Winning designs: Design contest proves CAD software accelerates the innovation process

By Sidney Hill, Jr., executive editor June 24, 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 Corp. 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.ave any facial protection. There’s a lot sand and rocks flying at you out there, not to mention the explosive devices. You have a helmet to protect your head, but your face is just as important.”
An Internet search for some type of facial protection turned up only police riot shields made of Lexan, a highly durable plastic material, but too heavy to wear all day in combat zones.
That prompted Mahan to think about designing a shield of his own.“The first thing I did was write down a list of criteria for the shield,” he says. He
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.’”
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.”

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

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 believes none of it would have been possible without
“Without the software, I probably would not have pursued it,” said, “because I don’t have time to go home at night and build models.”