The Value of Physical Prototypes

I watched the first 4 installments of BBC’s Design for Life on a plane over the Pacific and found the last 2 episodes on Vimeo. The show is pretty much The Apprentice with Philippe at the helm. Plus I think the show illustrates how truly difficult it is to conceive and develop a product from a blank slate. Week after week young designers struggle to prove their design prowess to Philippe and usually fall short by under-delivering or missing the point completely. One week Philippe sent 4 designers packing.

The most profound moment of the show happened in episode 5. After weeks of failing to convince Starck that her new standing/walking aid for the elderly had merit, contestant Ilsa Parry presented the prototype. After merely looking at the proto Philippe’s attitude changed completely. After trying the product for himself he was sold.

Great that Ilsa persevered and continued to drive the vision of her product. Great that the rest of us can witness the power of the prototype in a real-world situation.

The entire series is available on Vimeo:

Design for Life Episode 1
Design for Life Episode 2
Design for Life Episode 3
Design for Life Episode 4
Design for Life Episode 5
Design for Life Episode 6

Design for Life | Episode 5 from designforlife on Vimeo.

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Moldflow and Part Visualization

For a while now Autodesk has been talking about digital prototyping as a means to save on costs of real, physical prototypes. True that their portfolio is quite comprehensive but there is nothing like a real, physical model for testing and evaluation. More often than not I have been able to build, test, and tweak a prototype more quickly than setting up a simulation and waiting for it to run. That said, simulations have their place in the design process and Autodesk worked out an interesting integration between 2 seemingly disparate products.

Moldflow is a great tool for evaluating plastic parts and the associated tooling and processing during the execution stage of the design cycle. Showcase is a rendering/visualization tool used primarily by upstream industrial designers. Autodesk has put together a great workflow allowing users to extract geometry from the Moldflow package and visualize it within the Showcase environment. It’s not quite as good as cutting steel and shooting parts, but definitely more cost effective.

Moldflow Insight

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Surface Continuity

@StudioClues and I had an interesting discussion over Twitter about the merits of curvature and surface continuity in product design. While we designers and CAD sculptors geek out on the technicalities of making G2 happen, it’s important to remember that curvature continuity is not a design goal in and of itself, merely a modeling problem for the capture of design intent.

Thomas’ main concern was valid, “can end users really tell the difference between a painstaking sculpted G2+ surface and a radial fillet?” Maybe. Maybe not. I certainly can. Always makes me wonder why the designers let it slip when I see bad curvature breaks. Low quality surfacing implies low quality product, IM(v)HO.

Here is a pretty good description of what we’re talking about:

I’m also happy to see that Autodesk Alias 2011 will have G3 continuity built in:

For some insight on why we actually care about curvature continuity, have a look at this: On Form, Curvature, and Emotion.

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$20,000 For Your Best Idea

That’s what LG is willing to pay in their Design the Future Competition:

What we’re looking for
Predict what’s next. What do you think the next generation of mobile phones should work or look like for the U.S. market in the next 2 to 3 years? We are asking for your help. We’re NOT looking for a long list of specs or phone ideas that already exist. We’re looking for a cool new concept or “big idea” supported by usage scenario and user experience illustrations.

Who doesn’t have a cool new concept or “big idea” they’d love to share? Among the support documentation I found this: 4 Tips For Success which provides a pretty good starting point for any product development project:

  1. Find a Good Problem to Solve
  2. Do Your Homework
  3. Carefully Craft Your Pitch

But the real gem is about halfway down the page:

How to Innovate

  1. Select a product or service to innovate.
  2. Create a list of its components.
  3. Apply a TEMPLATE to each component. This creates a VIRTUAL PRODUCT. It is virtual because it does not exist. It should not seem to make any sense to you at first. That is okay…that is how the method works.
  4. Take the VIRTUAL PRODUCT and think of all the ways it could be useful. What problems does it solve? What benefits does it offer? Who would use it?
  5. Repeat the process using a different component.
  6. Repeat the entire process using a different TEMPLATE.

There you have it. If only it were that easy…

On a more serious note, Autodesk is a sponsor and I really like what they have been doing with their software lately to enable designers to design. On par with Siemens’ Synchronous Technology.

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How Much Will That Cost Me?

When you’re designing high-volume products every penny counts. That’s what the finance guys tell me anyway. Although cost is always a concern, I find most industrial designers and product design engineers don’t have a good concept of what a $0.17 cost-adder means for a product with an annual volume of 20 million units (answer: add $3.4 million to your budget). The math is pretty simple but there’s something about seeing the number in front of you that brings home the reality. So I made this quick and dirty chart to give us a quick and easy reference.

And who doesn’t need another reason to open Excel? Click here to download the Excel spreadsheet.

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Forum is Open

Interested in talking with other hard working, talented people about making beautiful, useful things? The Form Loves Function discussion forum is ready for action. At the moment it is feature-lean; more features will be added as the community builds.

If you are ok with answering a few screening questions and dealing with some minor bugs, please request an invite by hitting me on Twitter (@formloves) or via email at design at formlovesfunction dot com.

HD3D – New Technology from Siemens

PLM applications are great for collecting product design data but more often than not, getting useful information out is a painful, non-intuitive process. When I see PLM data easily displayed in the 3D modeling environment I get excited.

Here are some screenshots from the promo video:

From the Siemens PLM website: HD3D – Your Dashboard for Product Development

There’s nothing like a real life demo. As expected, it’s not quite as flashy as the promotional video.

{Hat tip: @dorasmith via Siemens PLM Connection}

Injection Molded Plastic Part Design Checklist

Designing plastic parts is deceptively complicated. There are many factors to consider along with the obvious part function, performance, and cosmetic requirements. The checklist below outlines most of the important factors affecting performance and cost for any given application. Not all of these items will be applicable to every part you design, but going through this list will undoubtedly give you a better understanding of your part and what it needs to do. This understanding will undoubtedly help you make changes to optimize the part design.

It’s a long list but don’t let that dissuade you. Every item on the list will affect part cost and performance.

Injection Molded Plastic Part Design Checklist (in no particular order):

  1. What is the function of the part?
  2. What is the expected lifetime of the part?
  3. What agency approvals are required? (UL, FDA, USDA, NSF, USP, SAE, MIL spec)
  4. Will the part be implanted in humans?

    If so, biocompatibility is your first concern.
  5. What electrical characteristics are required and at what temperatures?

    Some material properties of concern: Electrical Resistivity, Surface Resistance, Dielectric Constant, Dielectric Strength, Dissipation Factor, Arc Resistance, Comparative Tracking Index.
  6. Will the part be used in an optical system?

    Some material properties of concern: Refractive Index, Gloss, Haze, Transmission (in desired spectrum, ie IR, visible, etc.)
  7. What temperature will the part see? And, for how long?

    Some material properties of concern: Coefficient of Linear Expansion, Specific Heat Capacity, Thermal Conductivity, Maximum Service Temperature, Deflection Temperatures, Vicat Softening Point, Glass Transition Temperature, Flammability, Glow Wire Test.
  8. What chemicals will the part be exposed to?

    Most material manufacturers test their materials with common chemicals. Contact individual suppliers for the results of their chemical compatibility testing.
  9. Is moisture resistance necessary?

    Some material properties of concern: Water Absorption, Water Absorption at Equilibrium, Water Absorption at Saturation, Maximum Moisture Content.
  10. How will the part be assembled? Can parts be combined into one plastic part? Will one plastic part need to be divided into two or more?
  11. Is the assembly going to be permanent or one time only?
  12. Will adhesives be used?

    Some resins require special adhesives.
  13. Will fasteners be used? Will threads be molded in?
  14. Does the part have a snap fit? Glass filled materials will require more force to close the snap fit, but will deflect less before breaking.

    Some material properties of concern: Flexural Modulus, Flexural Yield Strength.
  15. Will the part be subjected to impact? If so, add rounds to the corners to minimize stress concentration.

    Some material properties of concern: Izod Impact, Charpy Impact (Unnotched), Charpy Impact (Notched).
  16. Is surface appearance important?

    If so, beware of weld lines, parting line, ejector location, wall thicknesses, surface texture, draft, and gate vestige.
  17. What color is required for the part? Is a specific match required or will the part be color coded? Some glass or mineral filled materials do not color as well as unfilled materials.
  18. Will the part be painted?

    Some paints require a primer which may attack the molecular structure of the material. Some paints require a thermal cure so you will need to verify the material will withstand the oven cure temperture.
  19. Is weathering or UV exposure a factor?

    Some material manufacturers test their materials for UV exposure. Contact individual suppliers for the results of their UV testing. If no testing has been done, plan on doing the UV testing yourself. UV exposure is often overlooked and be very detrimental to the physical properties of the part.
  20. What are the required tolerances? Can they be relaxed to make molding more
  21. What is the expected weight of the part? Will it be too light (or too heavy)?
  22. Is wear resistance required?

    Some material properties of concern: Rockwell M Hardness, Rockwell R Hardness, Coefficient of Friction (Static), Coefficient of Friction (Dynamic). Surface finish is also a factor so adjust draft to allow for the desired finish within the tool and plan for no ejection on wear surfaces..
  23. Does the part need to be sterilized? With what methods (chemical, steam, radiation)?

    This requirement is similar to chemical compatibility. Some materials are tested and results published by material manufacturers, others will need to be tested for your specific application.
  24. What is the worst possible situation the part will be in? (For example, will the part be outside for an extended period of time and intermittently put in water, or maybe see a constant high load while submerged in gasoline.) Parts should be tested in the worst case environment.
  25. Will the part be insert-molded or have a metal piece press-fit in the plastic part? There are tooling, process, and residual stress implications of insert molded features and press-fits.
  26. Is there a living hinge designed in the part? Be careful with living hinges designed for crystalline materials such as acetal.
  27. What loading and resulting stress will the part see? And, at what temperature and environment? Will the loading be continuous or intermittent?
    Some material properties of concern: Ultimate Tensile Strength, Tensile Yield Strength, Flexural Modulus, Flexural Yield, Elongation at Yield, Elongation at Break, Tensile Creep Modulus, Deflection Temperture..
  28. What deflections are acceptable?
  29. Is the part moldable? Are there undercuts? Are there sections that are too thick or thin?
  30. Will the part be machined?

    Some materials are more amenable to machining than others.

This list is intended to be a starting point for plastic part design and is not a comprehensive design guide. Your part in your specific application may have requirements not listed here. If that’s the case, please leave a comment. We would love to hear about it.

Wondering where to start? Matweb and IDES are both excellent resources.

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Nexus One Design Videos

These are a bit heavy on the marketing-speak and not as deep into the details as I like to get, but there are a few interesting bits making these videos worth posting; hardware and software designed in conjunction, optimization of the 3D engine, and insight into the magnitude of physical testing going into design validation.

Episode 1: Concept & Design

Episode 2: Display and 3D Framework

Episode 3: Testing

Episode 4: Manufacturing

Episode 5: Day One (all marketing here, but kinda cool to see all the pieces in action together)

I’d love to see how they make that sheetmetal housing. Hydroforming? Tricky welding?

5 Axis CNC Machining of Helmet from Aluminum Billet

Amazing work with this 5-axis CNC. I was impressed with the deep undercuts achievable with long cutters and clever programming and the fact the the finish-pass was done so cleanly in one setup.

Company: Daishin
Material: A7N01-T6 Aluminum
Cycle Time: I’d love to know

Hat tip: C. Sven of ReBang

Objectified DVD Pre-Order + New Screenings Announced

Objectified on DVDWe’re big fans of Gary Hustwit’s Objectified movie (check out the trailer) here at Form Loves Function and we’re happy to learn that the DVD is available for Pre-Order on the Objectified website. We’re also happy to see the filmmaker embrace new distribution formats like USB drives and BluRay.

New screening dates are up also.

Marissa Mayer on Innovation

Everyone’s favorite Vice President of Search Products & User Experience, Marissa Mayer, talks about how innovation happens at Google. Well, how it happened three years ago anyway. Her 9 keystones are still relevant today:

  1. Ideas come from everywhere
  2. Share everything you can
  3. Hire brilliant people
  4. License to pursue dreams – Google gives employees 20% of their time to work on individual pet projects (50% of the projects launched in the second half 2005 were “20% time” projects)

    It turns out when you take really smart people, give them really good tools they make really beautiful, amazing things that are really exciting and they do it with a lot of passion and momentum.

  5. Innovation, not instant perfection –

    the key is iteration.

  6. Data is apolitical – decisions get made based on data, not on rank of the decision makers within the company
  7. Creativity loves constraint
  8. Users, not money
  9. Don’t kill projects, morph them

The question and answer session after her lecture is also quite enlightening.

EDM Tolerances

That’s a trick title. Most of the time design engineers aren’t concerned with the tolerances associated with EDM process directly and I will tell you why.

First some background. EDM, or Electrical Discharge Machining (thanks again Wikipedia), is a material removal process wherein a large amount of electrical energy is delivered to the workpiece, burning material away. Energy is delivered through an electrode, either a block of conductive material (known as sinker, cavity, or volume EDM), or a wire (known as wire EDM). In both types, tools are mounted on machines with CNC controls.

EDM'd Moldbase and Electrode
EDM'd Moldbase (left) and Electrode (right)
Image via Eroda Tools, Ltd.

EDM processes are typically very slow and not suitable for volume production. However, EDM is typically very accurate and very effective on hard materials making it a great process for making plastic, sheetmetal, and other types of tooling. This is why design engineers are not usually concerned with the tolerances introduced by the EDM process; they are usually most interested in the tolerances of the parts coming off the tooling.

In this ongoing discussion of part tolerances (start here) I wanted to bring up EDM before talking about injection molding, metal stamping, metal forming, and other tooling-dependent processes because EDM is where the tooling starts. And you know how I love the fundamentals.