Industrial designers and consumer product companies have long understood the value of digital data for their design and manufacturing processes. However, the organic shapes so common in our everyday products present workflow challenges even for the best CAD platforms. Consequently designers have turned to 3D scanning and reverse engineering technologies for help. Today 3D scan data is used for part & tool inspection, product redesign and analysis, rapid prototyping, packaging design, and even virtual models for marketing and consumer testing.
Recently the marketplace has been changing as consumers demand more eco-friendly products. Industry surveys indicate that the interest in green products continues to grow, even in the current economy. While this is great for the planet, it is also good news for 3D scanning companies who are seeing a growing thread of business evolve as consumer goods firms redesign existing products to utilize new environmentally friendly materials and manufacturing processes.
Robinson Home Products has been in the business of developing and marketing houseware products since 1921 when they began life as the Robinson Knife Co. In the ninety years since, they have become a leading distributor and marketer of consumer products, including such well-known brands as Rubbermaid utensils, Crockpot tools, Oneida kitchenware, and the Chip Clip bag sealers.. An employee-owned company, Robinson Home Products prides itself on staying in tune with their customer’s needs and concerns and then innovating to meet those demands.
In response to concerns over globally-outsourced manufacturing practices, Robinson actually bucked this trend and is working on several programs to be manufactured in the US. To help this process, the Robinson team began working with Harbec Plastics in Ontario, NY. Harbec is a manufacturing company with an environmental mission, on site windmill, and natural gas generated power (one of their goals is to be carbon neutral by 2015). Robinson met with HARBEC and raised the idea of using a new class of recycled plastic resins.
Anticipating the changing demands of their customers, the team at Robinson decided to launch a new line of kitchen products called Green Street. The product design group decided that the utensils in the Green Street line would be manufactured from material created out of recycled water bottles and packaged in recycled and compost-able materials. They even had some existing injection molds that could be used for the prototype phase.
After the initial test batch of products had been produced, the product design group decided that the “look” of the utensils was a little mundane for such an exciting new product. They loved the overall shape of the spatulas and spoons but wanted something a little more indicative of the green nature of the product. The design team decided to redesign the slots to look more like tree branches. The problem was that they only had old 2D drawings of their existing molds, making a modern CAD redesign almost impossible. They needed to find a way to accurately and quickly reverse engineer the existing injection molds into SolidWorks to facilitate the redesign process.
Early in 2009, Robinson Home Products and Harbec Plastics found Direct Dimensions, Inc., a Maryland-based company with nearly 15 years of experience specifically in the use of 3D scanning technologies for reverse engineering. Direct Dimensions maintains a staff of technical experts in reverse engineering and a wide variety of 3D scanners and software tools for a wide variety of applications. They solve 3D problems in industries from aerospace and automotive to art and architecture. Direct Dimensions was the perfect fit to allow the product design team at Robinson and Harbec to create their new Green Street utensil designs.
After consulting with the engineers at Harbec about the specifics of the project and understanding how they intended to actually redesign the piece, the engineers at Direct Dimensions formulated a plan that included selecting the proper scanning equipment and reverse engineering workflow. The two steel mold sets were shipped to the Direct Dimensions’ facility where the engineers opted to use a Faro Arm with an attached Faro Laser Line Scanner. Within a day they digitized the complex injection mold shapes with an accuracy of approximately +/-0.002” (50 microns) and over some 8 million total 3D points of data.
With the precise complex contours of the utensil mold shapes accurately captured as a dense set of raw 3D points, the team at Direct Dimensions still had to choose from its various software workflow options for processing the data into a suitable model for SolidWorks. They settled on Rapidform’s XOR reverse engineering software for several reasons including its ability to automatically process the organic raw scan data into surface ‘region’ groups. More importantly, Rapidform XOR allowed the design-intent reverse engineered geometry to translate directly into SolidWorks as native editable features, as opposed to a ‘dumb’ IGES translation. This process gives the team at Harbec and Robinson true CAD models of their original molds in the format of their in-house SolidWorks CAD software.
The Green Street line of kitchen products will launch later this year at major national retailers. Robinson plans to market them with packaging made of seed paper (which contains seeds for an herb garden and can be planted after the products are purchased) and attached with raffia tie (a compostable material to help your garden grow).