as compared to the previous software. "They really appreciate the ability to complete an entire tool design using just one software product. The elimination of translation between design systems is much more efficient," notes Visser.
He adds, "The hybrid surface and solid modeling functionalities enable us to utilize the most effective design tool so we can combine both surface and solids instead of being restricted to one or the other. As a result, we can opt between whatever process is best suited for the condition that we are trying to design."
This capability is of critical importance to a mold maker such as Tycos because of the variety of parts for which they make molds. Nesselberger says, "After obtaining the CAD part file, we design the tool completely in 3D. We want to use the most effective and efficient way of designing molds -- either in surface or in solid modes. For some applications, for instance, it is much easier and faster to use solid modeling techniques. In others, surfacing techniques are more suitable. Thinkdesign allows us the convenience and luxury of having both capabilities at our fingertips.
"In addition, by going to a singular design or singular software, we are going to eliminate a lot of the translation between dissimilar software products and reduce non-value added time of translation and rework. We are today recognizing a 15% savings in design. As our users get more comfortable with thinkdesign, we are expecting a savings of 35%. That's an aggressive goal but we feel we can achieve it."
As a result of the increasing importance of sleek automotive exterior aesthetics and sexy styling, mold makers such as Tycos face ever complex mold designs. Nesselberger notes, "We also must address very complex parting lines and locking mechanisms in an effort to always exceed customer expectations effectively."
Currently, Tycos uses a CAM system that is thinkdesign compatible. "The beauty of the seamless interface between thinkdesign and our CAM system is one of the reasons why we selected thinkdesign," notes Nesselberger. "Now there is no translation whatsoever required downstream at the CNC machines. Our production operators claim that they are using the best product to develop tool paths. So, we must oblige and provide software files that can interface with their software."
Prior to implementing thinkdesign, Tycos approached the software developer of their existing CAD product because the technology no longer suited Tycos' needs. "We wanted to determine if future releases would include the functionality that we required. We learned that the developer was not on track with our goals," says Nesselberger. "Even though our designers were very comfortable using the existing CAD and CAM products, we realized that a change was imperative in order to stay competitive. That's when we learned about thinkdesign."
Besides the uniqueness of thinkdesign's functionality, the Tycos team was impressed by the support provided by the distributor Solid CADGroup as well as think3 as the software provider. Nesselberger adds, "One of the factors that the think3 team impressed on us is that think3 wants to expand in Canada. Think3 and SolidCAD were so much different from other software companies because of their expertise and commitment. Think3 goes the extra mile, too, such as modifying the code to meet our specific needs. They constantly interface with Tycos and we appreciate their interest in our business and our technological requirements."
Think3 provided the initial training at Tycos and Solid CADGroup will continue the training as well as the day-to-day needs. Tycos designers now using thinkdesign learned the new software very quickly and easily. "Thinkdesign is a higher-end product in comparison to the software we were previously using," adds Visser. "High-tech professionals such as our designers like new technology. They are very comfortable using thinkdesign after so short of a learning curve.
"In manufacturing, parts are becoming more complex. As a result, designs are becoming more complex to meet those needs. In addition, lead times are getting shorter. The pressures to deliver complex molds while constantly improving quality are increasingly greater. The flexibility to change as parts and the market evolve is imperative. At the same time, CAD/CAM/CAE technology must be cost effective," concludes Nesselberger.
Author: Laura Carrabine