Automating Design, Patterning and Production Expands Time-At-Profit
Why Automate? A Case Study
Geoff Combs’ passion for models, design, and aviation—he once competed as a sponsored radio-controlled aircraft flyer—led him to found Aerosport Modeling & Design, Inc., in 1996.
Although the product development, prototyping, and manufacturing services company has deep roots in aviation, Aerosport has also worked with thousands of satisfied clients in the automotive, medical, toy, and consumer products industries. The firm produces high-quality prototypes, as well as appearance models and working models. They also serve as an extension to their clients’ design and engineering teams.
Combs cites ongoing research and investments in the latest design, and manufacturing process automation technologies as critical to the company’s growth, competitiveness, and success. “When we started handling work that went far beyond model airplanes—such as medical devices and automotive components—it quickly became clear that we needed to add effective digital design and engineering capabilities,”
While Aerosport initially realized significant productivity gains by implementing SOLIDWORKS 3D design software, there was one area of its traditional business that required an additional solution: providing upholstery services for aircraft and automotive seats.
“Once we began working on the interiors of cars and planes, we needed to upholster seats,” Combs explains. “Upholstering a seat was a completely manual process for us. To create patterns we would:
- draw sew lines on the foam seat bun with black magic marker,
- pin a sheet of cotton over the bun and a piece of drafting mylar over the cotton
- copy the the black marker lines onto the mylar and then onto the cotton
- notch the pattern, and then add salvage before cutting and sewing the cotton
- do test fittings and adjustments until we got the piece perfect.
That was a time-consuming and repetitive process. After just a few jobs the team decided that they needed a better solution. Combs was researching upholstery-related applications when a supplier suggested the ExactFlat® 3D-to-2D flattening application, for use on composites, industrial fabrics, leathers, and other types of technical textiles.
Digital Automation Replaces Manual Effort
Using the combination of SOLIDWORKS and ExactFlat software, Aerosport has replaced its manual seat-pattern-making upholstery process with an automated digital approach. The process now begins with a 3D solid model of the seat bun in SOLIDWORKS software. Combs then creates the pattern for the seat upholstery using ExactFlat digital patterning software. Once the patterns are completed they go directly to the cutting table and then to the model shop for sewing and assembly.
“The new digital approach is much better than doing it by hand,” Combs stresses. “Creating a seat pattern used to take a week or longer, depending on the complexity of the seat. With SOLIDWORKS and ExactFlat, we can finish a pattern in an hour. This solution is saving time and money, as well as enabling us to increase throughput.”
Improved Quality, and Reduced Costs
Because SOLIDWORKS and ExactFlat automate the creation of upholstery patterns, Aerosport has cut its time-to-market by 50 percent and reduced upholstery production costs by 30 percent. The combined solution has also enabled the company to increase its seat pattern accuracy, resulting in material savings through ExactFlat nesting capabilities and an improved finish, particularly when working with the latest generation of seat designs.
“With newer, more complex seats, we used to add a layer of foam along the sides to make the upholstery fit,” Combs notes. “SOLIDWORKS and ExactFlat have improved our pattern accuracy to the extent that we no longer have to add any foam. I’m amazed at how well our patterns now sew together. SOLIDWORKS and ExactFlat have really helped us to streamline the process.”
Ask the Experts
Get a demonstration of how ExactFlat and SOLIDWORKS can integrate into your design and production process. Just click on the image below to schedule a time to meet with one of our experts.