Reverse Engineering Speeds Output of Motorcycle Accessories

January 25, 2007

3 Min Read
Reverse Engineering Speeds Output of Motorcycle Accessories

Gee whiz technology is very much in the realm of small to mid-sized companies. A new approach to mold manufacturing allows a significant savings in time and money for the production of ABS saddlebags and other motorcycle accessories at Corbin-Pacific Inc. in Hollister, Calif.

The new reverse engineering approach includes a laser scanner from Perceptron Inc., software from Delcam, a 7-axis portable coordinate measuring machine (CMM) from Romer Inc., and a 5-axis router from Diversified Machine Systems (DMS). In total, it was a $400,000 capital investment installed early in 2006.

“Scanning is 75 percent faster than the hand methods we had been using,” says Tom Corbin, chief operating officer. “Those methods, plus the time needed to find and train designers, had sharply limited our growth.”

The product development process at Hollister starts with choosing several motorcycles from each year’s crop of about 30 new street bikes, off-road bikes and scooters. Brands include: BMW, Harley Davidson, Ducati, Honda, Indian, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Triumph, Vespa, Yamaha and many others. Corbin also makes motorcycle components such as spoilers and grilles plus furniture that replicates the rear seats of classic cars.

Eight designers called “shapers” sculpt the left-hand halves of each new product in modeling clay. All Corbin products are axisymmetrical along a vehicle centerline, so only half need be modeled. These are highly stylized and conform artistically to the lines of the specific bike.

Sculpting each new half-model takes shapers about a week. As soon as they finish, model makers duplicate and mirror-image the right-hand halves in a two-part urethane plastic. That completes the model — also known as a master or a plug — from which the molds are made. Prior to reverse engineering, completing the models and making molds took four more weeks. Now they are done in just one week, three-fourths less time.

Actual parts are rotationally molded in ABS plastic using hand-laid-up molds. Then parts go to routers that deflash the parts and cut openings for doors, locks and attachment points. After surfaces are smoothed by hand-finishing, the products are assembled, coated, painted and polished till glossy.

“These new tools really empower the company to become more imaginative, to create more exquisite, more finely detailed new products,” Tom Corbin says. “The key to any successful company is being involved with the customers and, for us that means a steady flow of great new designs.”

Reverse engineering helps develop new products without a heavy front-end investment in skilled workers, Corbin explained. “Initially I can only train one shaper at a time,” he said. “Maybe after a year or two I could build up to training maybe three at a time. That means fully staffing up for big growth could take three to four years – way too slow, even assuming no one quits,”

Like all shrewd technology investments, Corbin’s foray into reverse engineering focused on what is repetitive and prone to error, rather than on what is purely creative — that is, on the tasks of the model makers rather than the shapers and other stylists.

The challenge of making the right-hand halves of its models exactly mirror the handmade lefts has always been dimensional. Model makers have used cardboard templates, gages, measuring tape, calipers, files and so forth, none of which is very accurate.

Getting this right is critical as fairings and smuggler box halves must mate with no visible seam. Saddlebags are easier as they are sculpted whole.The left and right saddlebags of a set simply need to match rather than mate.

Look for more on this story in our March issue.

EXCLUSIVE:Hear a conversation on the new manufacturing approach between Doug Smock and Anthony Prentis, the design engineering manager at Corbin-Pacific. Click to listen!

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