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Case Study

An innovative pattern for manufacturing success

Dependable Pattern Works

Combining a spirit of innovation with the latest in design-through-manufacturing automation enables this company to thrive in difficult times

Early adopter, survivor

Dependable Pattern Works is one of the largest pattern shops in the Northwest part of the United States. From its beginnings in 1933 as a wood pattern shop, DPW now supplies wood patterns, rapid prototype parts, wax injection dies, urethane parts and fixtures to industries such as aerospace, construction and heavy equipment, computer, transportation, and pulp and paper. The variety of the work is incredible. “One day we’ll be doing patterns for flowerpots and the next we’ll be making a quarter-scale wind tunnel model for a fighter aircraft,” explains John Grainger, CAD and systems manager at DPW.

DPW has been on the leading edge of technology for years, having adopted Unigraphics (now called NX™ software) for CAD and CAM in the early 1980s. “We implemented Unigraphics version 1, before people really knew what CAD was,” explains John Kuran, a systems engineer with the company. “In 2005, we are still pushing the envelope. Computers, storage, software – you name it. When we see technology that will give us an advantage, we adopt it.” Recently that has included an upgrade to the current version of NX, which extends the company’s relationship with Siemens PLM Software to more than 20 years.

Automation by nonprogrammers

The long-term nature of the relationship with Siemens has been important to DPW. “We’ve put in many man hours over the years automating the pattern development process, particularly toolpath production but also some aspects of design,” says Grainger. A sample of automated tasks includes: design of compressor vane blades, calculation of feeds and speeds, generation of shop floor documentation and transfer of toolpaths to the DNC system. With Siemens as its software vendor, DPW has always had confidence that it could put all this effort into development without worrying that its supplier would go out of business. Not only has Siemens been a stable partner, its development team continues to ensure that this element of DPW’s competitive edge remains leading-edge. “Every year, Siemens puts more into the software that benefits us,” Grainger adds.

DPW buys its Siemens software from the value-added reseller, Acuity. Here, too, the relationship is long-term and beneficial. “Acuity provides excellent account service,” Kuran notes.

An interesting thing to note about DPW’s extensive process automation is that the company has no IT department or programmers. All of the automation has been done by people whose main jobs are production. They basically taught themselves what they needed to know, with assistance from resources such as Siemens PLM Software’s Global Technical Access Center. The focal point for post-sale software support, GTAC is organized into specialized teams that support specific product disciplines. These teams are located in close proximity to their parallel product development groups, so they can quickly identify ways to help customers such as DPW improve productivity.

A unified solution

The seamless integration of NX applications has enabled DPW to move a job as quickly as possible from start to finish. “A big benefit of NX and automation is that we are able to move through design and CAM quickly and get the job down on the shop floor as soon as possible,” explains Kuran. “We give the operators everything they need to do their jobs, without requiring blueprints.” With NX CAM on the shop floor, machine operators check toolpaths on the computer, without leaving their work site.

“With NX, what we’ve done is automate information flow,” adds Grainger. “When a job comes in, 95 percent of the time, we have not seen that product before. But it comes through the door and we hit the floor running. We have the component designed, built, polished, reassembled and out the door in a week. And if we see an area where we’re dragging our feet, we automate that too.” With this level of customer service and innovative processes in place, it is easy to see why DPW has continued to prosper. The company has survived when many others have closed their doors. “The investment we made with Siemens long ago was a bold step that has paid significant dividends over the years,” Kuran concludes.

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