Custom protective covering company increases efficiency by 6X and lowers cost with just one FARO® Focus3D X 130 Laser Scanner.
What Do Snowmobiles, Jet Engines & Armored Tanks Have in Common?
All are high-performance machines subject to degradation from the elements, and all benefit from advanced protective covers from Transhield Inc.
Founded in Elkhart, IN, in 1994, Transhield was started by Greg Todt, who invented a shrinkable fabric that could be used to protect heavy equipment during transportation and storage. While the initial line of covers targeted the automotive and RV industries, Transhield steadily grew its patent portfolio, now numbering 12, enabling it to expand across a range of industries, including industrial equipment, marine, aerospace and military applications.
Based on years of in-depth research on corrosion and advanced materials, Transhield has developed a line of custom coverings that protect equipment against the forces of nature. The outer layer of a Transhield cover is a durable ultraviolet (UV) resistant polyethylene film available in different colors. The middle layer is a hot melt adhesive with an optional, patented Vapor Corrosion Inhibitor (VCI) delivery process to guard against corrosion. The inner layer is a soft, non-woven polyester, and often scrim (strong, coarse fabric) reinforced with VCI additive. The covers, which are custom-fit designs, safeguard equipment from moisture, including rain and snow, as well as UV rays and other environmental hazards. The covers have been found to reduce corrosion by up to 95%, protecting companies’ investment in expensive and mission-critical equipment.
“Our competitive advantage is our material,” says Bob Coulter, Transhield’s director of Data Acquisitions and Technology, citing the company’s robust patent portfolio. “Moisture creates mold, which creates rust. A huge GDP (gross domestic product) percentage from the military is wasted by rusted equipment.“
Modern-Day Take on Plastic Patterning
While Transhield’s patented protective covering technology is high tech, its traditional method of patterning and measuring equipment to deliver a custom fit cover was historically not. The standard plastic patterning process was manual, usually requiring several iterations before the team would get a cover design to fit just right.
“The process was pretty much like making a suit—the team would go out with a roll of 5 mil plastic and literally drape plastic over an object, creating darts and forming the plastic to the object,” Coulter explains. Once the pattern was created on site, it was brought back to Transhield, where a crew would manually remove staples, draw lines around darts, flatten the pattern out on a table, and then employ digitizing equipment to capture the pattern in digital form.
While the process worked, it was cumbersome, expensive and time-consuming. If the client was a military base or an industrial company, the team would have limited time on site with the equipment to create the initial pattern, which led to subsequent on-site fittings, Coulter says. There were also issues related to accuracy because the hand pattern was done by one team and the digitizing done by another.
“Sometimes those following the contour didn’t click everywhere or close enough, so they didn’t capture the measurements perfectly, which changed the way the cover ended up fitting,” he explains. “It created a second-generation chance for human error.”
The lengthy development cycle also meant the pattern prototyping process could be pricey, sometimes amounting to thousands of dollars for each cover iteration in regard to travel time and expenses, as well as labor—a cost of doing business that Transhield could not easily recoup, Coulter says. “We’d been manufacturing all our own materials for almost 20 years and draping plastic over all kinds of industries, but not really using patterning technology at all,” he says. “There is definitely a higher average number of iterations with hand patterning … and sometimes, our lead time to get a prototype back to the customer would be extended.”
Given the sensitive nature of some applications—covers for military equipment, for example, or state-of-the-art equipment—some potential customers were reluctant to share 3D models of their products, further slowing down the process by requiring more hands-on labor, he says. In addition, because this kind of equipment was so complex and potentially hard to access, it slowed the process down further or sometimes even gated Transhield from participation in particular markets. “The more complex contours an object has—like a jet engine, for example—the greater the difficulty for plastic patterning,” Coulter says. “It limited our market outreach, especially when dealing with companies out of the country.”
The Solution: 3D Scanning
Coulter, who joined Transhield in 2014, was specifically tasked with building a 3D design department with an eye toward modernizing the hand patterning process and leveraging new technologies to gain competitive advantage. One of his first initiatives was to introduce 3D scanning technology to replace traditional plastic patterning with a more cost-efficient and accurate process.
Coming from the racing software development business, Coulter had experience with 3D scanners in the past and knew the right technology could have a significant impact on altering the company’s process. In 2015, Transhield made the leap, gradually swapping out plastic patterning with a new process built around the FARO Focus3D X 130 Laser Scanner along with Autodesk® 3ds Max® modeling, animation and rendering software.
Now with the FARO laser scanner/Autodesk 3ds Max combination, the Transhield team can scan the majority of objects in about 20 minutes, eliminating those protracted visits with a manual patterning team to get accurate measurements. The on-site team member simply places the scanner on the corners of an object to capture its contours, and the data is scanned into FARO’s accompanying SCENE 3D laser scanner software, which meshes it into a 3D point cloud. From there, the mesh is pulled into Autodesk’s 3ds Max software to do the 3D modeling work to create the actual cover design, he explains.
The portability of the FARO unit (it weighs about 11 pounds and travels in a backpack), in addition to the close relationship between FARO and Autodesk, was a huge selling point, Coulter says.
While the Transhield team was initially skeptical of the approach, Coulter says once they saw how quickly and accurately it could be done with a digital 3D scanner, they got on board. In addition, the team was able to see over time that the 3D scanning process actually mimicked what they had been doing all along—just translating it to a more efficient and accurate digital process.
“At first they were hesitant because we were stepping on their toes of what they had been doing for 20 years,” Coulter says. “But once they could see we were doing the same thing they had always been doing with plastic, they realized they could have more time and get better accuracy and their knowledge would transfer.”
Over time, the rest of the Transhield team has come around to seeing the merits of 3D scanning and wherever they are able to utilize this method they put the old plastic patterning process to bed. “They see we can get them to the point of sale faster and at times give them the ability to work on objects that previously wouldn’t have been able to be hand patterned, yet sometimes we are limited in our ability to utilize scanning within the military or with sensitive products where even a photograph is prohibited” he says. “But in the end, It’s opened up the opportunity to go deeper in the industrial world and cover objects that previously would have taken a long time and a lot of money to pattern.”
As Transhield shows, even the most traditional industries can evolve to embrace digital technologies to achieve notable results. With the right partner and a scalable 3D scanning solution targeted to your specific industry, it’s possible to leave the manual past behind and focus on a future of digital innovation.
PRODUCED BY DIGITAL ENGINEERING MAGAZINE ON BEHALF OF FARO