Not just seats
Freedman Seating Company (FSC) began 120 years ago when founder Hyman Freedman began making seat cushions for horse-drawn buggies. He knew his craft, and was awarded honorable mention at an 1892 exposition in Chicago for his skill in upholstery. A century later, FSC is still a family-owned and operated business, although it is now one of the nation’s largest specialty seating manufacturers, with more than 500 employees.
FSC manufactures seats and seating-related products for many different applications. Its products fall into three categories: 1) bus seating, 2) rail seating and 3) truck, specialty and commercial vehicle seating. Customers include the major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), more than 250 bus distributors, the federal government, and many states and municipalities.
FSC’s product development process is characterized by very short lead times. “It’s a cash-flow issue,” explains Pasquale Di Rico, new products engineering manager at FSC. “These vehicles are expensive; a bus can cost half a million dollars. When a manufacturer gets an order, they want to get it built and inspected and delivered to the customer as soon as possible, and a vehicle can’t be inspected until the seats are installed.”
Another challenge facing FSC’s new product development team is the large number of product variants the company offers. “Think of how many cities, towns, and universities there are,” Di Rico says. “There are a lot of regulations driving our designs, and we have more variations of seats than the whole automotive world combined.”
Needed: virtual prototyping and PDM
Over time, FSC’s 2D design process, which utilized AutoCAD® software, grew less effective at helping the company meet these challenges. What FSC needed was a 3D design process that would enable virtual prototyping. “We don’t have time to make physical prototypes,” Di Rico notes. “We needed to be able to design in 3D and go into production immediately.”