Smart Design Solutions

A lower-cost, highly functional CAD system is streamlining the design process for The Pfaltzgraff Co.

Pfaltzgraff’s Naturewood Serenity series was created using tools designed entirely in thinkdesign.
With a shrinking economy and an expanding global marketplace, dinnerware manufacturers are continuing to look for ways to remain competitive. One approach is to introduce new products as fast and as economically as possible. With this in mind, dinnerware manufacturer The Pfaltzgraff Co., headquartered in York, Pa., recently began switching to a more affordable computer-aided design (CAD) program called thinkdesign* after evaluating a fully functional demonstration package. The program is reducing design costs while increasing quality and efficiency for the oldest pottery maker in the U.S.

A detail of the embossed dragonfly before modification.

Reduced Design Costs

“The cost was the main driver,” says Pfaltzgraff’s engineering manager Mike Kohorst. “The software and hardware for our current CAD system cost almost 10 times as much as the new program. In addition, since our current system requires RS6000 workstations, it is much more expensive to maintain because it requires considerable expertise to administer. thinkdesign only requires PCs, which we can easily maintain in-house.”

Another attractive feature was thinkdesign’s yearly subscription fee, which includes free upgrades during the term of the subscription, plus access to a full spectrum of technical support and ongoing education and training services.

thinkdesign also has the potential to reduce the costs of tooling development by making the process more efficient. This is possible with the Smart Objects tool, a feature that conventional CAD programs do not have. This tool allows easy access and manipulation of parametric features. “Designers can capture, reuse and share pre-defined and customer-defined design elements and concepts (profiles, solids and shapes) of any level of complexity, at any point during the design process,” explains Stefano Cinti, think3’s product manager. In other words, with a single click or voice command, users can easily create a model from intelligent parts that capture the “design intent” of the element.

“This will be one of our biggest long-term benefits with thinkdesign,” says Kohorst. “It’s hard to even calculate the impact it will have, making information readily available for sharing in such a friendly, intuitive and visual way. That will mean we can pluck a standard component out of the library, and plug in a few parameters or profile, or whatever is pertinent to that component. This is a vast improvement over the cumbersome and error-prone 2-D documentation process we’ve used in the past.”

Detail of the embossed dragonfly after bending with the Global Shape Modeling tool.

Flexibility and Ease of Use

Despite its low cost, thinkdesign is not lacking in features. Version 7.0, which Pfaltzgraff is beta testing, includes new Global Shape Modeling (GSM) and advanced surfacing tools that give users power and flexibility for shape creation and modification, even late in the design cycle. “GSM works by looking at the problem on a macro level, rather than the traditional micro level,” explains Cinti. “This means that designers can solve the entire problem at once, rather than dealing with individual entities.” The new “capping” command in GSM builds accurate, high quality surfaces while maintaining precise control over surface boundaries and internal control curves.

“GSM is especially important for free-form elements, such as a spout on a tea pot,” explains Kohorst. “You can change the bend of the spout while maintaining tangencies of surfaces that join the spout to the tea pot. The ability to automatically optimize for smoothness after a GSM operation will also be especially helpful for sculpted and embossed products.”

Steps to Standardizing

Less than five months after implementing thinkdesign, Pfaltzgraff produced its first product—part of the Naturewood Serenity line of dinnerware—using tools designed entirely in thinkdesign. By the end of the year, Pfaltzgraff hopes to standardize thinkdesign as its 3D CAD system of choice for all tool design and engineering. Currently, the company is running both thinkdesign and its other CAD program for the design process. But before thinkdesign becomes the norm, users have to become proficient in its operation.

“It is difficult to find time to train users since they are so busy,” admits Kohorst. “Currently, we have two users that can model with thinkdesign, with three others in various stages of training. We expect everyone to be nominally trained by the first quarter of 2002.”

Another problem is transferring the previous CAD data into thinkdesign. Although the new program comes with a translator that reads and writes data from other programs, Pfaltzgraff must verify that it is accurate without loss of information. “We must make links to existing data efficient so that we can easily access the data and bring it into thinkdesign,” says Kohorst.

One advantage of the other program is that it came with a computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) module, which thinkdesign does not provide. “This means we have to establish a process to machine the parts we design,” explains Kohorst, “whether we continue using the current module or another product on the market.”

The Ultimate Goal

Although thinkdesign has the potential to reduce design times by several weeks (design with the other program averages 3-1⁄3 to 4 months for a new product line), the real benefit will be in the increased design iterations possible within the allotted time, enabling Pfaltzgraff to simultaneously increase both product quality and production efficiency. Ultimately, Kohorst will be happy to maintain existing lead times while reducing costs. “Our main goal is to reduce costs,” says Kohorst, “and so far we think we will be able to ultimately lower our costs by 75%.”

For More Information

For more information about the thinkdesign program, contact think3 at (800) 323-6770; fax (408) 727-0237;, or visit

*developed by think3, a mechanical computer-aided design (MCAD) software development company based in Santa Clara, Calif.


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