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November/December Feature

Engineering with Style

Aria Group specializes in product development — from start to finish.

By Karen M. Koenig

This recently purchased Heian five-axis CNC router is capable of producing complete vehicle programs. Shown machining a full-size body, the machine has a 10-foot by 20-foot by 6-foot milling area and can produce highly accurate, “zero-tolerance” stack models.

Three-dimensional digital modeling is used to support the design and prototype process, through to Class A production release data.
Irvine, CA-based Aria Group Inc. is singing the sweet song of success. Since its inception in 1995, this 45-man shop has grown from a two-person design and engineering shop to an internationally-recognized product development firm specializing in design, engineering, modeling, fabrication and manufacturing.Many of the clients are involved in the transportation industry, both automotive and recreational. Their names read like a who’s who, and include: Audi, Bentley/Rolls Royce, BMW, Daewoo, Honda, Hyundai, Isuzu, Kawasaki, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, MG-Rover, Millen Motorsports, Nissan, Panoz, Porsche, Proton, Riva Sports, Subaru, Toyota, Visteon, Volkswagon and Volvo. New to the list is Redline Snowmobiles, a relative newcomer to the winter off-road motorsport market.

Redline was already well-known for its chassis in racecars and trucks when it approached the Aria Group for help in designing a sled. “Redline had the mechanics. They had a new suspension concept and the engine planned. They wanted something brand new for the look — a new style. Our designers were able to come up with something that captured the excitement of this new product,” explains Kevin Cain, lead engineer for the project. “The engineering challenge was to fit all (the necessary components) into the design.”

The entire process — from design and engineering of the prototype to full production — took approximately nine months. Aria Group manufactured all the tooling in-house and currently works with California-based UFO for vacuum forming the body of the sled. Senoplast is supplying the ABS material.

“The goal was to have a molded-in gloss and finish, to avoid the painting process. This material has a full automotive-quality finish and, by saving the painting step, is cost-effective and economical,” Cain says. The ABS body also responds better to inadvertent crashes or rollovers and will not crack or chip as can occur with fiberglass, he adds.

Redline’s snowmobile was awarded Popular Mechanics’ Design and Engineering Award for 2001. Approximately 150 units will be produced each month for sale to the North American public.

“We work closely (with the molders) to monitor the quality control. All the components are shipped here and we do a final quality control check before sending everything to Redline in kits for assembly,” he adds.

The Design Evolution
Aria Group designed, engineered and manufactured the tooling for Redline Snowmobile’s award-winning sled. The body is vacuum-formed from ABS with a molded-in finish.

“The Redline Snowmobile project was typical in that a lot of the time the initial concept comes in as a sketch and goes to the designers to flesh out,” Cain says. There are six designers and nine engineers on staff full time capable of offering clients a full range of services, from detailed pencil sketches and full digital renderings to 3D mockups, digital models and clay models.

Aria uses 3D digital models in conjunction with the design, prototype and production processes, including Class A production release data. The company uses Alias digital modeling tools, in combination with ICEMsurf and Rhino software packages.

In addition to digital modeling, Aria also has clay modeling studios with three surface plates and CMM clay drilling machines on the premise. According to Cain, clay modeling can be used for free-form designing or production sign-off model programs. “There are still a lot of projects where the freedom you have in working with clay is the best way to go,” he says.

Types of projects range from facelifting existing vehicles to future design concepts for review in-house or for clinic review (marketing survey). “These are all different functions of prototyping, and every project is different. Approximately 75 percent of our work is for prototypes, although the amount of production works keeps growing,” Cain says.

In-House Machining & Fabrication

Aria Group relies on CNC machines to manufacture not only its tools, but also models — including full-size automobile and SUV models.

Nestled in its own room is a recently acquired large, 5-axis Heian CNC router capable of producing complete vehicle programs. The machine has a milling area of 10 feet by 20 feet by 6 feet and can produce highly accurate, “zero-tolerance” stack models, Cain says. The machine was purchased from Stiles Machinery Inc.

“It’s been a great time savings to go from digital to a full model. Before, we got the Heian, we would have to (machine) in portions, than assemble the vehicle. It was a lot more work and effort. It produces a very fine pass for a quality reference model,” he adds.

In addition to the full size Heian, Aria also has a Heian FP151 MC five-axis router and a Motionmaster three-axis router, both of which can be used to machine ren board for tools. The company also machines the packaging for Bed Bugs, an Aria Group production for the truck accessories market. (See below)

A separate wood shop and metal shop are also on-site for tool material production.

Adding to its capabilities, the company recently installed a state-of-the-art Blowtherm paint booth and separate preparation station which can be used for finishing both plastic and metal. In keeping with Environmental Protection Agency standards, the company uses HVLP spray guns to minimize VOC emissions from the finishing materials. The materials used include products by PPG.

“Since a lot of our work is for automotive review, we often have to match existing paint to create a real finished interior or exterior,” Cain explains.

Although the company’s primary customers are related to the transportation industry, because of the wide range of services offered, there is no cyclical downtime. “We’ll consistently have 10 to 15 projects moving within the company. In addition to our service programs for clients, we’re also looking at growing our in-house capabilities to help balance the workflow,” he adds.

Aria’s First Verse

Charles Taylor and Clive Hawkins established DZN Studio in 1995, the forerunner of Aria Group Inc. As the name suggests, DZN specialized in design and engineering. Taylor, a graduate of Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, was an assistant chief designer for Opel AG and a chief designer for Isuzu Technical Center of America. Hawkins’ background included training as a technical apprentice in England and work as a senior engineer at several automotive OEMs.

In 1999, the company changed its name to Aria Group Inc. and moved into its present 25,000-square-foot facility in Irvine, CA. Today, the company’s capabilities include: packaging engineering, automotive styling, conceptual design, product design, digital modeling, digital rendering, clay sculpting, prototype fabrication, digital prototyping, five-axis and three-axis machining, tooling models, production and prototype engineering, kinematic modeling and tool design.

Bed Bugs Bite into Market

Starting in January, Bed Bugs load lockers will be available for sale to the truck accessories market.

Introduced in October, Bed Bugs work with existing truck bed liners to prevent gear from sliding at the floor-bed level, unlike bungee cords or tie downs which work at the rail level. Aria Group patented the product which is manufactured from injection molded polypropylene with a soft rubber overmold.

The concept is fairly simple. The waffle-shaped base locks into the bed liner at multiple angles while the textured rubber helps keep a grip on the truck bed and prevents items from sliding. The corners can be adaptable to multiple cargo shapes and sizes. Available in orange, Bed Bugs may soon be offered in a range of colors.

In addition to the standard Bed Bugs, upcoming products include the corner bug, made specifically for square objects; the bike bug, which integrates with standard wheels and forks; and sticky bugs, which includes a strong adhesive to attach to the bottom of a cooler or toolbox for for faster and easier loading of frequently-hauled gear.

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Plastics Molding & Fabricating
P: (847) 634-4347
F: (847) 634-4379
EMAIL:
hfrankurba@aol.com
P.O. BOX 1400
LINCOLNSHIRE
ILLINOIS 60069