Award-Winning Gripple Uses PTC’s CAD & FEA Tools to Cut Design Time

Innovative UK Manufacturer of Joiner and Tensioner Products Revolutionizes Design Process Using Pro/ENGINEER 3D Design and Finite Element Analysis

Gripple is a fast-growing company involved in the innovation, design, manufacture and marketing of joiners, tensioners, hangers and rope grips. The original Gripple product was designed to be both a wire joiner and tension device–all in one, and was able to cut the labour time required to install a fence by 75%.

Innovation through new product development remains the core of the company's successful operation, which now spans Europe and North America.

In recent years, as Gripple's sales and products have expanded, the company's Ideas and Innovation Team knew they needed to design new and innovative products at a more rapid pace to keep up with company goals. To keep its innovative edge, Gripple's growth objective is to have 25% of company sales coming from products that are less than three years old. To streamline this innovation, they looked to PTC, the leader in product lifecycle management solutions.
After considering several vendors, Gripple chose PTC through Root Solutions, one of PTC's Value Added Resellers in the UK. The Gripple design team was impressed when PTC's sales engineer passed their 'test' – he was the only vendor representative who was able to draw a Gripple on the spot using Pro/ENGINEER.

To meet the company's aggressive growth targets, Gripple has expanded its original application in fencing to agriculture, and now into construction. Building on the original Gripple concept, the company's Ideas & Innovation Team continues to talk to customers about how to make things easier. Today, by leveraging PTC solutions, such as Pro/ENGINEER and Finite Element Analysis (FEA), they are able to design – in half the time – innovative new products that solve customers' problems.

The Gripple is a wire-joining and tensioning product invented by Hugh Facey in 1988. Facey entered the product into a competition on a British television program called Tomorrow's World, where ideas were put forward for innovation. The Gripple won the prize as the best invention in the television contest, which provided a launching pad for Facey to produce and market this unique device.

Immediately, the Gripple product went into manufacture and spawned Gripple – the company, which now designs products for the agriculture and construction industries, as well as home and commercial gardening. Since the launch of the original product in 1988, over 500 new products and variants have been developed and are now being sold across 85 countries. The device has won a whole string of awards for innovation throughout the world, including the Queen's Award for Export, a prestigious British Award.

"It's just been a revelation. Without PTC, it would take us twice as long to design and develop Gripple products," says Neil Clarke, a product design engineer for Gripple. "We are always coming up with new solutions. We pride ourselves on looking for the unusual, and looking for opportunities. We credit our growth to listening to our customers and developing devices to fit a customer's requirements.

Clarke joined the company in 2000 and was tasked with developing new products faster. He knew that upgrading to a 3D CAD (computer aided design) solution would help meet this goal, so he and his team researched many CAD packages and ultimately selected PTC's Pro/ENGINEER.

"It's revolutionized how we work," says Clarke. "It just accelerated things; we were able to draw product concepts to give to our salespeople to take out to customers and prospects. These really professional CAD images enabled discussion on new products, and we got feedback almost instantly."

The single biggest aspect that was changed in Gripple's design process was using rapid-prototype technology. "The whole experience of rapid prototyping through the CAD has been absolutely fantastic for getting feedback, and also functional models," says Clarke. "We can have a design done on Friday, send it off for a build over the weekend, and have enough parts back in the office on Tuesday for a brand new product. It's just been a revelation; we can't imagine running the department without this facility."

Another PTC product that Gripple has made the most of is the Finite Element Analysis (FEA) software. Clarke explains: "We use it not only for testing the final design, but we are also using it at the beginning of the design process, just to see if we are in the right ballpark in terms of stresses.

"If we see bright red areas, we can make a design change and then rerun the model, and see the stress in those areas reduce. Equally important is identifying the unstressed areas where material can potentially be removed to really optimize the product in terms of strength versus weight."

In one specific example, Gripple designed a product called the T-Clip after talking to local farmers about the time-consuming process of tying wires on a field fence. "We had problems with stresses, and so we used Finite Element Analysis extensively. When we got some of the first parts back, they kept breaking because we hadn't envisioned one use of the product, which was breaking the clips off. So, we went back to Pro/ENGINEER, designed-in some more stress support, and added some extra zinc to strengthen the T-Clip. However, since this product is very price sensitive and zinc is expensive, every gram had to be accounted for.

The Gripple T-Clip was designed to help farmers construct new fences quickly by gripping the wire and clipping it onto the fencepost, eliminating the need for complicated knots and stapling into the posts. The T-Clip was designed completely using Pro/ENGINEER, and FEA was instrumental in minimizing the amount of costly zinc used in each clip.
"We were able to use Pro/ENGINEER, coupled with FEA, to pull in grams of zinc exactly where we needed them to make the product strong enough for the purpose, but not adding any zinc that did not add to the product's performance," continued Clarke. "Since the price of zinc has increased from £650 a ton to over £2,000 a ton in two years, everything that we were designing for was for a minimum metal.

"Saving one gram of zinc on something is important when we are selling a million of that product. That's a considerable savings and the PTC software enables us to do that," said Clarke.

Going forward, one of Gripple's aims is to be a well-known brand that is instantly recognisable. The company has a very aggressive growth plan to nearly triple its revenues in the next four years. Clarke concludes: "We see ourselves growing very aggressively; and a big chunk of that effort will come through the design and development of new products which will open up new markets for us."

As Gripple continues to pioneer new products, the Ideas & Innovation Team will continue relying on PTC solutions to help speed their innovation, while helping control material costs.

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