Deeper Than Designs - InformationWeek
Software // Enterprise Applications
04:35 PM

Deeper Than Designs

Consumer-products companies use CAD and Project-life-cycle-management tools as part of a broader effort to simplify product design and production

Talk about improving your handicap. In less than four years, Karsten Manufacturing Co., maker of Ping golf clubs, stepped up product introductions fivefold, rolling out as many as 10 new product lines a year. It also cut the time it takes to get a new product to market from two years in 2000 to about nine months.

It did this by leveraging the latest in computer-aided design software to digitize every aspect of developing golf clubs, from capturing the elements of a concept to virtually testing how a particular iron will perform. Karsten has replaced a legacy CAD system with Parametric Technology Corp.'s Pro/Engineer Wildfire software, which includes features such as modeling software for parametric and surface designs, and simulation tools for testing. Engineers can more quickly create a number of iterations, prototypes, and redesigns that they can share--ultimately cutting time out of product development. "We've had a ninefold increase in efficiencies in terms of engineering," says Dan Shoenhair, director of engineering at Karsten.

Consumer-products companies like Karsten are following in the footsteps of engineering-intensive industries that are well-entrenched in CAD systems and digital-design processes. But the CAD software is just one piece of a broader product-life-cycle-management strategy companies are using to simplify design, production, and product evolution. The tools help companies manage and automate materials sourcing, design, engineering change orders, and product documentation such as test results, product packaging, and post-sales data.

"PLM to us is really taking the design and attaching all the various information related to that product--the market plan, design criteria, product specs, testing data, and other type of info--and connecting it all in a fashion that allows you understandable, logical, and intuitive access," Shoenhair says. Karsten is leveraging other modules within PTC's product-life-cycle-management suite, including Windchill ProjectLink to help manage all the programs, project schedules, information, and processes involved in product design and development. The software has helped Karsten eliminate missed deadlines and keep close tabs on project budgets.

Eye On Life CyclesThe automotive and aerospace industries have invested the most money in product-life-cycle-management and CAD software--$1.5 billion in 2003. But greater growth is expected in consumer-products companies such as food and beverage, pharmaceutical, and apparel manufacturers. According to AMR Research, PLM software spending by consumer-products companies totaled about $409 million in 2003. But that's expected to reach more than $1 billion in 2005 as more consumer companies make investments.

Grimes Industrial Design Co., a design firm that helps turns people's ideas into consumer products, is one company investing in the technology. It's using Dassault Systèmes S.A.'s PLM tools to develop several products, including Vertical Skate, a four-wheel skate with a low center of gravity that can be clamped onto a person's street shoes. The skates are sold through Vertical Skate Company Inc., a business unit formed by Grimes Industrial.

Dassault Systèmes' digital-design software, Catia V5, let the company virtually test the how the skate would perform, eliminating the need for costly prototypes. Other Dassault modules such as SmarTeam are further boosting innovation; that module helps companies capture and leverage information from a lot of sources during all phases of product development, as well as after-market data.

Vertical Skate is incorporating market feedback on the original design into the latest skate design. Being able to effectively incorporate such feedback into product plans cuts design planning efforts by a third, Grimes Industrial engineer James Grimes says.

The company so believes in product-life-cycle management as a suite that it wants to put all the tools on every desktop in the company. That way, designs can be shared and leveraged by graphics people developing artwork for packages and marketing teams developing sales campaigns. "The designs will be shared in time to make presentations for marketing and sales," CEO Pat McCarville says.

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