Accelerated new model development! DURA Automotive uses injection moulded parts from Proto Labs ®

Written by: Proto Labs Ltd | Published:

The global automotive industry is famous for the relentless development of new-models, with well-known marques competing to deliver vehicles with better performance, greater reliability and lower running costs. DURA Automotive knows this only too well.

Parts designed and made by DURA Automotive, such as gear changing systems and pedals, are subject to very stringent quality control, not least because they are in prominent locations and are visible to the driver, or are safety critical items, such as door and body components.

DURA's customers often allow the company a free rein, to design and develop a new part entirely from scratch. However, it's more common that the brief will come with tight specifications for performance, fit, cost, etc. With a comprehensive, in-house manufacturing capability, DURA engineers are able to offer exactly what the customer is looking for.

For company design engineer Laurent Badet, a visit to the headquarters of DURA's parent company, near Detroit in the US, led to the discovery of Proto Labs ® and a new, faster, lower cost means to prototype development parts. In this particular case, a new roof rail system for a new car of a famous automotive manufacturer was developed.

"In order to connect the roof rails to the roof of the car, one part is attached in between, as a tolerance compensation system," he says. "Previous standard parts were not suitable for this new type of railing. I had a good idea for changing the standard part, which in my opinion, could meet all the requirements. The only problem was that the customer wanted to see the finished part installed to evaluate it before finalising the design and beginning production. At that point, I had no idea how I would do it, in the short time available."

However, help was at hand. "An American colleague recommended Proto Labs," he remembers. "We uploaded the CAD model to the Protomold website and requested a quote for injection moulded components. To my surprise, we had the quote and a full, feasibility analysis within a couple of hours! A few days later and we had the part, made of the correct resin, and we were able to show the customer the full functionality of my proposed tolerance compensation system."

When he returned to Germany, he showed his rapid-injection-moulded parts and the Protomold® system to Kai Winkhaus, teamleader of the product design team at DURA, who was equally impressed with the results. "I have worked for 15 years with CAD, mainly in CATIA," he says, "and you certainly can simulate a lot with powerful software. But, when it comes to the phase in which a part has be realised, the costs can increase very quickly.

"Making the actual part using materials as close to the final specification as possible can provide very valuable feedback before committing to full production. The parts supplied by Protomold® enabled us to communicate internally and externally without incurring high costs or long lead times. The prototype parts were fully-functional and very accurate. We got what we needed to help speed-up the development process and without putting undue stress on the budget."

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