How Firewire Surfboards Refined Its 3D Order Customization

By William Atkinson  |  Posted 11-21-2011

Firewire Surfboards, based in Carlsbad, CA, has been allowing its customers for years to interactively modify certain surfboard designs online to meet their own specifications, before placing their orders. This has been done via an online 3D customization system called ShapeLogic.

However, there were limits to how much customization was possible with the existing system. One of the company's biggest challenges was accommodating the preferences of serious surfers for boards that could be custom-shaped to order to suit their individual styles and local wave conditions. "It is important for any premium, high-performance surfboard brand to offer custom boards if they want to be recognized as an industry leader," says Mark Price, CEO, who heads up IT initiatives at the small business.

Due to the complexity of Firewire's raw materials and production processes, its custom board design service was placing a significant burden on the company's computer-aided design (CAD) capacity. While Firewire was able to provide custom designing for its select international team of surfers, offering the same level of custom designs to the market at large would have created a major backlog and bottleneck for its CAD.

Contacts at ShapeLogic, a Siemens PLM Software technology partner and channel partner, initially introduced Firewire to NX software, a product development solution. ShapeLogic then developed a new online customization solution called "ShapeLogic Design-to-Order Live! for NX." The technology combines an Internet-enabled user interface with intelligent parametric models and advanced 3D CAD tools to offer a direct-to-consumer customization system.

In 2009, ShapeLogic approached Firewire with the technology, and the two collaborated for over a year to develop Firewire Surfboards' Custom Board Design (CBD) system, using the NX technology.

"Before we developed the Custom Board Design system, most custom boards were ordered by submitting a piece of paper with various dimensions filled out," says Price. "There was no way to see a visual representation of any requested adjustments, and no way to gauge the impact of those changes on the board's volume -- perhaps one of the most critical specifications of any surfboard, as the overall flotation directly affects paddling ability and performance."

Now, with drag-and-drop tools, ShapeLogic provides a simple user interface to drive the parametric surfboard models. "It is pretty intuitive to use for customers who understand the basics of surfboard design," says Price.

The CBD system allows registered customers to select models from the company's standard surfboards, and then alter the design according to their own required dimensions. Users can tweak the board's length, wide point, nose width, tail width, and thickness. "When we designed the software, we put some checks and balances in place," notes Price. That is, the software prevents customers from making changes of such magnitude that it would destroy the design integrity of a particular board shape. "For example, they can't widen the tail by more than an inch," he explains. "If they want a wider tail, they need to select a different stock board from the start."

When a customer orders a custom board using CBD, the system generates a precise CAD solid model of the board that is sent directly to Firewire's factory, where it is used to drive the CNC machines that manufacture the board. The precision process of the 3D model makes it possible to machine custom boards to about 97 percent of their net shape, minimizing the required finishing process, manufacturing time, and costs.

In addition to enabling customers to review their custom designs, the 3D output file lends itself to social networking. This allows customers to share their designs with friends, discuss the designs, and solicit input. This type of engagement thus becomes a viral marketing channel. With lead generation costs increasing, this technology will provide a further ROI with its social interaction capabilities.

"We did a soft launch in September 2010," reports Price. "Without any real effort from us, our web traffic spiked 30% in the weeks following the launch. We now have about 4,000 surfboards that have been designed and saved on our server from about 1,800 users. We are also getting a couple of actual orders every week."

Once the hard launch takes place, Price expects business to grow even more, especially related to the social networking option. "Right now, it doesn't have the viral energy that it will once we really get behind it," he concludes.