When you deal exclusively with big-name industrial customers and highly sensitive applications, it’s very challenging to market your capabilities. This was a particular problem for contract engineering firm STS Technical Design and one of their material providers, The Virtual Foundry, both of which are based in Wisconsin.
“We deal with a lot of proprietary work for customers in aerospace and other industries, so we can’t really show our full offering to prospects,” says Benjamin Heard, project manager and additive manufacturing engineer for STS. “And The Virtual Foundry can’t even tell you who they sell to.”
As a result, the companies were looking for a way to highlight both the unique design expertise of STS and the innovative materials of The Virtual Foundry. Coincidentally, The Virtual Foundry had already been collaborating with Autodesk on Fusion 360, which helps unify design, engineering, and manufacturing processes within a single platform.
“Our contact within Autodesk had mentioned they were launching a new experience intended to make it easier for users who are new to 3D printing, or for anyone who is new to CAD,” says Tricia Suess, president of The Virtual Foundry. “When I mentioned this to Benjamin, the idea finally clicked.”
Rethinking the User Experience
What the companies came up with was a project that would serve a number of important objectives simultaneously.
First, it would put their collective talents on display, illustrating how the part design, material selection, and software could all work together seamlessly. At the same time, it would showcase the increasingly wide range of opportunities in advanced manufacturing as well as demonstrate how accessible these techniques have become, especially for startups and independent users.
“That’s what drove this project, trying to see this from a new user’s perspective as they experience a new platform and bring a more complicated product to life with 3D printing,” Heard says. “And we were able to do it with tools that are accessible to new users and experienced professionals alike.”
Heard was a completely new user, having never worked with Fusion 360 prior to the project. He learned how to use it from scratch, drawing on his many years of design engineering experience, of course, as well as the tutorials that come with the software and a few other online resources.
“Fusion 360 made it really easy,” he says. “I knew what I was looking for, and I was able to find the functions pretty easily. Normally it takes a lot longer to learn enterprise-grade CAD software. But it was actually fun and by the end of the project I could do most of what I would usually do.”
All that remained was figuring out what kind of product to bring to life.
Three Parts for 3D Printing
What the STS and The Virtual Foundry teams landed on was a three-part material handling solutionContinue reading