Riding out a recession with rapid-response CAD
A Solid Edge-based virtual design process turned a “dealers’ wish list” into production model lawn mower in just three months
Home of the world’s fastest mower
Magic Circle Corp. provides the world’s best and fastest mid-mount, zero turning lawn mowers. Used for residential, commercial and industrial applications, the mowers come with powerful Generac, Kohler or Yanmar engines and feature the best warranties in the industry. Reliability is one of the company’s driving values, and its flagship product, the Dixie Chopper, exemplifies the company’s commitment to producing a mower that has many years of useable life left after it is paid for.
Over the course of it nearly 30-year history, Magic Circle has followed the success of the Dixie Chopper with a number of other product lines and models. Some of the new products started out as “wish lists” compiled during conversations with the company’s dealers, who now number more than 500. This was the case for the company’s newest product line, the Iron Eagle, a lower-cost machine that makes the Dixie Chopper affordable to homeowners. (Dixie Choppers cost around $8,000 and are mainly used commercially; the Iron Eagle sells for just under $5,000.) The dealers outlined what they wanted in a lower-priced model, and the Magic Circle design team got to work.
Lower profit potential guided development
The Iron Eagle’s lower price meant there would be a lower profit margin as well, and that factor had to be accounted for in the new mower’s development. “We wanted to develop it as inexpensively as possible which meant that we couldn’t use our normal trial-and-error process,” says Dwon Williams, the CAD/CAM manager and machine shop supervisor at Magic Circle. “In that process, we formed a frame then got pieces from vendors, put everything together and checked the fit. Every stage of the process was based on physical parts and physical testing, and it usually took about one year to get a new mower from concept to production. With the Iron Eagle, we didn’t have the luxury of all that time or resources.”
CAD played a roll in the trial-and-error process but it came into play near the end, to document what the physical process had come up with. For the Iron Eagle, Williams and his colleagues decided to forego the metal cutting and physical assembly in favor of an all-virtual product development process based on the Solid Edge® design software from Siemens PLM Software.
Engineers put digital mower components together in a Solid Edge assembly model. Some components, including the distinctively shaped molded plastic gas tank, were modeled in-house using Solid Edge. Other components (transaxles, engine, seat and so on) were brought in as CAD models from suppliers. The assembly model created in Solid Edge has approximately 1,000 components and assemblies and represents the complete Iron Eagle mower.
Nine months faster
Working virtually turned out to be significantly faster and less expensive than the old trial-and-error process. “Instead of one year, we went from the wish list to a production model of the Iron Eagle in only three months,” says Williams. He notes that the company had already made some of the important decisions about the new model before the design work began. “We had already decided to have a transaxle instead of wheel motors, for example, and we already had our engine,” he explains. “But even so, there’s a lot about the Iron Eagle that’s different from our other products and was designed in that three-month timeframe.”
The nine-month time savings represented a big economic benefit for Magic Circle. The development of a new mower typically involves up to 20 people. Eliminating that many man-months of labor represents a significant cost savings for the company.
Even though the design process went quickly, the company was not able to have a working model ready for the big annual trade show in Louisville. “We were still waiting on a part from a supplier,” Williams says. So instead of taking the real thing to the show, they took rendered images of the Solid Edge assembly model. “We got 800 orders just based on the renderings,” he says.
The delay caused by the supplier isn’t unusual, Williams notes. “It used to be that they were waiting on us, but now it’s the opposite,” he says. “They are slow because they are still in the 2D world or they use something difficult like Pro/E.” (Magic Circle was a Pro/E shop before getting Solid Edge and Williams knows well how much faster the work goes with an intuitive program such as Solid Edge.) He is also looking forward to implementing Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology, which will allow Magic Circle to import and modify suppliers’ CAD models in any format. “That will spare us any conversion work,” he notes.
The virtual development process used for the Iron Eagle is now Magic Circle’s normal practice. “We’re all being asked to do more with less,” he says. “We can’t afford to waste material. Solid Edge allows you to develop new products while putting fewer resources into play, and this is ideal for riding out a recession.”