Friday, December 7, 2007

Software Helps Bicycle Component Maker Crank Out Parts, Cut Prices By Half

Software Helps Bicycle Component Maker Crank Out Parts, Cut Prices By Half

This CAM software helped make forging die design a "cinch," enabling this bicycle component maker to cut machining time from hours to minutes and reduce development costs 80%.

Cook Bros. Racing (Arroyo Grande, CA) has been manufacturing high-end bicycle components for elite cyclists for over 25 years. Several of the top world-class off-road cycling teams, including Women's Masters Downhill World Champion Dawn Dourque, are using Cook Bros. products.

Now, thanks to the competitive edge provided by DP Technology's ESPRIT CAM (computer-assisted manufacturing) package, the company is offering these same quality components to mainstream cyclists. Their first product, the "F Crank," was created using the CAM package and has already won them kudos from cycling's leading magazine, Bicycling. In 1998, Cook Bros. won the publication's coveted "Editor's Choice Award" for the F Crank's chain ring quick-release mechanism.

Within just two years, ESPRIT has made it possible for Cook Bros. to enter the main consumer bicycling market with a more economical F Crank. In the past, the company had machined components from aluminum billets. Using this CAM software package, Cook Bros. has opted to manufacture these parts from forgings, allowing them to cut prices while keeping their products lightweight, strong, stylish, and high-quality.

Jack Witmer, Cook Bros. owner, says ESPRIT will help the company decrease concept-to-market time, making them more efficient and productive. "In a niche business, time is of the essence, and product popularity has a very short life span," says Witmer. "If a company is going to succeed and stay on the cutting edge they have to develop products faster and with fewer issues to deal with."

File translation problems between CAD (computer-aided design) and CAM is one issue that Cook Bros. has avoided. Witmer says that his SolidWorks CAD files have integrated seamlessly into ESPRIT, with other advantages as well. The software has enabled Cook Bros. to machine the forging dies in-house, then send them out to forging houses for production - a rarity for shops of its type. "Making the dies is considered a 'black art,'" says Witmer, "but it's a cinch with ESPRIT."

CAM's Toolpath Accuracy Cuts Scrap to Near Zero

Cook Bros. still works with aluminum billets, but on a limited basis. When a crank arm is designed, the part goes into a pre-production period where a prototype is machined from a billet, using ESPRIT's surfacing capabilities to "massage" the part to perfection. The prototype is then sent to bicycle racers for testing and to the media as a marketing tool. Witmer explains, "You could say that I'm actually in the fashion business; I just use a milling machine instead of a sewing machine."

Once they have established market demand for a part, parametric data from the crank's file prototype and die will be used to machine the production fixtures and make a part that will look identical to the prototype. The parts are indistinguishable, except for the fact that the prototype took roughly seven hours longer (the forged blank takes seven minutes of production machining) and was significantly more expensive to produce.

Witmer expects that his CAM software will help him reduce development costs by up to 80%. Prototyping costs also will go down because of the accurate toolpath generations from ESPRIT, resulting in less scrap, time, and money spent redoing a project. "The failure and rejection rate has been next to nothing since we started using ESPRIT," says Witmer. The Full Spectrum CAM package generates the toolpath for the die through the 3-D surface machining package. If a change is made in the design, ESPRIT's parametric engine automatically recalculates the toolpath without the need to reprogram.

Using forging dies will enable Cook Bros. to increase production over their previous processing method. According to Witmer, "Up to now, we have been using two-pallet and eight-pallet Cincinnati Milacron Model T10 four-axis horizontal machining centers to cut parts out of individual 7075-T6 aluminum billets. By sending dies out to forging houses around the country for mass production, we will be able to cut prices on our crank sets by more than 50%, making us very competitive."

Not only will the components be less expensive, the new method also makes them stronger and more durable. The increased efficiency and success they have seen in the shop by using ESPRIT has inspired them to consider adding other forging items to their product line. The prospect of Cook Bros. winning more awards in the future looks promising indeed.

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