Innovation and collaborative, synchronized program management for new programs
MET S.p.A is a global leader in the production of helmets for professional cyclists. The MET name has become a synonym for accuracy, reliability, efficiency and sustainable development.
Since 1987, MET SpA (MET) has been an innovator in the production of helmets for road cycling and mountain biking. Based in Talamona, Italy, near Sondrio, the company is a global industry leader in its domain, serving markets across Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the Far East, Canada, United States and Central America. A privately-owned company, MET’s founders are still active in supervising the technical and sales operations of the company, including the new Bluegrass brand dedicated to the “Gravity” market segment. The MET catalog features a comprehensive product offering, from children’s helmets to specialized products for professional and avid cyclists.
With a focus on specialization and continuous innovation, MET has gradually implemented product development processes that largely distinguish the company from many of its competitors, which are still constrained to methods that MET abandoned about ten years ago. Matteo Tenni, a product engineer at MET, explains. “Traditionally, the creation of a new model started from sketches drawn by a designer on paper. Then, the preferred shape was selected and the designer prepared a prototype, again manually, a full-scale resin model, which was used as a reference to develop pilot tooling to mold early samples for product verification and certification testing. With such a process, the designer’s experience was critical to the visual appearance of the final product, but subsequent laboratory tests on the helmet structure might reveal significant defects and lead to even radical modifications. Much time and huge resources were necessary, with a development cycle of 12-14 months, based on a trial-and-error method.”
For these reasons, MET explored virtual design. While giving the designer the freedom to express his vision and creativity in hand-drawn sketches, the introduction of 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software eliminated the manual production of the model. This enabled the manufacture of the first model directly from the geometry of the original sketch reproduced using CAD. “In addition to structural considerations, the availability of a detailed virtual model is a significant step forward, as it allows the designer to check the feasibility of manufacturing tooling and to make the necessary decisions to optimize large-scale production,” says Tenni. “You can also perform product certification tests virtually, without any investment in producing pilot tooling and without having to wait for production tests and verifications on early samples.”
Using the new process, a design is identified that combines both visual look and structural strength, and then the same 3D model is used to prepare the full-scale model with modern rapid prototyping techniques, from 3D printers to sintering. “Starting from the model’s mathematical data, we build an object with centesimal accuracy,” says Tenni. “On this prototype, we can apply all secondary parts and accessories, including laces, size adjustment elements and padding, for internal verification purposes and for presentations based not just on renderings, but on real pictures of the helmet.”
In 2001, MET introduced virtual 3D design into its product development and engineering process. The company looked for a solution that, besides offering proficient CAD functionality, could effectively interface with its software for structural analysis. Tenni explains, “3D provides the added value of optimizing the helmet structure in the very early stages of design. With a pilot mold and a physical part, you cannot identify the limits of the helmet, or understand how much the external volume can be reduced, or how comfort and ventilation can be improved, without jeopardizing safety, which is the primary concern. The development of our products must go beyond these limitations and carefully evaluate all of the fine points.”
When MET conducted a market survey to identify the most suitable CAD solution for its product development purposes, not all of the software packages were up to the company’s sophisticated requirements. NX™ software from Siemens Digital Industries Software proved to best meet the company’s vision and goals for CAD. According to Tenni, NX was implemented “very quickly and massively.” He explains, “From the very beginning, we decided to use NX to develop not only the helmet, but also all secondary elements, including size adjustment elements, laces and visors. We adopted NX at the same time we implemented dedicated numerical simulation software, significantly and positively changing our working methods. Now, using NX, we have excellent consistency between what we design and our output for tooling design. As a result, we can collaborate with mold makers all around the world, obtaining excellent tooling that ensures ample productivity levels across our factories. Before the adoption of NX, our development cycle took 12 to 14 months; with NX, we’ve reduced our development cycle to 6 to 8 months. This is a significant result, not just because costs have been cut proportionally, but mostly because the capacity of our product development department has increased to such an extent that we can create an additional model each year.”
“If I had it to do over, I would make the same decision: I would choose NX,” notes Tenni. He notes that the benefits offered by using NX extend significantly beyond MET’s technical department, especially relative to supplier relationships. “In the past, the entire process was based on the master and foundry model, therefore it was difficult to achieve 100 percent production capacity,” he says. “Today, the fullscale 3D model allows us to make accurate assumptions and to support mold makers in achieving the best configuration of the tooling to be mounted into the press. NX provides very flexible data interchange capabilities and offers excellent trouble-free interfacing.”
According to Tenni, the use of NX also fully addressed MET’s surface modeling requirements, especially for highly complex nodes. “One of our greatest concerns is surface complexity; each model has a huge number of surfaces, with plenty of changing curves, intersections and fillets,” notes Tenni. “A big plus of using NX is its capacity to handle our sophisticated surfacing needs. Our designers can make the most of every facet of the helmet structure, defining details and sections to optimize the helmet volume in order to optimize visual aesthetics, increase wearing comfort and, most of all, achieve the best ventilation. In this way, you can wear a highly attractive, totally safe helmet and hardly realize it’s on your head.”
With a goal to continuously improve its product development operation, MET is pursuing even tighter software integration through Siemens Digital Industries Software partner Team3D. Tenni explains, “Team3D engineers provide updates and upgrades for NX and training courses for new resources. We also asked them to keep us informed about new structural analysis features, as closer integration between CAD and CAE (computer-aided engineering) might bring further benefits and efficiencies to our business.”