Thanks to the FARO® Design ScanArm, ICI engineers have accelerated the laborious measurement process, allowing more time for design and creativity.
Bumpers, side steps, rocker panels and fender trims—they are the must-have accessories for drivers who love to trick out their rides. In the world of off-road vehicles and utility trucks, Innovative Creations Inc. (ICI) has a 30-year track record of delivering the goods that transform the everyday vehicle into something with personalized style.
A long-time supplier of stainless steel trim products, including a first-of-its-kind stainless steel polished side step bar, ICI began branching out in 2013 into a broad array of engineered products under the new MAGNUM brand, including highly formed goods like custom grilles. The company maintains a large portfolio of accessories, with options covering most of the leading truck brands, including Ford, Chevrolet, GMC, Dodge, Jeep, Toyota, among a handful of others.
As ICI’s product line grew in breadth and sophistication, its long-standing design processes came under pressure, especially the way in which it captured vehicle measurements as a basis for building the core 3D CAD models to initiate accessory designs. While some car manufacturers make 3D models of popular trucks readily available through the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), it was hardly universal. That meant the ICI design team was often pressed to take an alternative route, which was not only inefficient, it also cut into design time, according to Nathan Lammey, ICI’s Sales and Marketing Coordinator.
Here’s how ICI’s traditional design process typically unfolded: ICI worked its extensive dealer and customer contacts to borrow the latest vehicle makes and models, getting them in-house for a brief time so the design team could disassemble bumpers, physically record measurements, and create a mockup of the pertinent vehicle areas by hand, Lammey explains. The resulting 3D CAD model served as the basis for defining or refining an accessory design; once it was validated and tested, it was sent off to manufacturing, which with a few exceptions, ICI primarily performed in-house.
Typically, it might take any where from a month to two months to track down the latest vehicle model and get it in house, with another two weeks to do the disassembly, gather the requisite dimensions, build a prototype, and then test it on the vehicle to make sure it was an appropriate fit, Lammey explains. “Sometimes it might take a while to find a truck, which of course could delay the manufacturing and design process,” he explains. “In addition, it was often crunch time because the team didn’t really have the vehicle long enough to have all the design time they wanted.”
Introducing 3D Scanning to the Mix
ICI put the brakes on the laborious measuring and design process last November when it decided to introduce 3D scanning into its design workflow. 3D scanning had become an industry best practice, and the ICI engineering group prides itself on staying current with the latest tools and technologies to create optimal and cost-effective offerings for its customer base. “Whether it’s distributors, dealers, or consumers, they want to know that we are leveraging all of the best technology available to produce a product that’s a perfect fit,” Lammey says. Time to market was also a growing concern. “Our traditional process might delay our ability to release a fully completed product and others might beat us to it. It’s nice to have first-to-market advantage.”
After evaluating a number of options, ICI opted for FARO’s Design ScanArm, a high-resolution scanning device targeted specifically for reverse engineering and CAD-based design applications. The FARO portable scanning device, equipped with an arm, was chosen over competing wireless options despite the fact that the lack of a fixed point had some appeal since there were no limits on flexibility during scanning, notes Kyle Dahlquist, ICI’s Lead Product Development Engineer. Because ICI engineers don’t need to scan the entire vehicle—only the front grille area or the roof—Dahlquist says the fixed nature of the Design ScanArm was fine for their use.
On the other hand, the ease of use and lower cost of the FARO Design ScanArm were appealing selling points, Dahlquist says, explaining that ICI didn’t really have a need for a lot of the bells and whistles featured on competitive, more expensive scanners, including capabilities like built-in Wi-Fi and flip-out screens.
Perhaps the biggest selling point of the FARO Design ScanArm was its tight integration with Geomagic® for SolidWorks®, a software tool that provides a fast and more seamless way to import scan data into ICI’s CAD tool of choice, Dahlquist says. “The other options required us to use a separate program to convert something to use with SolidWorks,” he says. “With this solution, the whole time you are using the scanner, you are using SolidWorks. It reduces the learning time.”
Despite the tight integration with SolidWorks, Dahlquist admits there was still a bit of a learning curve to master how to work with the scanning world’s point clouds and file conversions. “You have to clean up the file in order to turn the model into a surface you can design off of,” he says. FARO provided ICI engineers with eight hours of training to ensure they were fluent in the software.
Since swapping out manual measurement processes for 3D scanning, ICI has been able to significantly reduce its design time and consequently, release products to market much faster. As an example, Dahlquist cites a recent project to develop a front and rear bumper design for the Toyota Tacoma. With the old workflow, he estimates it took about 80 hours in total to get to a prototype that properly fit the vehicle, not to mention, building five prototype bumpers before they got one right. “Now, with the scans as a basis for creating the 3D models, I can do that same thing in about 24 hours,” he explains. It also gives the team more time to spend exploring design concepts since they aren’t pressured with time constraints related to having to return a vehicle, Dahlquist adds.
In addition to leveraging the FARO Design ScanArm to create CAD models, the group is also using the 3D scanner for reverse engineering applications. While ICI manufactures most of its products internally (it’s a fully certified steel plate facility), it does not have production competency for some manufacturing technologies like tubing, for example. Instead, it forges partnerships with other manufacturers, which produce those goods according to ICI’s specifications. However, many of those firms don’t have the proper 3D CAD files for ICI’s design team to work on.
That’s where the 3D scanning capabilities come into play. The ICI design team scans the prototype of their partner’s design to create a SolidWorks model that they can further iterate, test, and make sure it properly fits on the vehicle prior to production, Dahlquist explains.
The 3D scanner is used pretty heavily during the front-end of the design workflow. It has been a game changer for ICI’s design process, primarily because of speed.
PRODUCED BY DIGITAL ENGINEERING MAGAZINE ON BEHALF OF FARO