Bridgewood UK are experts in the design, development and manufacture of innovative thermoformed plastic components and parts.

Operating from their site close to the iconic Humber Bridge near Hull for over 30 years, their modern 100,000 square foot facility includes a range of cutting-edge vacuum forming and CNC trimming machinery, along with composite moulding and sub-assembly facilities. Bridgewood design and produce plastic components for clients based both here in the UK and internationally.

A continuous push for improvements

With unrivalled technical knowledge and experience in the thermoforming industry, Bridgewood constantly looks for opportunities to improve their processes, services and products. One aspect of the business recently recognised as in need of updating was their New Product Development process.

Year-on-year, this had simply and generically evolved to a point where it had become a beast – a convoluted and somewhat disjointed affair, at the heart of which lay the company’s original CAD/CAM system.

Its own use had morphed into a multi-stage process of file conversion, translation, programme editing and further re-editing. In some cases, the information was so removed from the original CAD data it was unrecognisable, with key details sometimes being lost or corrupted.

All of this meant that it had become challenging to work with the incredibly tight measurements and tolerances expected within the industry and agreed before production. Time and money were being lost through the refinement cycle until the product was approved and the customer satisfied.

A move away from traditional production methods

The traditional process of producing vacuum formed plastic parts was fundamentally flawed when it came to controlling the demand for accuracy and repeatability.

Bridgewood UK’s Technical Manager, Iain Douglas, comments:

“Largely, we didn’t recognise and were unable to quantify with reasons, all the variations we would experience, there was no route-cause analysis. We simply got on and fixed what we believed to be the issues as best we could.

“Many of the issues we were creating ourselves, those from tooling, processing or production; small errors that when viewed in isolation were acceptable, simply went on to multiply and magnified themselves as we moved through the various stages of entire manufacturing process.”

Raw CAD data has always been the starting point. However, a pattern maker would then produce moulding tools by hand as a template for production of the component, or cast tools ‘to size’, that would itself be subject to the variables and limitations brought about from the foundry processing.

In many cases, a CNC jig – again built by hand and designed by consensus – would be used to hold the plastic component in what was believed to be the best alignment and orientation for trimming and finishing. This type of manual deviation away from the CAD data allowed room for inaccuracies.

The customer part validation formed the final stages of an ISIR or PPAP submission. Traditionally, manually based measurements were taken with steel rulers, height gauges and Vernier’s with tabulated results presented alongside a balloon diagram

Clients are increasingly demanding more complex and refined component assemblies, alongside the requirement for tighter tolerances and repeatability. In light of this, the need for a more reliable and robust end-to-end process had become a priority.

In the autumn of 2016, the team began to challenge some of these long-established design methods and processes to look for a more reliable solution. They favoured one that made extensive use of accurate CAD data from design, through production to quality control and which would deliver products that would exceed client expectations.

Embracing new technologies

Following an in-depth review and evaluation of the technologies available, the design team, led by Iain Douglas, decided the Tebis V4 Software suite provided the possibility of revolutionising their development process.

Importantly, Tebis allowed the CAD data, central to the process, to be used for all elements of the NPI process including design, tooling, jig and trimming whilst also providing the best interface to company’s existing machinery and equipment.

The process of CNC programming, commissioning and approval previously involved a significant amount of time offline and at the machine, tying up valuable production time and capacity.

The upgrade has enabled programmes to be written far quicker and with far more accuracy than ever before. Graphical simulation of tool and cutter paths alongside significant safety features such as anti-collision/soft wear detection for cutter, collet and spindle, now means the CNC programming process is afar slicker and more robust.

Grid Fixture Preparation now assists with the design of trimming jigs and fixtures. The accuracy and speed of construction for our own internally produced jigs and fixtures has improved tenfold. The jigs no longer need to take the form of a full representation of the component’s B surface. It is sufficient to provide a skeletal support structure to key and strategic areas, which in turn has contributed to improving the accuracy and repeatability of the finished parts.

Furthermore, Tebis has aligned perfectly with the concurrent investment in Polyworks Inspector Software and FaroArm Metrology. This is now used to measure final cross checks against the original part model before full production.

Part validation is now achieved with a more professionally produced CMM deviation colour map report or similar. This automatically takes into account and calculates the results of specific tolerance requirements and datum position detail on the customer’s drawings.

Aligned with the inspector software the requirements for batch inspection and reporting, capability studies, SPC or fixture calibration has become far less arduous.

This has offered unprecedented customer part validation and put an end to the refinement cycle which previously delayed production and capacity.

Bridgewood UK’s Technical Manager, Iain Douglas, comments:

“The process of design, production and inspection previously involved a significant amount of set-up, time in the design office and at the machine. The Tebis system allows us to use CAD data throughout our development process and produce parts with far more accuracy than previously possible. Tebis is now at the heart of our manufacturing process with tangible results already clear to see.

“Having already delivered some significant improvements in the back end of our processing, it has challenged the reliability and consistency of the moulded parts themselves, which has in turn carried through further improvements.”

A business transformed – right first time

Following the software investment, in excess of 50K, Bridgewood has also undertaken extensive staff training to fully maximise the potential of the new system. The accuracy and speed of development has contributed to improving the repeatability of the finished parts.

It’s still early days with this new way of working for Bridgewood UK, but the initial signs and feedback is extremely encouraging. Some of the immediate advantages for the company and their clients include:

  • Accurate CAD modelling at the heart of the process
  • Greater accuracy of jigs and fixtures
  • Graphical simulation of tool and cutter paths
  • Increased safety via anti-collision detection for cutters
  • Rapid validation against CAD model
  • Shorter delivery cycle
  • Improved repeatability
  • Increased efficiency
  • Waste reduction

Bridgewood are now in a position to rise to the challenge and meet customer demands. Their streamlined process delivers cost savings, increased customer satisfaction and most importantly, high quality thermoformed plastic components and parts via a process that ensures they are right first time.

Bridgewood UK’s Director, Richard Clynes, commented:

“From design and engineering through to manufacturing and validation, our investment in Tebis coupled with Polyworks in support of Faroarm has removed 90% of the previously arduous process and optimised the unique strengths of both systems. We look forward to working with our clients to deliver products that exceed all their expectations.”