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In today’s competitive business environment, timing is everything. The ability to bring a new product line on the market in a matter of weeks rather than months can significantly benefit a company’s bottom line. However, conventional computer design technology still has limitations in this area. The mouse/Windows interface, which works well for two-dimensional tasks like word processing, is poorly suited to three-dimensional applications such as clay and glass modeling. Even with some of the more advanced computer modeling programs, a new design often takes more than a month to develop and must go through the entire production process to ensure that the finished piece will turn out as planned—a labor-intensive trial-and-error process that wastes a great deal of time and materials.
Over the past several years, a new 3D computer modeling system* has begun to change the way new glass and ceramic tableware and decorative products are taken from concept to reality. Rather than using just the visual medium of the computer monitor, the new system employs innovative hardware that enables modelers and designers to also use their sense of touch while creating a new design. The more realistic approach provides users with the ability to create new designs more efficiently while also capturing design intent in a natural, direct and intuitive manner, often eliminating the need to produce an actual sample product.
For model maker Antonius Koster, the new system has enabled him to significantly streamline the design process and solve difficult technical challenges for his customers. His company, Antonius Koster Modellbau located in Meschede, Germany, has designed molds for such well-known glass and ceramic manufacturers as Lenox and its Gorham subsidiary, both based in Lawrenceville, N.J. “We’ve gone from using handmade models to computer-aided design (CAD) packages. Now, by using this new modeling system in combination with our existing design programs, we can create molds much faster than we could with any CAD program alone. This enables us to provide a valuable service to companies who want to introduce new products in the shortest possible amount of time,” Koster says.
Streamlined WorkflowKoster’s design process begins with a physical model of the new product—usually handcrafted—which he obtains from a German toolmaker who interfaces with the client. Using either a microscribe tool (a device that captures the physical properties of three-dimensional objects and translates them into electronic models) or an optical scanner, Koster digitizes the physical model and brings the electronic image into one of several computer modeling systems, depending on the design and complexity of the project. More complex designs are imported directly into the new 3D modeling system, while simpler pieces are first imported into CAD programs such as Rhino or Cimatron, where a rough surface model is created. Those pieces are then optimized in the new modeling system.
“Our CAD programs are generally faster at creating the basic shape of a product, while the 3D modeling system is much faster at optimizing the design and adding decoration. We typically jump between all of our different programs, using the best program for each task,” Koster explains.
In the 3D modeling system, Koster manipulates the captured data from the original model and makes the necessary modifications—such as adding the parting lines (the separations on the product where the pieces of the mold will meet) and smoothing the surface—to make the product moldable. Before implementing the new modeling system, creating the parting lines took Koster anywhere from one to three days; now the process is finished in a matter of hours. “It is much easier to create parting lines and smooth surfaces in this new modeling system than with any CAD package,” he says.
Once he’s happy with both the parting lines and surface characteristics, Koster saves the data as an IGES file and brings it back into one of his CAD programs to generate the final numerical data required to make the mold. The new modeling software has also significantly streamlined this part of the process. “I can create such precise parting lines and such smooth surfaces in the 3D modeling program that I don’t have to do any trimming when the model is in Cimatron or Rhino,” Koster explains.
According to Koster, one of the more user-friendly aspects of the new system is its haptic (tactile) interface hardware, in the form of a pen-like stylus, which enables him to actually “feel” the model as he is working on it. Using familiar physical metaphors, such as sculpting and wire cutting, the system gives him an unprecedented connection to his models. The combination of a touch-based system and sophisticated modeling techniques enables Koster to spend less time setting parameters and more time working.
“The whole workflow used to take four to five weeks for some of our more complex projects,” says Koster. “Now it takes less than two weeks to finalize a mold design.”
Once the mold is finished, Koster sends the digital data to the toolmaker over an ISDN line. From there, the mold is milled and sent to the customer, where it is used to manufacture the final glass or ceramic product.
Enhanced Design CapabilitiesKoster has used the new 3D modeling system to create a number of new product molds for the glass and ceramic industry since he first began using the system in December 2000. His portfolio includes Gorham’s Emily’s Attic crystal collection, which comprises pieces ranging from relish platters, serving bowls and goblets to compotes, dessert plates and footed cake plates; as well as a variety of figurines and other collectible items.
Using such a sophisticated modeling system enables Koster to create molds for even the most complicated products in a short timeframe. “With just CAD/CAM software, we were limited to simpler designs, such as tableware. Now we can easily make molds for collectibles and other complex products—and the design process generally takes less than two weeks,” he says. “The program also allows us to easily troubleshoot problems. We can quickly determine whether a given design is moldable, suggest modifications, play with the geometry of a design to create ‘new’ designs and use the system’s rapid prototyping function to ensure that a new design is feasible.”
For ceramic and glass manufacturers, this means the ability to quickly and cost-effectively introduce new products to the market—as well as the flexibility to manufacture even extremely complex products on a production scale.
“To remain competitive, companies will need to continue to find ways to introduce high-quality products in the shortest possible amount of time. Combining the new 3D modeling system with conventional CAD/CAM tools makes it possible to achieve these goals,” Koster says.
References:*The FreeForm modeling system, supplied by SensAble Technologies, Woburn, Mass.
For more information:For more information about the new 3D computer modeling system, contact SensAble Technologies, Inc., 15 Constitution Way, Woburn, MA 01801; (781) 937-8315; fax (781) 937-8325; or visit http://www.sensable.com.
For more information about Antonius Koster Modellbau, contact the company at Huenenburgstrasse 6, D-59872 Meschede, Germany; (49) 291-56465; fax (49) 291-56466; or e-mail AKCADCAM@t-online.de.