ASIS Midyear '98 Proceedings

Collaboration Across Boundaries:
Theories, Strategies, and Technology

The Potential of Computer Aided Industrial Design
to Act as a Catalyst for
Greater Professional Collaboration

Mark Evans
Department of Design and Technology, Loughborough University, UK

 

Abstract

The advent of computer aided industrial design (CAID) software, and increases in computer processing speeds, has the potential to transform the working practices of the industrial design profession. Industrial design is a creative activity, and the distinctive remit of practitioners is to define product form and user interface. Traditionally, industrial design has taken place as a largely linear process, whereby information was provided via a briefing, proposals were generated, and the outcome passed on to other professions for further development. The use of CAID has the potential to increase the professional collaboration of those involved in product development, but in particular industrial designers, design engineers, and ergonomists.

This paper examines the traditional or 'conventional' nature of industrial deign practice, and contrasts it with a methodology that adopts both CAID and a high degree of professional collaboration. This collaborative CAID strategy is illustrated using a case study that involved the design of a nylon line garden trimmer.

The primary benefit of the collaborative CAID strategy is the integration of ergonomics, engineering design, and industrial design, to increase the quality of the designed product and reduce development timescales.

 

INTRODUCTION

During programs of new product development (NPD), industrial designers may be employed to define exterior form. Whilst they may also get involved in the detailed engineering design, their distinctive role is that of appearance and interface design.

To achieve this remit, a variety of techniques have evolved to facilitate the manipulation and presentation of design ideas. As a visually creative activity, some of these 'conventional' techniques enable spontaneous (but relatively crude) modeling, with others taking considerable time and effort to define surface detail.

Despite the continued effectiveness of 'conventional' professional practices, the combination of recently developed computer aided industrial design (CAID) systems and rapid prototyping has the potential to dramatically change the way industrial designers define form and operate as part of the product development team.

CAID has the potential to integrate the key players of NPD into a collaborative framework that prevents the isolated working practices of more traditional (linear) strategies.

This paper explores the changes in industrial design working practices that have been afforded by CAID, and illustrates the potential for extensive collaboration with other professions associated with NPD. The nature of 'conventional' industrial design practice is identified before being contrasted with a CAID strategy that encourages extensive collaboration with ergonomists and engineering designers. This collaborative CAID strategy was devised as a conceptual methodology before being evaluated as a case study. The case study involved the application of the collaborative CAID methodology during the design and development of a nylon line garden trimmer.

 

'CONVENTIONAL' INDUSTRIAL DESIGN STRATEGY

Despite early attempts to define the generic nature of industrial design practice by Jones (1962) and Archer (1963), no detailed reference is given to the rationale behind the media employed. Figure 1 shows a model of industrial design practice that has been developed around the model of Archer (1963) but integrates the findings from action research undertaken by the author. The action research involved commissions as both an in-house and consultant industrial designer from 1988 to 1997. Activities in the black boxes indicate work that is rarely presented to a client.

Figure 1. 'Conventional' industrial design strategy

The deliverables from this methodology are of little use to both engineering designers and ergonomists, which can result in design problems being identified only after the industrial design work is complete.

The stages in the 'conventional' industrial design strategy will now be identified.

Sketching

Sketching enables the manipulation of design ideas using little more than pen/pencil and paper, and is regarded by Kojima et al. (1991) as "the most efficient in the sense that it is the cheapest and least time-consuming". Occasionally the industrial designers employ simple card and foam models to explore ideas in three dimensions (3D).

Proposal Renderings/Development

Having originated a range of concepts using sketching, the design(s) required for formal presentation are accurately drawn and rendered to give a realistic impression of the product's appearance. Further development may be required if a client is unhappy with the proposals produced which may continue several times.

General Arrangement (GA) Drawings

On acceptance of the industrial design solution as a proposal rendering, the next stage is to translate this into a 3D physical model. Prior to any formal 3D modeling it is necessary to define the surfaces with technical GA drawings.

Visual Model

The visual model is a non-working representation of the production item. They are hand built and given an appropriate surface finish, and as such are relatively expensive.

The key role of the visual model is to allow the client or corporate management to evaluate appearance and basic ergonomics prior to production. They may also be used for consumer research and promotional photography.

 

COLLABORATIVE CAID STRATEGY

The effective collaboration of the key NPD players forms the basis of the collaborative CAID strategy. Computer modeling enables data to be shared between the engineering designer and industrial designer, thus reducing the potential for design errors e.g. engineering components can be modeled and then used as part of the industrial design computer model. The industrial design surfaces are also available for import into ergonomics systems that can transpose various human characteristics onto the products.

The basic CAID methodology is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Collaborative CAID methodology

 

The strategy devised for the case study involved collaboration at various levels throughout the program, but the application of new technologies was most apparent at the industrial design phase, where dedicated CAID software was used to model the product surfaces. These surfaces were then available for further applications during engineering development.

A schematic diagram of the methodology employed for the case study can be seen in figure 3. The program involved collaboration between ergonomist (Erg), design engineer (Eng) and industrial designer (ID), and the various contributions made can be seen in figure 3.

Figure 3. Schematic diagram of the collaborative NPD program.

 

Market Survey

A market survey would usually be undertaken by industrial designers during product development, but less systematically than by an ergonomist and engineer. Whilst the ergonomic evaluation from the market survey would include quantitative measures such as weight and key dimensions, industrial designers are more concerned with appearance, manufacture, and the general 'feel' of the product. The engineer was primarily involved in establishing production techniques and machine performance. By collaborating, the team were able to share their professional judgments and make a more significant contribution to the program.

A particularly useful input that was arrived at by both the design engineer and ergonomist was in identifying that the center of gravity was some distance from the hand-grip.

Accident Survey

Home Accident Surveillance Survey (HASS) data was available free of charge form the Department of Trade and Industry, but was not specific enough to be of any significant value to the design program. The data included incidents of personal injury that resulted from the use of a nylon line garden trimmer, but some of the reports tended to have only a tenuous association with the line trimmers such as, " whilst playing brother hit him with trimmer".

It would have been useful to follow-up incidents with questionnaires but the time and resources for such activity were not available.

Questionnaire

Two hundred questionnaires were posted, 76 being returned completed.

Key findings from the Questionnaire were the extensive use of products with a lawn-edging capability (41% ownership), and that 94% of the owners found this feature useful.

Possibly as a result of the imbalance as identified during the market survey, the presence of an extra handle was considered useful by 100% of the respondents. Whilst reducing the overall area that could be covered by the product, the more forward position of the extra handle allowed the product to be supported closer to the center of gravity.

Product User Trials

Both the ergonomist and industrial designer were involved in the user trials, but they would more typically be undertaken by an ergonomist alone. As the industrial designer would be required to interpret the ergonomists findings, their presence at the trials was considered advantageous.

The four electric products selected contained the key features of products currently on the market such as: wrist support; motor mounted behind the handle; second handle; battery powered; heavy duty motor. Using a set procedure, sixteen users undertook observed trials and were questioned on their reactions to each product.

The wrist support was not liked, along with a handle that was in-line with product stem (a 'cranked' handle was preferred).

Despite the results of the questionnaire identifying that a secondary handle as being useful there, was general dissatisfaction with the comfort afforded by such handles.

As the center of gravity being away from the handle was noted as an area of interest during the market survey, it was not surprising to note a general dissatisfaction with balance. The only product that received a significant positive response was the machine on which the battery was positioned behind the handle, thereby shifting the center of gravity towards the handle. Apart from the battery machine, all were considered generally poor to use one-handed. This was unfortunate, as one handed operation allowed the greatest area to be cut. Not surprisingly, with two handed operation (using the extra handle) there was a major reduction in effort and corresponding increase in comfort. The only problem with this was the resulting loss of cutting range due to the restricted movement.

The presence of power cables was highlighted as a negative feature by the majority of users. The cables made use more difficult, and there was perceived to be a safety issue associated with the line cutter slicing the flex. In contrast to this, the battery machine had no cables and removed the negative features associated with them.

Concept Design

At the beginning of the design activity, manual pen/pencil sketching was maintained by both the engineering designer and industrial designer as the most effective way to generate and manipulate forms.

Design engineer, ergonomist and industrial designer collaborated during brainstorming for the product configuration. The innovative outcome from this was the positioning of the motor and battery behind the handle to balance the product and reduce discomfort. This was seen as a major innovation that was not utilized in any existing product configuration, although the design engineer did express concerns about additional production costs.

Engineering development

The basic layout required to achieve a balanced product was devised by the engineering designer. This initial engineering development was very much 'hands-on', but resulted in the production of an engineering prototype that proved the basic operating principle.

Industrial Design

Having originated a design concept using sketching, this was continued until an acceptable industrial design solution was achieved. To ensure the acceptance of the form as a three dimensional object, a simple foam model was made. The foam model gave a degree of confidence in the proposal before the surfaces were modeled on the CAID system. The CAID software used was DeskArtes running on a Silicon Graphics Indy workstation, and the modeling took sixteen hours.

A key output of the CAID modeling was a series of renderings that accurately illustrated the appearance of the finished product. Whilst a 'conventional' proposal rendering would have taken around four hours, the CAID based proposal rendering took ten minutes as it was simply a case of defining materials, colors, and the background environment. A hard copy was then printed out.

The CAID rendering of the cutter can be seen in Figure 4.

Figure 4. CAID rendering of the cutter.

Concept User trials

This was a key milestone for the NPD program, and necessitated the participation of ergonomist, design engineer, and industrial designer. During these trials, the engineering prototype, foam model, and renderings were introduced to users who were able to comment on appearance, performance, and feel. These three product attributes were very much the professional domains of the industrial designer, engineering designer, and ergonomist respectively, and together gave an early indication of the full nature of the final product.

Minor changes were made as a result of the concept user trials.

Prototype Engineering

It is at the detailed engineering stage that the CAID strategy really starts to pay dividends. Under a 'conventional' strategy technical drawings would be required to define the product surfaces. With the CAID strategy, the surfaces were imported into the engineering designer's computer aided design (CAD) system directly. They could then be used for the necessary engineering development.

There was also the capability to generate the tool path for the injection mold tools using the surfaces that were produced by the industrial designer and developed by the engineering designer. The computer generated surfaces could be used to produce the production tool cavity. This procedure can be seen in being evaluated using computer controlled machining in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Trial computer controlled machining of the handle in preparation for tooling.

Rapid Prototyping

Unlike a conventional strategy, there was no requirement to produce non-working visual models. As the CAD surfaces produced by the engineer were suitable for rapid prototyping, the potential for a fully functional model existed.

The rapid prototyping system selected was stereolithography, which involves the hardening of a photosensitive polymer by a scanning laser. As the polymer hardens the model is build-up from a series of layers.

The stereolithography components were produced from the engineering CAD data within three days of receiving the files. Such model build times are unheard of using 'conventional' techniques.

As the product was based around basic engineering components, the motor, drive-line, and cutter assembly were fitted with few problems. Once the motor had been allowed to run, and the durability deemed acceptable, the motor and assemblies were removed and the stereolithography components prepared for finishing.

Assembly of the unfinished stereolithography components can be seen in Figure 6.

Figure 6. Assembly of the cutter drive to the unfinished stereolithography components.

The stereolithography components were pre-finished by the supplier to remove stepping on external surfaces. Despite this, some further effort was required to remove stepping on thirty two concave dimples of three millimeter diameter that remained untouched. If the prototype had been for functional evaluation only, then this attention to detail would not have been required.

The external surfaces were sprayed with a high-build acrylic primer and rubbed down. This was carried out twice, followed by the filling of minor surface blemishes with knifing putty. Two coats of acrylic primer were then applied and rubbed down.

Two coats of mat cellulose paint were applied to all external surfaces in appropriate colors. This was to give the appearance of a spark eroded plastic finish as this was specified for the production item.

Once the paint was fully dry, the motor and fittings were added.

The finished visual prototype prior to the proposal user trials can be seen in figure 7.

Proposal User Trials

The design was finally evaluated with the design engineer, ergonomist, and industrial designer present during the proposal user trials.

Users from the previous trials were recruited to perform a task with the working rapid prototype and compare its performance and features with those of the products used previously.

Figure 7. The completed visual prototype.

The users were unanimous in support of the improved balance of the new design, although some did express reservations at the color. The only negative feedback was that it did not perform as well as the mains electricity machines, but the engineer had to accept that there was a limit to the power output from a battery products.

In terms of durability, the working rapid prototype had its limitations. The paint finish was no different from that of a 'conventional' visual model so was not particularly robust. It was therefore necessary to perform any visual evaluation and have the model photographed before any trials with the product working.

 

CONCLUSIONS

Changes in technology are providing those involved in the NPD process the opportunity to re-think their working practices.

On one level there are the fundamental changes to professional practice that enhance output. The basic CAID strategy is an example of this, whereby the CAID renderings were far more realistic than those produced using 'conventional' techniques.

On another level there is the opportunity to use the changes in professional working practices as a catalyst for greater collaboration with other NPD professions. In the case study the industrial designer's CAID strategy became a focus for the collaboration of ergonomics and engineering design. The sharing of digital information between the industrial designer and engineering designer being an ecellent illustration of this.

Whilst many professions have the opportunity to change and enhance their specific working practices by introducing computer technology, it would be a missed opportunity if this was not seen as a chance to re-evaluate ways in which they could collaborate more effectively with others, with the goal of improving outcomes for all.

 

REFERENCES

Archer, L.B. (1963) Systematic Method for Designers, The Design Council, London, p13.

Jones, J.C. (1963) A Method of Systematic Design in Conference on Design Methods, (eds C.J. Jones and D.G.Thornley), Pergamon Press, London, pp. 54-55.

Kojima, T., Matsuda, S., Shimizu, Y., and Tano, M. (1991) Models and Prototypes, Graphic-sha Publishing, Tokyo, p6.

McCullagh, K. (1996) 3D Computer Modelling in Industrial Design . Co-Design, 07.08.0996.


Paper presented at the 1998 midyear meeting of the Association for Information Science, May 17-20, 1998, Orlando, Florida.


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