Case Study

From concept to manufacturing two to three times faster

Future Test

Solid Edge with synchronous technology enables company to dramatically improve time-to-market; software transforms complex design from tedious to turbocharged

Highly specialized electronics applications

Future Test Inc. specializes in medical, law enforcement and military electronic design, test and repair services. This includes analog, digital and microcontroller design services, PCB layout and PCB assembly, mechanical design and fabrication, rapid prototype development, design for test and manufacturing, automated test development and quality control, and an electronic contract manufacturing capability for short and medium runs.

With more than 25 years of expertise, the company’s strong product and service suite includes a VGA LCD driver board, universe control board, bill validator, portable lightweight motion control devices, and virtual reality training for military and law enforcement. Among innovations, Future Test provides laser inserts and recoil mechanisms for weapons that use laser pulses instead of bullets. The company typically designs and builds entirely in-house.

Need for change

Customer projects were becoming increasingly complex. “We could have kept using 2D, but our customers are continuously pushing the envelope, wanting greater capacity in a smaller package, and 3D is more efficient in addressing such design requirements as well as offers a number of advantages in machining complex parts, ”says Roger Malin, the company’s president. “We knew 3D was the way to go.” He notes, “We have happy customers and we want to ensure that bond stays strong.”

Future Test moved to 3D design, but soon became disappointed with certain aspects of the technology. The company tried both Alibre® software and SolidWorks® software. “SolidWorks has a history-based approach just like the others,” says Malin. “I don’t want to see a history tree. I don’t want any complexity added in the middle of trying to solve a design issue. Most importantly, I want 3D that is not rigid, especially in the extremely important conceptual design phase.”

Synchronous technology accelerates innovation

Future Test began using Solid Edge® software in 2008 after frustration with its foray into traditional 3D CAD. Ian Webb, designer at Future Test, emphasizes, “Too much mumbo jumbo in the design process.”

“My boss knows CAD technology,” notes Webb, “but I have little hands-on experience. I have been using Solid Edge synchronous technology for just under a year; I must say I am very impressed. Solid Edge is truly easy to use.” Webb is self taught, pointing out, “I had zero solids model training prior to using Solid Edge.”

Distinctly easier to use than most CAD systems, Solid Edge leverages synchronous technology, the first-ever history-free, feature-based modeling technology that provides users with a significantly faster design experience. Synchronous technology provides the best of constraint-driven techniques with direct modeling. “With synchronous technology, you design in your mind, not in complex software,” says Malin. “We know how to draw and we don’t want to spend time learning programs because we have a wide variety of tasks, only one of which is CAD. We don’t sit in front of CAD all day so if a person has to be a CAD expert, it won’t work.”

Approaching Solid Edge from a distinctly business-oriented perspective, Malin points out: “With Solid Edge synchronous technology, we can immediately make the adjustments we need to make in our design process. This is a solution we can run our business on, the others not so. We don’t have time to get used to all the idiosyncrasies of a traditional history-based system like SolidWorks. But Solid Edge is very straight forward.”

Malin explains the difference between traditional CAD and Solid Edge with synchronous technology: “In the traditional package, we truly lose design ideas because too much manipulation is involved and we spend more time learning the CAD system rather than designing. In the conceptual design phase, we need to be done in seconds with an assembly. We can’t lose our train of thought or something important might be missed. With Solid Edge, we can adjust and explore at will – very quickly – enabling new concepts to be proven. Solid Edge with synchronous technology eliminates a lot of work in the conceptual phase.”

Future Test tackles remarkable electro-mechanical celluloid challenges. “We are often required to put significant magnetic force into a very small place,” says Malin, noting, “Customers want smaller and smaller electromechanical assemblies. The request comes in for something the size of a cigarette box that was three times this size in a prior application. Solid Edge enables us to explore the model and assemblies for fit and function and change things on the fly to tackle the requirements. This enables us to bring exceptional value to our customers.”

In addition, Solid Edge allows Future Test to work with Pro/E® software data from one of its largest customers. “We don’t have to go online and spend time and money on converters,” says Malin. “Pro/E part and assembly files can be easily turned into Solid Edge files. Solid Edge is the only software that we have that will convert Pro/E into something we can use, allowing us to immediately make in-house revisions.”

Intuitive interface also differentiates software

“We needed an intuitive interface,” says Malin. “Some CAD software that Ian has used, while updated, has carried its legacy look and feel forward. That’s a definite impediment, making such software harder to use and harder to understand. The way to go is Windows, like Solid Edge, because Windows is understood across businesses and industries. Having to resort to command-line interfaces is old school. The drop-down menu that prompts the user is significantly better; we think Solid Edge stands above here.”

Getting to manufacturing two to three times faster

Solid Edge enables the company to design and innovate, do so quickly and move onto the next project. “When I have an idea, it might be good or bad, but until it’s on screen and related to rest of model, it can’t be effectively judged,” says Malin. “The overall ease of use of Solid Edge allows us to manipulate the drawing, create drawings ourselves, modify on the fly, dreaming up exciting solutions to complex challenges versus fighting with the software trying to make it do something. If I can’t make it happen quickly then the ideas fade while trying to trouble-shoot the software. That’s where Solid Edge is different with its synchronous technology. Its user interface is also very intuitive, which we also rank as highly important to productivity.”

According to Malin, using Solid Edge, Future Test is now exploring design solutions faster than ever before, getting from design to manufacturing, on average, two to three times faster.

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