Manufacturing AUTOMATION

SolidWorks: Hockey-board maker speeds up production with CAD, robotics

September 11, 2009
By André Voshart

THE COMPANY: Sport Systems Unlimited in Waterloo, Ont., began operations in 1996, with a mission to built hockey boards in a better way. The company has been designing, manufacturing and installing dasher-board systems for ice and inline hockey, indoor soccer and other sports and recreational activities. They’re made of mechanically fastened anodized aluminum frames, high-density polyethylene puckboard, tempered safety glass and stainless-steel hardware.

THE CHALLENGE: Hockey is more than 125 years old, and while it’s still the same game it has always been, today’s state-of-the-art rink is a lot more than ice, wood and chicken-wire fence. Sport Systems wanted to produce rink board systems that look better, last longer and are easier to maintain.

THE STRATEGY: The company then turned to SolidWorks CAD, which is at the heart of a recent Lean manufacturing transformation at Sport Systems, automatically generating robotics and CNC code from 3D solid models. “Switching to SolidWorks software was a critical move in our manufacturing transformation,” says project manager and design coordinator Chris Henhoeffer. “Prior to embracing SolidWorks and 3D, the knowledge for producing a set of boards was in shop floor drawing templates and with manufacturing employees, requiring arduous fabrication steps and intensive training. Now the knowledge is inside the engineering office. SolidWorks software streams data out to robots and CNC machines via its Visual Basic for Applications interface. Line workers simply set up raw stock, punch in the SolidWorks part code, and watch the panel, part, or aluminum member be machined in a fraction of the previous time.” Sport Systems uses DriveWorks knowledge-based engineering software for configuring customized board sizes for the job. The company relies on reseller Javelin Technologies for ongoing software training, implementation and support.

THE RESULTS: The new manufacturing approach has slashed production time of custom rinks from approximately 1,200 staff-hours per rink in 2006 to 450 staff-hours in 2009. “We can now produce more hockey board systems more efficiently with the same amount of staff and virtually no overtime, all of which has set us apart in the industry,” says director of sales and marketing David Staines. “When we have the raw material in stock, we can deliver a rink in three days. Lean manufacturing, robotics and SolidWorks have also allowed us to branch out into new markets like indoor soccer, one of North America’s fastest-growing sports, and even pharmaceuticals, where partitions prevent cross-contamination of drug batches. Efficiencies realized from our new manufacturing program also positioned us for a merger that allowed us to become a preferred rink equipment supplier to the NHL.”


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