Transparency: The Critical View of Your Customer

Designing products is always challenging. Perhaps it’s industrial design, medical product design or other projects in the industry, a number of personalities and talents are required to create the next best wonder widget.

Talented product designers must be empathetic, observant, open-minded, analytical and creative. Plus, they must be convincing, opinionated, stubborn and extremely creative. But, another trait that is often overlooked is being a great communicator. Yes, designers must be good communicators with project team members as well as with their customers.

Effective communication requires insight into another person’s perceptions and thought processes. Therefore a designer must also be perceptive enough to peer into their customer’s mind and interpret his or her vision for how their product should be designed. This is especially challenging when a designer recommends, for example, rotationally molded parts to a customer who is not familiar with the process. It’s like trying to describe the color green to a blind man, or the taste of an orange to someone with no taste buds.

The benefits of rotational molding are often touted at conferences and publications promoting the process but rarely does anyone discuss the limitations. These limitations are extremely important to convey to customers being introduced to the process for the first time.

I have found it beneficial to inform my clients about all the positive as well as negative trade-offs of a design decision at the start. This can prevent unwanted surprises after months of time and money has been invested in design, tooling and production start-up.

Designing Products with Transparency Avoids Nasty Surprises

What are some of the unique aspects of rotational molding that should be clearly shared with new customers?

First, there is a choice of materials to consider. You can rotationally mold anything as long as it is polyethylene. Yes, I know anyone reading this will respond with an instantaneous “absolutely not!” But the fact is that 90 to 95 percent of all products rotationally molded are some type of polyethylene. What’s more, most molders don’t want to disrupt their production lines with other materials without adding cost penalties or complaints. That is a simple truth.

Therefore, a designer and molder must work together to effectively communicate the properties of polyethylene to a new client. What are some important subtle facts that can have a huge impact on a product? First, there is the inherent slippery feel of polyethylene that may be a problem and is usually a subjective issue. Other inherent aesthetic properties are softness, flexibility, and gloss-level that may or may not be acceptable.

A new client should be aware of the differences between compounded resins with UV stabilizers and color-matched pigments versus dry blended resins. The percent of color loss or retention may also be a major consideration when specifying a resin or process.

In addition to materials, there are decisions pertaining to parting lines, types of molds (machined, cast or sheet metal), tolerances, replication of details and tolerances.

Transparency is a big idea: If these facts are honestly shared with new customers from day one, unwanted surprises during production start-up will be minimized. Conversely, if they are intentionally or unintentionally shielded from a new customer, you will be in for a painful product launch.

Can we talk about new-customer transparency? If you have comments, criticisms or notes about this article, please visit our website and let me know what you think: