Prototype manufacturer adds new capabilities to remain competitive
3D solution for progressive die design allows firm to serve clients whose products require sheet metal components
Meeting customers’ high expectations
Shonan Design is one of the largest prototype makers in Japan with more than 30 years of experience. The company has more than 130 employees specializing in prototype making, using methods such as CNC machining, reverse engineering and rapid prototyping (both SLS and SLA technology). Shonan Design has established itself as an important service bureau supporting research and development activities for internationally known companies. Examples of its work include prototypes for image electronics equipment, cell phones, car stereo systems, printer parts, amusement equipment and other consumer products.
In Shonan Design’s line of work, customers’ demands for quality, cost and delivery – known by the initials QCD – have reached their limits, according to Takahiro Maruyama, chief engineer, Manufacturing Division, at Shonan Design. “The challenge of profitability has become like a survival game,” he says. “There is a fixed minimum amount of physical work that must go into making a product; the key is to minimize the other work.” The company has been using NX™ (formerly called Unigraphics) software for the last eleven years as part of its strategy for doing this, and has succeeded in establishing a product development process that precedes market needs.
In recent years, however, the company has faced a new challenge. “Traditionally, plastic parts accounted for an overwhelmingly large proportion of product construction, with sheet metal parts accounting for only a small percentage of the whole,” explains Takahiro. “With the trend toward miniaturization and thinner walls, which are unique to the Japanese market, the sheet metal proportion has risen significantly. In some cases, we faced difficulties in getting a contract for the whole product because we had not yet established our sheet metal parts production technologies. "With Shonan Design wanting to offer its customers a full-service solution, it needed to incorporate advanced press working technologies.
Knowledge re-use streamlines the process
With all of its design work being done in 3D, Shonan Design searched for a 3D solution to help with the design of the progressive dies used to fabricate sheet metal parts. “We evaluated a number of systems before we chose NX Progressive Die Wizard,” says Takahiro. “It is capable of complete solid die design with features ranging from automatic generation of flat sheet templates to punch-die layout, base design, master part design and parts list creation. Another key deciding factor in our selection was that since manufacturers use the Parasolid® format as their common format, we could seamlessly migrate our data.”
NX Progressive Die Wizard streamlines the die design process in a number of ways. For example, a feature recognition function makes it possible to automatically analyze product data and extract necessary press processes, such as bending, drilling and creating apertures. Many standard progressive die design processes, such as 45-degree bend, 90-degree bend, V bend, etc., are predefined within the system, so the user simply re-uses them rather than modeling from scratch. (Processes may also be defined by the user and added to the library.) The strip layout feature specifies the order for the specified processes, and simulates the actual press strip.
Streamlined process saves time
Using NX Progressive Die Wizard, Shonan Design has been able to reduce the number of operations required to design a typical die by 60 to 70 percent,which helps shrink design time. The vast amount of die design knowledge built into the software, as well as the design data that is re-used from the library, also helps accelerate die design. Since implementing Progressive Die Wizard, design time has been reduced by as much as 50 percent for some dies. And because the embedded knowledge and library data is highly accurate, design errors are now down by as much as 40 percent. The company has also seen the time needed to create a blank from a master model drop from three or four days to one hour.
Shonan Design has long relied on technology to help it remain competitive. “Ten years ago, our turnaround time for die fabrication was around 30 days,” says Takahiro. “Today, our average turnaround is from eight to around 14 days.” (This was accomplished through the use of NX Mold Wizard, prior to the implementation of Progressive Die Wizard.) Now that the company has added knowledge-based software specifically for die design, it has ensured its ability to provide full service to its customers, a critical capability for a prototype model maker in these competitive times.