If there’s an opportunity to hunt, you won’t find Craig Simpson at home.
Simpson, an avid outdoorsman and Federal Ammunition customer, participates in every hunting or fishing outing he can, leading him on many hunts for elk, turkey, antelope, pheasant and more.
After an accident in 1992, Simpson needs a functioning powerchair to pursue his hunting passion. The powerchair he has used for the past 27 years has gotten him to the site of numerous successful hunts. That is, until just before the holidays, when Simpson discovered there was just enough damage to the teeth on one of his powerchair’s drive gears to make the wheelchair inoperable. After several phone calls and a thorough eBay search, Craig discovered the gear was obsolete.
He searched for a different hunting powerchair to adapt with no luck. The new powerchairs were expensive, uncovered by insurance and had small wheels that would more easily get clogged in the outdoor elements in comparison to his current larger-wheeled chair.
Getting the wheels spinning on a side project
Craig reached out to friends including Jeff Olson and his wife, Anne Beihoffer, project manager at Federal.
Jeff and Anne examined the gear. As they contemplated options, Anne had an idea: Federal had 3D printing capabilities in its Engineering Services Department in Anoka, Minnesota. She contacted engineering services manager Mike Woodward, who recognized the opportunity to help a dedicated customer in need. He engaged engineers Matt Schroeder and Scott Oien to create a model replacement gear in CADD.
“We’ve never made fine-toothed gears like this before. The difficulty of the detailed teeth would be right on the edge of 3D printable,” said Matt Schroeder, Product Concept Developer at Federal.
Schroeder explained the technical challenge of reverse engineering the gear. Scott Oien, design drafter at Federal, did the reverse engineering measurements, hoping to match the gear tooth specifications.
“Gears are difficult to mesh properly. Since the drive gear was polymer and it was driven by a steel gear from the electric motor, there was some concern we might not get the tooth shape correct and the new gear might just strip out,” he said.
They sent it to the 3D printer. Between the team and the 3D printer, they produced a working gear on the first shot! The gears were printed from the company’s Stratasys Fortus 400mc 3D printer in the strongest plastic they had available, Ultem.
“Ultem is a high-end engineering plastic even if you’re injection molding parts, and in this case it fit the strength and toughness needs of a helical gear really well,” Schroeder said.
They printed four gears, so Simpson had replacement gears on hand if needed in the future.
Brand loyalty at its finest
After years of hunting with the ammo, Simpson was already a fan of Federal Ammunition. In addition, Federal has also supported Capable Partners, an organization that provides hunting, fishing, and related opportunities for the physically challenged. But after the powerchair repair, Craig is even a bigger fan.
“What really made this project rewarding was the incredible thank you card Craig sent us – before we even met,” Schroeder said.
In his card, Craig had included 10 or 12 photos of him in his element – hunting big game like large buck whitetail deer, and a huge pronghorn antelope.
“Helping a hunter get back into the wild was a really satisfying experience for us,” Schroeder said.
Craig’s passion, loyal use of Federal ammo and the connection the engineers made is precisely why Craig was extended an invite for a tour of the Federal plant. Craig came in on Feb. 6 to meet Anne Beihoffer, Mike Woodward, Forrest Wilson, Matt Schroeder and Scott Oien, see the 3D printer and watch how their favorite shotgun shells are manufactured.
“I was really lucky they could design and print these gears. And the guys seemed rewarded just by helping me out,” Simpson said.
Craig is an active member of Capable Partners and is the vice president of Silent Ability. Each of these non-profit organizations help physically challenged hunters get out in the field.