David Tackles Goliath at Wargames Factory

3 Nov, 2008 By: Cadalyst Staff

Using the FreeForm 3D Modeling System, Wargames Factory's small staff shaved 40% off design and production time.

Wargames Factory, based outside Boston, has just six employees and embraces a variety of innovative business practices. The company, which designs and manufactures hard plastic, multipart miniatures, uses recycled plastics in its miniatures and employs people with disabilities for production. 

Founder Tony Reidy launched Wargames Factory one year ago with a passion for historical gaming and a vision for improved design and manufacturing processes. But Reidy had only a small amount of investment capital to start his business.

To reach the estimated four million hobbyists with a zeal for constructing and painting 28-mm miniatures and recreating historic battles, Reidy realized he needed exceptional detail in the costumes, poses, and facial expressions of his miniatures to set them apart from those of his competitors. This meant producing them at smaller volumes than larger firms, while maintaining the competitive starting price of $14.95 per set.

Using the FreeForm 3D Modeling System from SensAble Technologies to design its products and prepare for the manufacturing process, Wargames Factory reports that it shaved 40% -- more than a month -- off the time needed to create and produce its Caesar's Legions (Late Republican Romans) and British Zulu War Infantry figure sets. The company also states that it lowered the cost of creating the manufacturing molds for multipart figurines by nearly 20%, while achieving greater precision with the modeled figures.

"Despite the talk about all-digital manufacturing, an amazing amount of the plastic-injection molding business still uses labor-intensive, manual processes," Reidy said. "It is very much an art more than a science."

Many toys and models are still hand sculpted in wax or clay with injection tools. Using a pantography process, parts are traced over to produce a scaled-version prior to cavities being cut into the steel -- a stage in which many manual processes are needed to create the final mold. This traditional process can take 20 or more weeks, from start to finish, for highly detailed parts. Even when executed by experienced workers, pantography can lead to areas of lost detail on parts and manufacturing problems that can halt production.

Using the FreeForm 3D Modeling System allows the company to preserve intricate detail while sculpting. Click image for larger view.

To achieve the goals of the business plan, the company knew that the ability to quickly produce new box sets would be key and would only be possible through all-digital efficiencies.

"After looking at many alternatives, we determined that FreeForm was the only software available that would allow us to design our miniatures for precision-injection mold tooling and manufacturing -- letting us create highly intricate sculptures that preserve their detail, in record time," Reidy said.  "In addition to saving time and costs, FreeForm allowed us to have confidence in the parts that we deliver for tool design. The beauty of FreeForm is that we know that what we put into the digital process is exactly what we'll get out of the final mold."

According to SensAble, product designers in many fields use FreeForm because it is tailored for creating curved, organic, and nongeometric shapes, such as collectible figurines. Instead of working with a computer mouse, FreeForm users hold a stylus-like PHANTOM haptic device and sculpt by touch. Users feel the figurine's surface as they are designing on-screen, just as they would if they were working with wax or resin.

FreeForm is tailored for creating curved, organic, and nongeometric shapes, such as figurines. Click image for larger view.

"We're already preparing to ship our next four box sets in a few weeks," Reidy said. "Now that we have standardized on FreeForm, we can literally go from concept to final plastic parts in a matter of weeks.  We can also support multiple design and production processes at the same time without missing a beat. For example, FreeForm allows us to utilize the work of other digital sculptors and 'fix' their parts for manufacturing. FreeForm has proven to be everything we hoped it would be -- and more."

SensAble's vice-president of sales and marketing Joan Lockhart, said, "Wargames Factory's approach typifies the ways that small, nimble manufacturers can effectively compete against global firms which have more employees, massive technology investments, and costly overhead." Lockhart added, "By adopting an all digital workflow, from design through manufacturing, entrepreneurial companies like Tony's are able to streamline the entire process and get high-quality products to market faster."

Related content: MCAD

About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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