What do you get when you marry 30 years of 3-D CAD
experience with a passion for surfing? If you're Bruce Pettibone, a founder of Siemens
PLM Software technology partner ShapeLogic,
you come up with a patent-pending online customization solution built around NX
that's being deployed to sell custom-designed, high-end surfboards.
The boards come from Firewire Surfboards, a 5-year-old
company that made a name for itself in surfing circles by leveraging high-tech
materials like expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, aerospace composites, epoxy
resins, carbon rod suspensions and bamboo decks never used before in the
business. The application of those state-of-the-art materials enabled Firewire
Surfboards to produce boards that were lighter, stronger and more responsive
than the traditional polyurethane foam mass-produced offerings, making them
appealing to the high-end surfing audience.
The problem was while Firewire wanted to offer custom design
capabilities on top of its use of unique materials, the design approach put an
undue strain on its engineering staff. They couldn't keep pace with the
hours-long effort required to fine-tune the CAD model for each individual
custom design to maintain the precision required by Firewire's CNC (computer
numerically controlled) machine-driven manufacturing operation. As a result,
Firewire was building custom boards for its international team of surfers, but
was hamstrung to offer the same capabilities for the general marketplace.
"The idea of offering customized surfboards to the average
surfer created a massive bottleneck in the business with CAD developers," says
Mark Price, CEO of Firewire Surfboards. "We couldn't afford enough CAD guys to
build the custom files."
In addition to automating the behind-the-scenes CAD
development, Firewire wanted its system to ensure reuse and replication.
Specifically, the development process had to allow for the exact reproduction
of the custom-designed board so customers could replace it with the same model
at a later date or make slight modifications to the design when making their
next board purchase. "Just like when you like a particular tennis
racket or snowboard, you can buy another at any point in time, we wanted to
bring that degree of sophistication and precision to (custom) surfboard
making," Price says.
Enter Pettibone, an engineer with a background in designing
custom golf clubs. Tapping his acumen around pushing 3-D CAD to tackle complex
surface shapes, and his knowledge and interest in surfing, Pettibone began
developing highly parametric and flexible models of Firewire's base surfboard
models in Siemens
PLM Software's NX
- a challenge in its own
right. Typically, much custom finishing of high-end board design is handled by
seasoned craftsman who painstakingly detail each unit by hand. "Surfboards have
long, flowing curves that are not that easy to subtly model in a CAD system,"
Pettibone explains. "You have to build fairly complex models - almost like a
In addition to creating sophisticated parametric models of
the boards, Pettibone leveraged key features of NX to devise a new online
customization solution called ShapeLogic Design-To-Order Live! for NX. The
solution, at the heart of Firewire's soon-to-be released, Custom Board Design
system, essentially consists of an Internet-enabled user interface with intelligent
parametric models and advanced 3-D CAD tools to establish a customer-driven
customization system. Pettibone leveraged the NX Open application programming
interface (API) with ASP (Active Server Page) scripting to create the dynamic,
interactive Web application along with NX's Product Template Studio (PTS), a
tool for creating re-usable design templates. The latter was used to prototype
the online ordering system interface.
The NX Open APIs, in particular, serve as that critical link
between the browser interface and routing the consumer-requested dimensions
directly to the parametric model. Design rules are embedded in the base
parametric 3-D CAD models in the CBD system, allowing customers to change only
certain parameters around length, nose, and tail width and thickness, for
example. This lets them achieve their desired board shape, yet doesn't
compromise the complex interrelationships within the model that affect
From there, a 3-D PDF is created, which includes the custom
board model, the 3-D parametric model of the board's base design, along with
all of the exact board dimensions. Users can visualize
their board on-screen before committing to a purchase, and they can also
download a lightweight version of the 3-D model in the JT data format to share
with friends and solicit additional input. Board designs
can be stored online until a future purchase (Firewire has already built 30
custom boards based on CBD orders and has somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000
board designs saved in the online system, Price says). Once
customers hit the order button, the system generates a precise CAD solid model
of the custom board, which is fed directly to CNC machines in Firewire's
factory for production.
Unlike other online configure-to-order systems, which allow
users to tailor cars or sneakers, Firewire's CBD is a true engineer-to-order
system that works on live 3-D models over the Web. "You can go on a Nike site
and design your own shoes, but what you're doing is replacing colors and trim
on an existing shape - you can't have
the width changed to fit your foot," Price explains.