Product Design: From Foam to Freestyle

In industries where form matters as much as function, designers need freedom to explore new shapes and surfaces. Traditionally, this is done with cardboard, clay, or other physical materials that designers can mold to quickly convey the look and feel of their ideas.

Of course you can do all that with CAD software now, saving time, money, materials, and even space. But not everybody has eagerly embraced the technology.  

Brattoli, Administrator, PLM at Moen

Why? We recently talked with Moen’s Mike Brattoli, Administrator, PLM, and Shari Sackett, Senior Product Design Technician, about the transition from physical concepts to PTC’s Freestyle. A set of capabilities within Creo Parametric, Freestyle starts with primitive shapes and lets you push and pull them into any form you want to create a model. 

It turns out that while Moen’s team likes what the software can do for them, they made it work better for them by enlisting a few tricks.

How long have you been using the Freestyle?

Brattoli: Freestyle has just started getting some use here at Moen in the last six to ten months. Our industrial design (ID) group went digital recently. They're using 3D CAD modeling and surfacing tools, of course.  But now we've started exploring how we can mix and match Freestyle with those core tools.

You’ve been long-time Creo users. Why did you wait to adopt Freestyle?

Sackett: We had heard that with Freestyle the features had no dimensional control.  After we started using it, we realized a way we could set up features prior to creating the Freestyle models, align those to our features, and gain some dimensional control. It turns out, there are ways of maintaining loose dimensional control over your features, even with Freestyle.

Where does it fit in your design cycle?

Brattoli: Right now, we're looking at it as primarily a conceptual tool, with the possibility of it being used downstream.

What were you doing before?

Brattoli: Our ID group was totally manual. They would make foam models from hand sketches, we had a full-time pattern maker. Then we would reverse engineer those foams by scanning them and bringing them into Creo. Then we would make modifiable, native Creo part files from the scan data.

Sounds like you’re saving a lot of paper and foam. Any other benefits to digitizing your concept design process?

Brattoli: We used to have a line of products we would call "organic." It was curved at all three axes and one of the big problems with constructing it was maintaining all of those tangencies and curvatures. The fact that Freestyle can do that and maintain those – even if it's strictly to make a concept model to show to a customer – lets us use that as a template when we want to build the modifiable model.

And, instead of working from a foam model that's not symmetric or it's not supposed to be rounded (e.g., hand carved and sanded), the software lets us work in something so if it's supposed to be elliptical, it's elliptical. If it's supposed to be round, it's round. We can now just push, pull, drag, and make it soft edge, sharp edge.

What’s one bit of wisdom you want to tell anybody thinking about using Freestyle?

Sackett: The fact that manipulation is very intuitive, as far as changing the shape and ending the curvature, means designers don’t have to think so much about the construction, they can think more about the end shape. And in addition, you can now have some dimensional constraints too that allow you to influence, if not control the shape.

[Ed. Sackett and Brattoli can tell you a lot more about their real-world experiences with Freestyle in their session, “Freedom of Design,” at LiveWorx. They’ll show dos and don’ts and provide demos for anybody interested in getting started with the Freestyle tool.]