“This approach saves us time and money. If we were modeling each chair from scratch, it would take twice as long.” —Alan Ludovici, vice president of engineering, TiLite
Automated design and manufacturing cut customizing, development costs by $400,000
A custom, high-end wheelchair may seem like a luxury. But a wheelchair that is easier to propel and tailored to the user can reduce the stress, posture-related problems, and upper-extremity joint deterioration commonly associated with long-term use of conventional wheelchairs.
Unfortunately, one-off items like the titanium wheelchairs built by TiLite LLC consume a lot of design time. With custom units accounting for 50% of its business, TiLite decided to automate its design and production process. It also wanted to contain costs and shorten turnaround time. The automation projected involved implementing SolidWorks computer-aided design software, integrated with the CAMWorks computer-aided manufacturing system from Geometric Technologies.
“There are 50 to 70 parameters—such as the seat width, seat depth, type of back rest, and type of caster—that serve as the driving dimensions in our SolidWorks design table,” explains Alan Ludovici, vice president of engineering at TiLite. “We input these variables from our order form, and SolidWorks automatically configures all of the parts, quickly outputs complete drawings, and…generates the bill of materials for the chair.”
SolidWorks is fully integrated with CAMWorks. That means the design goes straight to the production floor, and CAMWorks instantly generates G code for the fabricating machines.
The integrated 3D product development and manufacturing process allows TiLite to use a production line method for the one-
of-a-kind products and fulfill orders in 10 days. It also delivers the precision needed to cost-effectively handle the lightweight but expensive titanium alloy that makes up the structure of the wheelchair.
“This approach saves us time and money,” Ludovic says. “If we were modeling each chair from scratch, it would take twice as long.” The cost savings are passed directly to TiLite’s customers. Since employing SolidWorks, the price of a custom wheelchair has dropped by $150. In addition, annual development costs have dropped about $400,000, and return rates are less than 0.5%.
“Our TiLite titanium wheelchairs are considered to be among the best…in the world because of their light weight, ease of mobility, and smooth ride,” Ludovici says. “We are able to build such a high-performance, high-quality chair partly because of the shock-absorbing nature of titanium, and partly because of the design automation that we have achieved with SolidWorks software.”