Part Two: Successful Product Design Secrets

Bringing It Together: Research, Concept Development and Product Engineering Details


Phase 2: Research and Concept Development

Most product development projects don’t strictly follow a linear path from Phase 1, to Phase 2, and on to Phase 3. In fact, most development steps are required to be completed before this phase is initiated. The scheduling depends on the product and management’s set of priorities.

Traditionally some information gathering or research is conducted after the development team has accepted specifications. In most instances, concepts are concurrently developed and evaluated, and that forms a foundation for the overall design direction. Concepts can be developed in numerous ways. These range from brainstorming sessions to simple sketches or elementary models and test ideas.

Instances when appearance is a top priority, product designers focus their attention on aesthetics and image. Often, numerous concepts are developed. The objective is to explore overall shapes, proportions and details that will influence customer perception, branding and ultimately the sale.

In other circumstances, products require exploratory testing based on a concept. Models are typically constructed based on one or more concepts and evaluated under various conditions to determine an optimal design direction.

Quality design lives where aesthetics meet the end user.

Phase 3: Concept Refinement

As concepts are developed and evaluated, the options narrow. One is selected for further development with an emphasis on specific details pertaining to aesthetic, functional and manufacturing-related parameters.

This refinement is conducted with the aid of CAD. The process accurately arranges components within an assembly, defines individual parts and refines cosmetic details as part of the overall look. Since all products are developed with a team of individuals, good communication is essential for the designer. He or she may be required to prepare photorealistic renderings of during this phase for approval of the overall look. The level of realism may vary depending on the product.

Consumer products may require multiple detailed views to illustrate surface colors, finishes as well as details of control panels, colors and embossed logos. The skill sets to professionally execute these refinements requires industrial designers with talent in art and technology. This is where industrial designers bridge the gap between engineering and marketing.

Their primary focus is on finalizing details of appearance and ergonomics. These features often conflict with technical requirements expected by molders and engineers who are ultimately responsible for manufacturing the product. This phase of product development is never finalized until the product has been completely designed. Concepts are continually refined in an iterative process as the design undergoes a series of evolutionary stages of development.

Aesthetic details are directly interrelated to practical considerations essential for product success. These include performance, material selection, tooling, molding, tolerances and cost. Industrial designers with a basic knowledge of the rotational molding process will have a much higher chance of realizing their concept in production with minimal compromises versus those with little to no knowledge. Close communication with good molders and toolmakers assures the development team that design objectives will be cost-effectively attained.

Phase 4: Production Design and Engineering Details

Translating concepts into a set of plans that will faithfully represent the design intent of a high-quality product is the most challenging and difficult phase of design development. Ironically this phase of design is the least appreciated and understood of development by nontechnical business owners.

Design engineers are passively appreciated for doing their job if the product is launched into production without complications. Problems often arise from careless omissions, assumptions or mistakes from ignorance or naivety. Design engineers responsible for detailing a production design must be vigilant about virtually any possible problem. This daunting responsibility becomes less risky as one gains experience, knowledge, and most importantly, the insight to pose questions to experts.

A designer’s ability to manage the end-result decisions dictates the final design of a rotationally molded product. A respected designer must have a comprehensive knowledge of the process, tooling methods, materials and application. However, this knowledge only represents a portion of the qualifications to successfully design a product.

Most design engineers can gain a basic understanding of rotational molding design guidelines by attending ARM design seminars, or from excellent books such as Glenn Beall’s Rotational Molding Design book, offered by the SPE. Qualities, which distinguish the novice designer from an expert, reside in the designer’s ability to creatively integrate these parameters with the product requirements.

Designers are constantly confronted with a set of conflicting challenges—each to be optimized at every step of development. The proficiency with which these decisions are made depends on the individual personal and professional characteristics of the designer as well as his ability to creatively resolve these issues.

Great designers typically don’t take the easiest path if it will compromise critical design objectives. They also don’t stubbornly adhere to unrealistic expectations that will lead to unnecessary difficulties in manufacturing. Great designers contain their egos while encouraging others to contribute invaluable insight and expertise, intelligently modified to comply with overall design objectives.

The extent of the designer’s experience pertaining to a specific application may vary according to the product and market. Mature markets such as kayaks, tanks, toys and playground systems would require a more specialized insight than a unique rotationally molded application.

Kayaks, for example, have evolved into a wide range of styles. Manufacturers now offer various body types, seating, hardware and options that have enabled them to brand their products and successfully distinguish themselves from competitors. Engineering parameters associated with body weight, buoyancy, fluid dynamics and maneuverability must be considered as well as market appeal associated with ergonomics associated with seat comfort, safety and styling.

Water tanks that constitute the majority of rotationally molded products are often designed and produced with little to no design consideration. Ironically, well-designed tanks are crucial for many reasons including reliability, reputation, safety and most importantly sales. A well-designed tank could provide a manufacturer with a competitive advantage if the tank was warranted for an extended period of time, easier to install, was more attractive or molded with less material. Such products would command a higher price or offer a significant benefit to the consumer.


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