A leading German toy manufacturer accelerates design and product development process by integrating Geomagic® Freeform® Plus.

PLAYMOBIL-Dinosaur-Series won treasured Award “Toy Innovation 2004“
PLAYMOBIL-Dinosaur-Series won treasured Award “Toy Innovation 2004“

In Europe, Geobra Brandstätter is well-known for its Playmobil plastic figures and animals for all kinds of creative worlds such as farm-life, city-life, dinosaurs, and prehistoric eras with dinosaurs. Additionally, they are known for their remote controlled boats and cross-country vehicles.

This leading toy manufacturer has been working with Geomagic FreeForm Plus sculpting design software since the beginning of 2001. The enthusiasm of the industrial designers and the extensive use of the modeling software led to the purchase of a second system at the end of 2002. Since then the company has added a new system yearly for a total of four FreeForm systems to date. The department of design development creates up to 80 new pieces from the combination of new designs and nearly 10.000 archived pieces every year.

Uwe Reuter, an industrial designer, started working with version 3 of FreeForm. Although he was rather skeptical initially, he quickly appreciated the advantages of designing different models and of making quick changes. When a design team gathers for a design meeting, the modeler can change the models interactively during the discussion. Thus, three or more different model versions can be generated and evaluated within minutes.

In order to show the ease-of-use of the modeling software, Reuter mentions his colleague Karin Eskofier, a sculptor, who had never before worked on a computer. In earlier times, she could not have imagined modeling dinosaurs, pandas or other animal forms with virtual clay. Now, she cannot imagine working without FreeForm. According to Reuter, Playmobil and FreeForm are a great combination. The designs, as well as technical modifications, are easily made with the system. All kinds of models can be revised and subsequently processed by the CAD department - be it an amphibian vehicle or a boat.

The Digital Production Process Today

Amphibian vehicle on water and on road
Amphibian vehicle on water and on road

After introducing Geomagic FreeForm into the workflow, the process of conventional prototyping changed immensely in the last three years at Playmobil.

Today, the designer makes his preliminary drafts digitally with the system and first prototypes are created using 3D printing to check the play functions, the looks, and its integration into the play philosophy of Playmobil. After the model is revised according to molding criteria, the model data and user defined parting surfaces and curves are converted into IGES-data to allow a smooth integration of FreeForm data into the process chain. In Pro/ENGINEER assemblies are finalized, snap fits added and any other dimensional constraints required.

Depending on the type of geometry, models are not only used in the phase of preliminary drafts, but also in mold making. Michael Friedrich, a model maker, has been working with FreeForm since version 5.0. and likes testing all kinds of new modeling methods. He modifies the FreeForm models given to him by the designers or sculptors to meet the subsequent production criteria such as adapting a design model to have planar parting lines to remove undercuts, and to decide where to position sliders for the mold tools. Michael Friedrich hands off to Christian Winter, the CAD-specialist.

Advantages of Working with FreeForm

Playmobil_3
One of the first projects designed using FreeForm

Asked why his company integrated  FreeForm into the development process, Reuter mentions two crucial reasons. “On the one hand you can learn and use the program real quick, on the other hand, the program offers great flexibility in quickly creating different versions of models.”

Michael Friedrich, a model maker, is excited about the modeling speed and adds that “a further advantage of FreeForm lies in the higher precision of working directly on a digital model from day one of the design processes. All the imprecise details which had previously occurred when hand models are digitized and milled are no longer a concern.” Secondly, if a design needs to be altered, both the model maker and the designer can do this, as both are working with the same tool - Freeform.

Christian Winter, CAD-specialist, has appreciated the functions and advantages of FreeForm. In comparison to traditional CAD systems, he sees the biggest advantage in the way geometries are described, especially with regard to model modifications, total deformations, and form changes.

Conclusion

Geobra Brandstätter is a good example of a transition from a traditional, hand-craft business to a modern company taking advantage of digital technology. This transition shows that FreeForm can be successfully integrated into the product development, and that the implementation of new digital modeling technology is a good investment for processes based on hand-craftmanship.