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May 11, 2011

Delcam's PowerSHAPE CAD aids move from motorsports to defence

The flexibility of Delcam’s PowerSHAPE CAD software has helped Formaplex, a Portsmouth-based manufacturing group specialising in high-end automotive injection moulding, machining and composite technologies, to diversify into a number of other industries.

The latest stage in this expansion has seen the company playing a key role in the development of Force Protection Europe’s Ocelot, a new light-protected patrol vehicle that provides unprecedented levels of survivability for troops facing IEDs and other threats. Formaplex has now been awarded a contract to supply 200 of the blast-proof pods that protect the crew and passengers of the vehicle, for the MoD’s Light Protected Patrol Vehicle programme. The British Army will call these vehicles, which have been designed, developed and are being manufactured in the UK, Foxhounds. .

The Ocelot has a modular design which enables different pods to be swapped out to equip the vehicles for different missions, such as patrol, fire support or protected logistics. The vehicle is also designed for exceptional manoeuvrability, so it is equally effective in the tight confines of built-up urban areas and for tactical manoeuvre on difficult terrain typically found on current operations in Afghanistan.

Formaplex’s crucial contribution is highlighted by the fact that one of the composite pods delivered for testing has survived no less than nine blast tests designed to replicate the impact of explosive devices encountered in war zones such as Afghanistan. The company has invested significant resources in its manufacturing capability for defence applications, including post-machining and repair solutions for field-damaged protective pods.

Ian Wilson, who began his career as an engineering apprentice and who now has thirty years of machining and design experience, originally co-founded Formaplex in 2001 to offer machining services to Formula One, Le Mans and other motorsport teams. "We provided a next-day service that was pretty much unheard of in those days,” remembered Mr. Wilson, who is now Projects Director.

"The rapid delivery and a reputation for accuracy provided regular work from the motorsport teams. Even so, the company needed to find other work to complement the hectic F1 season and provide a more consistent workload, so we moved into prototyping by means of rapid injection mould tooling and then into low volume production tooling, mainly for high-end automotive and specialist vehicles,” said Mr. Wilson. "We have invested in a moulding facility and can offer the ultimate one-stop shop for our customers. We have integrated the mythology and philosophy of our rapid-response F1 service into these other areas to win more business. Our current customer base now extends into Europe”

"We first added PowerSHAPE when we progressed from offering only machining services,” stated Mr. Wilson. "All the best designers interviewed were using PowerSHAPE so it was an obvious choice to make. The software has always met our requirements for speed and accuracy so we’ve never felt any need to try anything else. It helps us to complete complex projects in a fraction of the time that it would take a traditional toolmaker.”

Formaplex now uses six seats of PowerSHAPE. In addition to the speed, the flexibility of the software is a great benefit to the company. It is used for some product design but mainly for patterns, jigs, fixtures, composite lay-up tools and moulds of all types, including injection, RTM and RIM.

"The other factor in our success is the quality of the staff that we have been able to bring in as the company has expanded,” explained Mr. Wilson. "A downturn in manufacturing over the past few years has forced the closure of several manufacturing companies in the region so we have been able to recruit some very skilled and experienced people, mostly already known to us. We expect to take on another twenty-five to thirty people in the next six months to enable us to complete the current newly-developed projects, including Ocelot.”

The Ocelot project is testament to the skills of the staff who are able to adapt quickly to new methods of manufacture, enabling Formaplex to rapidly build the business.

"Becoming involved in such an exciting programme is a big milestone in our company’s development,” he added. "We are very proud that our technology will potentially be saving lives and protecting troops from injury. The publicity around the project has generated a lot of interest in Formaplex and its services, which we are confident we will turn into extra business.”