Machine Tools On-the-Fly? Yes, Thanks to Digital Prototypes

April 24, 2008
Who could have guessed that building machine tools on-the-fly would make for a good business model?

Richlin Machines in Farmingdale, N.Y., does just that, custom engineering lathes for cutting whatever a customer makes.

“We have been building small lathes for years, targeting the niche market for machine tools that cut parts from round stock less than 1-in. diameter for pens, watches, medical stents, and the like,” says company president Jeff Richlin. “But a few years ago, offshoring forced us to layoff about 60% of our staff. We decided customization was the only way to go. So we started from scratch, building a basic machine from functional components in Inventor 3D CAD software. The library now includes several different models.”

Because we use 3D digital prototypes, it’s easy to change them or add legacy parts,” says Richlin. “In fact, the software helps us go from idea to installation in only four weeks. We just drag and drop add-ons to a basic platform to design custom, turnkey machines. Once a customer sees 3D models designed around its requirements, the quotation process usually goes quickly.”

Richlin Machines showcased its lathes at Autodesk World Press Days 2008 in San Francisco. Also of interest there: A Chinese automobile manufacturer.

When it comes to Chinese auto design, the best approach is to marry East and West, says Design Director Li-Chih Fu of Nanjing Automotive Corp. “For one project, we wanted to create a vehicle targeted to at those 28 years old and younger,” he says. “The design eventually got shelved, but the project illustrates how to design cars in China for China. We aimed for a modern, edgy aesthetic with a Chinese twist. The design combined elements from Western modern art with those of ancient Chinese sculpture.”

Fu says his company still uses clay models and rendered photos but is on the verge of going completely digital. “We sketched the concept car in Autodesk AliasStudio software starting with a racy belt-line to give the vehicle a dynamic expression. Next came building a clay model by hand, then using a scanner to get data for the 3D digital model. Our designers then tweaked it to get an agile-looking vehicle with hints of an SUV,” he says.


A digital prototype such as this in Autodesk Inventor lets the company leverage products it already manufactures, keep inventory costs down, and provide customers a fast turnaround on ideas and deliveries.

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