3D Printing – Recovery of Heritage Design via CM
By Kim Robertson and Jon M. Quigley
Leveraged Innovation Logistics
Mike and Akio had been invited to one of the Genesis Test Equipment logistic repair depot by Lina Hendrik, the facility manager to discuss an idea she had regarding retrofit of a discontinued product line still widely used in an automotive niche market segment.
As they walked to the back storage bay she began discussing the situation.
“We are still providing logistics support to over 1,900 fielded units. These cycle through the depot about 150 units per month for recalibration and upgrade to the last design improvement we made which was some 10 years ago. Most of the units are now with their third or fourth owner. These are generally small specialty repair and diagnostic shops catering to owners of European cars from the 60’s through the 90’s.
We are seeing some interesting metal fatigue in the same supports and bell housings throughout the product line in addition to the normal logistics issues of hard use and ageing electronics.”
Mike was silent for a moment, “Didn’t we do one last production run of housings and brackets for stock before ending our official support of the product about 18 months ago?”
“Yes, that’s right. We did a short run of 300 units but have very few of the items remaining in stock and still have a very high demand for depot level support. It really isn’t profitable for Genesis but we have met the demand despite diminished margins. My team has been kicking this problem around for about a month and we think we have an idea and direction that will still provide the support the current GDG 1500 series owners need while encouraging leveraged innovation with a Genesis funded start-up. I’ll let Lonzo explain what we have in mind. I think you’ll like it.”
They entered the area conference room and after looking at examples of the fatigued parts, the short meeting began.
“I believe that with a slight redesign of the housing and a new set of electronics a steady bread and butter type revenue stream exists for at least another 10 years on the GDG 1500 series. We suggest an outsourcing of logistics support to another firm. This focuses Genesis on our new technologies but retains the good will of the market segment.
Mike nodded, “So instead of planned obsolesce we facilitate planned transitional support.”
That’s correct,” Lonzo replied. “I’ve run the numbers based on the electronic design recommendations we just made assuming we would have to reverse engineer our own mechanical designs for the brackets and housing.”
Akio’s eyebrows shot up, “Reverse engineer?”
Lina chimed in, “Unfortunately that is correct. Before turning the records retention function over to configuration management Genesis facilities made an uninformed decision to dispose of all engineering three years after end of product manufacture. Facilities convinced IT that the electronic CAD files should be purged as well. We’ve had engineering looking at our remote sites and we have nothing on file. All of this was prior to our starting up our PLM system.”
Akio stepped out of the meeting to make a few calls. He returned to the meeting, his normally expressive face was wearing an expression seldom seen. It was almost radiant.
He announced. “Mike, I think this is just the project we have been looking for to prove out our thoughts on additive manufacturing! I’ve set up a meeting with a friend of mine for Monday. Let’s see what he can do with 3D scanning.”
Jason gave three quick raps on Mike’s closed door, waited a minute, opened the door and said, “He’s here.”
They snagged Akio on the way to the cafeteria. The sound of laughter grew louder as they rounded the corner and were greeted with cries of, “Here’s Mike and Akio! You’ve got to do Mike and Akio!”
Leptig Varonick looked up from his laptop.
Mike smiled at the slightly built archeologist turned engineer and laughed, “I’m game.”
Jason motioned to the empty chair, “Sit in the chair so he can take some photos.”
Leptig walked slowly around Mike with his iPhone snapping away. He then sat down in front of his laptop made some image manipulations and pulled up a 3D picture image of the Genesis Test Equipment CEO.
“This is done using one-two-three D Catch from Autodesk,” Leptig smiled.
He handed the laptop to Mike so he could rotate the image.
After lunch Lina and Lonzo joined Leptig, and Akio in Mike’s office
“I would very much appreciate a run down on how your project is going,” said Mike after taking a sip of his now suitably cold coffee. “It is called AC LLC isn’t it?”
“That’s right … AC stands for Artifact Capture. one-two-three D Catch is the kind of technology that helped propel me to start the non-profit corporation,” Leptig said. “That was two years ago and now I’m involved in one of the largest artifact 3D image capture projects in the United States.”
The discussions lasted well into the evening.
Two Months Later
It was time for the mid-year celebration at Genesis and as Mike walked to the podium he motioned Leptig to join him.
“I’d like to thank each of you for a great first half this year. We have seen the introduction of product into two new market segments as well as innovations in all our other segments. Thanks to recommendations from our logistics support group we have also started up a new additive manufacturing group and were able to spin off some of their activities to provide new opportunities to a disadvantaged community. Critical to this was our partnering with AC LLC, this year’s recipient of the Genesis Cultural Heritage Grant. It is my great pleasure to introduce Dr. Leptig Varonick, AC LLC’s founder.”
Leptig smiled at the assembly.
“One of the worst things that can befall mankind is the loss of any portion of its collective cultural heritage. Every artifact destroyed and every lesson learned along the way from antiquity to the present is the loss of a precious thing. AC LLC was created to prevent this loss from happening and to assure cross-cultural access to artifacts via identical copies using non-potentially destructive technologies. Copies offer the advantage of studied without harming what may be the only item in existence. They can also be used for people to acquire the skills necessary to properly handle in situ finds in the field.
If you truly understand configuration management, you know it is all around you. It might be said to be part of the human condition. As evidence, I’ll simply offer that cross bow firing mechanisms found at the Terracotta Warrior site in China had interchangeable parts. Those parts were also interchangeable with firing mechanisms found over 2,000 miles from the site and this is circa 210 BCE. I am personally convinced that for interchangeability to be so abundantly evident it had to have existed in some form at a much earlier date. Perhaps even predating the helve hammer mills in China say around 1050 BCE.
In a similar way, one of the worse things that can befall a company is the loss of its intellectual property. Part of this IP includes a product’s design heritage. Artifacts can be mislaid and be buried for thousands of years only to resurface again. Intellectual property once gone can be recreated through reverse engineering but that is expensive, and despite opportunities that may present themselves may prove too costly simply due to the non-recurring costs and passed by. But that is no longer the case.”
He paused for a moment before continuing.
“I have been reading up on your company’s history and was impressed by the nearly contemporary look and feel of the GDG 1500 series. Would it surprise you to know that all of the engineering for it was destroyed years ago?
That is where the association between Genesis and AC LLC started. The same technologies being employed at the Smithsonian to digitally capture its 137 million-piece collection with high-tech scanners was used on critical components of the GDG 1500 series. Rather than reverse engineering your lost engineering, we were able to capture 3D scans of the items, modify the results to beef up weak areas and then use additive manufacturing to produce the parts needed to perform logistics operations such as returning fielded units to factory specification at a fraction of the cost of making the same item on CNC machines. One of the updated parts can be seen on the screen behind me.”
Leptig paused for a question from the audience.
Palo Wolffe scoffed, “So why was this important on a product line that hasn’t been built for years? I mean who really cares. Why don’t we make them buy new? Isn’t this just like my smart phone? Every two to three years I throw away the old one and buy something more powerful.”
Akio smiled and said, “I’ll take this one. The simple answer is because there is no equipment on the market today that does what the GDG 1500 series does and we have no plans to make a new model. It is in a way part of our collective cultural heritage as the equipment primarily runs diagnostics on classic European sports cars. I for one can’t imagine we would abandon a market where we are building the test equipment for their modern equivalents.
While it is no longer profitable for Genesis to continue logistics support, a steady revenue stream did exist for a small company to continue GDG 1500 series logistics support if the obsolete electronics were updated and mechanical fatigue issues could be resolved. After fatigue patterns were analyzed, the structural weak points were modified and an on demand additive manufacturing capability was set up. From project inception to finished product, this saved over 200 hours of engineering per part and a reduced production cost of 80 percent. The capability of 3D scanning and additive manufacturing will allow us to do some very amazing things in the future including exact fit replacement upgrades to onboard diagnostic equipment originally designed by others. Before 3D scanning there was no way to tell exactly the volumetrics of the area with which we had to work. Now that space can be determined by the 3D scan along with exact placement of all interfaces.”
Mike asked, “Leptig, what do you see as the greatest single issue involving digitized images and how can Genesis and others in industry help resolve it?”
“One unresolved issue involving digitized images regardless of end use is that of configuration management. Traditionally engineering was represented in drawing format. In the 1980’s we introduced paper space renderings from CAD programs, thermal and structural models, Software Code and now in the case of precision 3D scanning bit clouds. For some 3D scanning projects the bit cloud is married to a CT scan or MRI capturing internal as well as external features adding a degree of Configuration management complication not currently addressed in the ISO or EIA standards. Eventually additive manufacturing resolutions will be equal to our present scanning capabilities. 3D printing to the sub-micron level will be not only possible but commonplace. Our challenge today is to creatively manage and preserve these precious scans in our PLM systems as the definitive representation of the objects they represent. The ability to always preserver the scan as a cultural product baseline is imperative.
These artifact scans represent the greatest masterpieces of human achievement. They also evidence all the ravages of time. The urge to start manipulating the data clouds to remove this damage prior to printing will be at times uncontrollable. Without proper configuration management, baseline reversibility as well as iteration management of cloned bit clouds, the source data could be compromised or lost forever.
Imagine if you will, a masterpiece subjected to a poor restoration process. The restoration is what it is. You can’t undo it and go back. The starting place is lost forever. Now imagine always being able to go back. That is what we envision. We need to manage the data so we can always go back to the source 3D images if the original artifact is severely compromised or destroyed.
We look to Genesis and those in other market segments using additive manufacturing to create the international CM standards for 3D image capture and model control. You are on the forefront of these technologies and archeology will rely on those new standards you create as we put the case forward to preserve artifacts across the globe via 3D scanning.”