Making the Switch From 2-D to 3-D Saves Time, Guesswork

New software package can take you from concept to product more quickly than ever.


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Contour Tool and Engineering (Zeeland, MI) - a mold-maker specializing in injection molds and stamping dies in a number of industries including automotive and sporting goods - wanted to make the jump from 2-D to 3-D design and began researching new software packages. What it ended up finding was a total software package that would allow the company to accomplish a project from beginning to end without purchasing several systems.

According to Tim and Mike Rietsma, co-owners of Contour Engineering, TopSolid - offered by Clear Cut Solutions, an Addison, IL-based software distributor - brought them to the leading edge of technology. They started the company in 1999 and incorporated in 2000. Currently occupying a five-thousand-square-foot facility, Contour employs six people. Leadtime and pricing are the top challenges the company has been facing on a daily basis - coupled with the burgeoning competition from overseas.

The company's former software package was antiquated and Tim Rietsma began to see the need to modernize. "With our old package, it was flat, just like putting it on a piece of paper," he explains. "With TopSolid, the mold has volume and properties - you feel like you could just reach in and grab the mold, it's so real."


Software Solution

According to Bill Genc, president of Clear Cut Solutions, TopSolid is a hybrid solid/surface parametric CAD system with full drafting capabilities. "This CAD system can be used in a parametric or free-design form, or a combination of both," he says. Contour Tool currently has three seats of TopSolid. One of the seats has TopMold - a mold design package - and the other two seats each have the TopCam machining package. Rietsma says that the two modules add convenience and speed to the company's operations.

Genc notes that the software package has an "intuitive mechanical sketcher that automatically handles implicit parametric rules on the geometry, and creates geometry at the correct dimension while taking advantage of parametric rules - constraints are implicit." Plus, the user can add, merge or delete relationships between dimensions at any time. A free design feature allows the user to create parts and assemblies without the associativity of a parametric modeler, which Genc explains means the user has the option of working without needing to keep track of parent geometry.

Additionally, Genc points out that assemblies can be complicated when using other software packages. "TopSolid allows one or several parts per file without having to be in assembly mode," he says. "There isn't a more flexible way to handle assemblies and subassemblies. Any modifications can be made through an Excel database link, the model manager tree or by direct part selection."

Libraries of standard components are easily customized to each company's unique needs. "You can turn any part into a standard library component, and every part can have different levels of representation - such as schematic, skeleton, simplified, normal or detailed - and it allows revisions," he comments.

Rietsma adds, "If we put an ejector pin in, it will process it by drilling the hole in the block. All of the machining that has to be done gets done electronically. After we get a design done, the TopCam package will accept these blocks so we don't have any translations to do. Basically we just load the block right into the machining package and start cutting."

What used to take Contour a week now takes them a day, Rietsma says. "We really have gained a lot by making detailed prints so much quicker," he comments. "They also lead to less mistakes on the shop floor. Some of the guys weren't accustomed to using detailed prints for everything but they don't mind now. They actually like it - it takes some of the guesswork out of their part of the job. Plus, when it is in 3-D, if you put a bolt in and it went past something you could tell if it cleared it or not. But if you were doing it in 2-D you can't always see that. So visually you can really tell a lot better what is happening."

Automatic updating is another one of TopSolid's timesaving features. When you change one block, other blocks are affected, Rietsma explains. "The whole system has a history to it, so the changes are automatically made throughout. A lot of stuff gets done in the background you don't always see. I've never had a system like this before so I'm still struggling with a few things, but we've only had the system for a year. For the most part we were up and running very quickly. The machining package was the first thing I pushed through the shop, and within a month of having it we were at 80 percent capacity with it. Our goal was to be up and running at that capacity within nine months, so we more than met our goal. I would highly recommend it."

Rietsma neatly summarizes the advantages that TopSolid has brought to his shop. "In a nutshell, we are on the leading edge of technology as far as designing and machining," he states. "It makes the employees' jobs easier, reduces human error, saves a lot of time and gives us a more complete design."