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A Flare for Design, a Passion for Perfection

Bushwacker’s automotive products achieve fit, finish, and style through 3D scanning

Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - 12:13

For nearly 40 years, Bushwacker Inc., a family-operated business in Portland, Oregon, has designed and manufactured fender flares and truck accessories for the automotive aftermarket with passion and pride. The Bushwacker family sums up quality in three words: fit, finish, and style.

Every detail of each design is meticulously scrutinized using the latest standards in design and manufacturing. “To do this, we need leading-edge tools,” says Sterling Logan, design engineer at Bushwacker.

However, “Quality is a moving target,” Logan notes. Original equipment manufacturers continue to raise the bar for vehicle quality in terms of fit and finish, while body style lines have become increasingly sophisticated. To stay in the game, Bushwacker’s products must do the same.

“Our customers expect that the accessories will blend with the vehicle’s style lines,” says Logan. “And with the high-quality surfaces that automobile manufacturers produce, the slightest gap or tiniest interference with the vehicle’s style lines is immediately obvious. So we have to deliver a product with a perfect fit.”

3D scanning is crucial to this goal. After experimenting with alternative solutions and scanning services, Bushwacker acquired a top-end scanning system that includes a seven-axis Romer Infinite 2.0 arm, a Perceptron ScanWorks V5 laser scanner, and InnovMetric’s PolyWorks 3D metrology software. This lineup provides precise digital data of the vehicle’s surfaces, which allows engineers to focus their talents on product design, confident that the finished product will fit perfectly. With 3D scanning, fit is taken out of the equation while simplifying the process and slashing man-hours.

Chevrolet Cruze: rapid response

To highlight the rapid response time possible with 3D scanning, Logan cited the following example. “A customer contacted us a few days before the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show with a custom request to design a bumper guard for the Chevrolet Cruze,” he recalls. “In a mere three days, we had prototype bumper guards, and we opened the show with a brand-new product.”

Logan explained how the product was completed in just three days. On day one, Bushwacker scanned the Chevrolet Cruze, processed the data using PolyWorks/Modeler, and imported it into Siemens NX. On day two, designers created the bumper guard and machined a prototype mold. On day three, the parts were manufactured and flown to the SEMA show. “With the scanner and PolyWorks software, we can move from concept to prototype in only a few days,” says Logan. “That would never have been possible with our old practices.”

In its earlier years, Bushwacker used clay, the material of choice in OEM body-styling shops. Designers applied clay to the vehicle and painstakingly sculpted it to the desired design. The resulting shape was then transferred to wood templates so the styling could be replicated in clay on the opposite side of the vehicle. Next, plaster molds were cast from the clay models, and these were used to manufacture prototype thermoforming tools.

According to Logan, this process consisted of many hours of painstaking work, and it could take months to arrive at a production-ready mold. “We’d get close but rarely perfect on the first attempt,” says Logan. Obsessed with the quality of its designs, Bushwacker tweaked the fit and design through four or five cycles of prototype molds, fit checking, visual evaluation, mold modification, and rechecking.

“But now with the reverse-engineering capabilities of laser scanning and PolyWorks software, we rarely have to make any changes to our molds or part designs,” says Logan. “Changes we do make are dedicated to the subtle design queues that give our flares style—each designed for a specific look.”

Jeep JK: flare for design

“Back when we started the business, our first flares were for the old Jeep CJ,” says Logan. “The clay and plaster process worked fine then because the sheet metal for the fenders was flat. This is definitely not true for the body style of the new Jeep JK. Without laser scanning, it may not have been possible for us to roll out the Jeep JK accessories.”

These accessories include several fender flare options and the company’s Trail Armor, which offers hood and corner guards as well as rocker panels.

The Jeep JK was a challenge because of its body style lines and mounting configuration. Even with 3D scanning, Bushwacker spent six months developing its patented pocket-style flares, flat-style flares, and Trail Armor. For all other projects, Logan notes, 3D scanning has, on average, slashed product launches to only one or two months after initial concepts.

The Jeep JK project also highlighted another advantage of 3D scanning: the acquisition of mounting locations. To facilitate installation, Bushwacker always attempts to use only factory mounting points for its accessories. For the pocket flare, this led to an innovative combination of inner and outer flares, and the scanned data provided the exact locations of the mounting points relative to the body panels.

The innovative design and attention to detail paid off for the Jeep JK accessories. At SEMA, Bushwacker’s flat flares took the runner-up award in the Best New Off-Road/Four-Wheel Drive Product category, while its Trail Armor nabbed first place for the Best New Exterior Accessory Product.

3D scanning at Bushwacker

For all projects, Bushwacker combines its laser scan arm, and PolyWorks and Siemens NX (formerly Unigraphics NX) in a three-step process: scan, prepare, and design.

In some instances, the 3D scanning system travels to the target vehicle, but in most instances, Bushwacker drives the vehicle into its facilities. For the first step of the process, Bushwacker uses PolyWorks/Modeler for laser scanner control and live data capture. “With PolyWorks, there isn’t a grueling setup process to get everything communicating before we start scanning,” he says. According to Logan, it takes only 10 to 15 minutes to set up and start scanning. “The interface is also intuitive and easy to use,” he says.

“I love the fact that as I scan, the digital model dynamically changes to follow my scan path,” says Logan. “It gives me great visual feedback to let me know where I am and what I still need to capture.” When Logan believes that the scan is complete, he then turns to the PolyWorks comparison tool, which shows scan-to-scan deviations. “This is my safety net for the occasional operator error, like a bumped scanner,” he explains. “I get immediate feedback on what I need to rescan. The result is clean, accurate data.”

As a Siemens NX user, Logan also finds that the PolyWorks/Modeler interface and tools are familiar and quite similar. He makes use of PolyWorks to prepare the files for import to Siemens NX, which he uses for data manipulation and design. “We need powerful modeling tools to create parts and designs that follow the subtle style lines of the vehicle,” he says. “PolyWorks helps us capture the details, and these data are used in Siemens NX to design our parts. For us, it’s a perfect blend.”

To prepare the data for Siemens NX, Logan uses PolyWorks to filter out any noisy data, fill holes, and create splines and non-uniform rational B-spline (NURBS) surfaces. “I select an area and let PolyWorks auto-create the splines, then I connect these and create NURBS,” he says. “I find that it’s very similar to the process for Siemens NX. As far as I know, nothing is better—nothing is easier than PolyWorks.”

In Siemens NX, the PolyWorks-generated NURBS, which is a mathematical algorithm used in computer graphics, become the baseline for accessory design. From the body panels and mounting points, Bushwacker’s vision takes shape. Throughout the process, designers render the accessory and vehicle to visualize form and fit.

Each new part goes through a “digital” design review before any prototype molds are designed and computer numerical controlled (CNC) machined. “The high-quality surface data that PolyWorks provides allow us to scrutinize the part in CAD for fit and finish before we ever make a real part,” Logan says. Yet, Bushwacker still relies on physical prototypes for final evaluation. “Things jump out at you when you mount a flare onto the vehicle for the first time, things you can’t or don’t see on-screen,” says Logan.

Recently, Bushwacker extended its reliance on PolyWorks to inspection. PolyWorks/Inspector confirms the high quality of the company’s molds, prototypes, and first production samples. “PolyWorks/Inspector is extremely powerful,” adds Logan. “It allows us to bring inspection in-house, which allows to us evaluate parts and molds quickly and whenever needed. In the current economy, we have to stay on the cutting edge, and PolyWorks has helped us do that.”

Discuss

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InnovMetric Software

Founded in 1994 and headquartered in Quebec, QC, Canada, with subsidiaries worldwide, InnovMetric Software Inc. is the leading provider of universal 3D metrology software solutions. The world’s largest industrial manufacturing organizations (Toyota, General Motors, Volkswagen, Honda, BWM, Daimler, Ford, Rolls-Royce, Pratt & Whitney, Boeing, Embraer, Bombardier, Apple, and many more) trust InnovMetric’s PolyWorks software and associated technical services to maximize the benefits of 3D measurement technologies for their engineering and manufacturing applications. Including its subsidiaries and joint ventures, InnovMetric Software has more than 250 employees across 10 countries: Canada, United States, Mexico, Brazil, France, Benelux, India, Thailand, China, and Japan.