Design contest proves CAD software accelerates the innovation process

If you asked Benjamin Mahan about the value of CAD software, he might respond with a line from a credit card commercial: Priceless. Mahan, a lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, used the Pro/ENGINEER CAD package from PTC to design a special shield that is protecting the faces—and in some cases literally saving the lives—of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
By Staff August 1, 2008

If you asked Benjamin Mahan about the value of CAD software, he might respond with a line from a credit card commercial: Priceless.

Mahan, a lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, used the Pro/ENGINEER CAD package from PTC to design a special shield that is protecting the faces—and in some cases literally saving the lives—of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The design for the Predator FAST (Facial Armor System Technology) shield also earned Mahan recognition as the runner-up in the first annual PTC Redefining Innovation design contest, which seeks to identify instances of excellence among PTC Pro/ENGINEER users.

Mahan hatched the idea for the Predator FAST shield upon learning he had been selected for a second tour of duty in Iraq.

“The first thing I did was write down a list of criteria for the shield,” he says. Mahan then started the design process by making a plaster mold of an existing helmet and attaching a shield to the mold. “To be sure that would work—and could be manufactured—we needed a prototype,” he says.

That’s where PRO/ENGINEER came in. Mahan scanned an image of the helmet into the program and was able to start his detailed design work almost instantly. Using parametric design, Mahan established key reference points on his model. From there, as he made changes to one part of the model, other parts changed accordingly.

“Currently we have a shield that works with about a half-dozen helmets, and with all sizes of those helmets,” says Mahan. “We’re still working through some of the manufacturability issues, but we’ve gotten feedback from a number of people saying, ‘This thing has saved my life.’”

The PTC Pro/ENGINEER CAD package was used by a U.S. Marine Corps lance corporal to design a special face shield used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mahan has since formed a company, MTek Weapon Systems , which is working toward full-scale production of the shields, but perhaps the most remarkable part this story is he did all this without any formal engineering training. Mahan gives the Pro/ENGINEER package a lot of credit for that.

“I’ve used other engineering software,” explains Mahan, “but this one was the absolute best for this project. The parametric modeling features were an absolutely critical element.”

Scott Buckner, whose Easy Oar design won the grand prize in the PTC contest, had similar praise for Pro/ENGINEER. Buckner, a product engineer in the electrical division of Eaton Corp. , said his passion for rowing led him to work on this design. In addition to allowing rowers to see where they are going, Buckner says his device will propel the boat about 10 percent faster than traditional backward-facing rowing systems.

Until he started using Pro/ENGINEER, Buckner had little more than sketches of his rowing mechanism.

“I spent about four days working with the software,” he says. “I created 3D versions of all the components, put them together, and tested degrees of freedom and velocity within the software to verify the design would work.”

Buckner’s next goal is proving the superiority of his device in a national rowing competition. He’s also in talks with recreational equipment companies about getting the device into full-scale production.

Bucker believe none of it would have been possible without the Pro/ENGINEER.

“Without the software, I probably would not have pursued it because I don’t have time to go home at night and build models.”