Depending on your point of view, the US government is either allocating more money than ever to its defense budget or it’s entered a new era of austerity.
Either way, for Jim Rycroft, principal at REK Engineering, keeping costs down is key to staying competitive as a subcontractor to military vendors. Rycroft specializes in developing computer and server cabinets for his clients, for whom he says “dimes are making and breaking deals, and the market is very marginal.”
[Ed- did you know the US Military is consolidating data centers and servers and moving to the Cloud. Watch the US Army’s Mike Krieger on their Future Vision in Data Center Consolidation.]
But with more than ten years experience working in defense and five more in industrial PCs, Rycroft has a few secret weapons for building lean products.
First, he understands defense requirements. There are tens of thousands of military standards, and they’re not uniform across branches of the military. So what’s required for the Army may not be what’s specified for the Navy. By using an engineering firm that’s worked with these specs for years, REK clients save money and they know surprises won’t arise later.
Second, he engages manufacturing early. “In the industry, we talk about throwing it over the wall,” Rycroft says. “That’s a terrible concept.” Instead, he consults with manufacturing to find opportunities for saving his customers money even while he’s still developing a model.
Rycroft’s third secret to keeping product costs down? PTC Creo.
Designing for Manufacture
PTC Creo Parametric plays an important role in Rycroft’s philosophy of working early with manufacturing. That’s because by using the 3D CAD software, he can capture model ideas while in process and send them directly to manufacturing to ensure the design can be produced inexpensively. “With PTC Creo, I send shaded views to manufacturing, so they can see the part I want to develop, as well as the whole product together,” he says. “Then, they make recommendations and contribute their expertise.”
Once he’s found the most efficient design, he simply takes a screen shot of the 3D model to share with his customer for approval.
Designing for Sheet Metal
As Rycroft designs steel and aluminum cases for his computer hardware, PTC Creo Parametric’s sheet metal capabilities improve efficiency too. Parts can be designed, bent, flattened, cut, etc., in a way that’s appropriate for manufacturing—before they’re ever prototyped. Rycroft calls sheet metal his “strong suit,” and he’s been using the functionality since 1999! Here’s some of the key highlights Rycroft saw when moving to from Pro/ENGINEER to PTC Creo 2.0:
Sheet metal speeds up the design process and ensures the physical cabinets for the computers are right the first time.
Designing for Quick Delivery
Rycroft says that the parametric approach to modeling helps him easily reuse and modify existing models. “Say a customer wants six slots on a part that currently uses four—it takes me no time because it’s a parametrically controlled design.” By simply changing one or two values in the parameter table, he’s met his customer’s requirements.
In previous jobs, Rycroft used another well-known CAD modeler, but found he rarely leveraged old designs. That meant changes were always a big deal. “Using the other software, it was usually easier to simply start new models from scratch.”
Designing for Accuracy
One of the most impressive savings came when Rycroft upgraded from Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire to PTC Creo. With improved assembly viewing, he easily selects a part and changes the component view—wireframe, transparent, shaded, etc. “I make sure I’m not making design errors; I can see that parts line up.” That helps Rycroft quickly check the accuracy of his design.
But that’s not all. PTC Creo has also helped him expose errors in his suppliers’ parts too! By viewing the part in PTC Creo, Rycroft could see where their parts weren’t meeting spec and quickly alerted his customer to the problem.
I asked Rycroft how much that bad part could have cost his client. “If they would have gone into production with the wrong part, it would have cost $100,000 to recall the product.”
Or, approximately a million dimes.