Published On: Fri, Apr 20th, 2012

Cost-estimating software adds new plastics capabilities

Cost-estimating software adds new plastics capabilities

Cost-estimating software adds new plastics capabilities

Working with a medical equipment customer, aPriori (Concord, MA) today announced new plastics costing capabilities.

New baseline cost models in aPriori 2012r1 include:

  • Thermoforming: including drape forming and vacuum forming, allows customers to cost production and tooling costs for parts made from heavy gauge sheet plastic such as fender wells and interior door panels.
  • Structural Foam Molding: supports costing larger, thicker parts such as boxes, palettes and components in child safety seats.
  • Reaction Injection Molding (RIM): supports costing varying sized, detailed components that may have a high-quality surface finish.

“We started out with basic, single-shot injection molding cost calculation,” Rick Burke, VP, marketing at aPriori said in an interview with PlasticsToday. “We have expanded significantly since then.” Late last year, aPriori announced capabilities to perform detailed cost estimating on molds used to make plastic parts.

Referring to the medical equipment customer (which was not identified), Burke said: “A lot of our customers are really driving us because they do not have cost estimating capabilities. Medical equipment has been one of the industry that have really been interesting for us lately.”

aPriori was founded in 2003 with a heavy emphasis on sheet metal cost estimating for the construction and heavy equipment industries. Founder Michael Philpott, who remains the Chief Scientist at aPriori, directed the research on process cost modeling and the development of the aPriori software at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) since 1993.

Expanding process coverage

At the heart of the software is a Cost Model Engine, which has been expanding significantly, Julie Driscoll, vice president, strategic marketing & product management at aPriori told PlasticsToday. “We have grown from 10 to 100 processes,” she said.

aPriori said that its Product Cost Management software platform can quickly and precisely determine the cost of a part or product by automatically pulling geometric and feature information from a CAD model and leveraging cost models to determine reasonable default inputs once the user has selected the manufacturing process, materials and the factory or region where it will be produced.

Driscoll said that the benefit of the approach is attacking costs at the design stage. One customer, Polaris, reported a better than 50% improvement in design cycle time and a better than 20% reduction beyond cost goals for its first project using a Priori, the Ranger XP Storage Box.

Building accurate cost libraries on new plastics processes required research on process technology with corporate and other experts. Resin costs are updated quarterly in the libraries. Some customers update more frequently with their own data.

Pressures to reduce costs

New target markets for aPriori include medical equipment, aerospace and defense. The medical device and equipment industry is under intense pressure to reduce costs in face of pressure from insurers and healthcare provides. Others markets looking for expanded cost data include automotive, consumer products and industrial equipment. aPriori now has 45 customers.

Traditionally cost management has been focused in large cost engineering departments at manufacturers such as John Deere, which found that the actual costs to manufacture products were much higher than estimated.

aPriori says one of the advantages of its approach, beyond the computer analytics, is to make the cost estimating process transparent to several departments in a company, including those such as purchasing and marketing that might not have had a stake until design features are “baked” in.

“An enterprise approach to product cost management expands the cost savings impact from a single department or project to the entire product organization,” said Driscoll. “This enables employees in every role, on every project to estimate, track and optimize costs as appropriate in their roles. In this latest release, aPriori continues to help our clients realize this vision with expanded costing processes, increased global deployment capabilities and integration with other key business systems that use costs and provide costing inputs.”

Driscoll said that internationalization is also a major goal for aPriori. The first German language version will be available soon.

aPriori 2012r1 extends its global portfolio of regional Virtual Production Environments (VPEs) to include Germany and the United Kingdom. These are data libraries that provide starting points for regional, ‘should cost’ estimating.

Most companies still rely heavily on spreadsheets to maintain and analyze cost data. Other companies with different approaches to cost estimating include Boothroyd Dewhurst (Wakefield, RI), MTI Systems (West Springfield, MA), and Akoya (Rosemont, IL).