Charles Floyd
Director
goPROTO Product Design Services
Amazing Innovations Inc.
San Francisco, Calif.
absolutelynew.com

Edited by Leslie Gordon

Industrial design is about more than just styling. A good industrial-design team must also consider technical details such as materials, draft angles, and manufacturing processes to create prototypes that product engineers can use. Equally important, industrial designers must develop product models that will provide value to the manufacturer. Here, value is defined as the ratio of function to cost. Value, thus, comes from improving the product or reducing the cost. Doing so without simultaneously reducing quality is called "value engineering."

Our designers, using value engineering, combine technology, business considerations, culture, art, and intuition. Intuition applies because there are no step-by-step rules to createstyle. Because each product is an individual case, design rules change each time. Our design house, for example, follows industry trends and refers to tradepublications for ideas to get the creative juices flowing.

Designers must consider a broad range of engineering variables. Besides those mentioned above, other variables include target audience, product categor y, physical form, consumer usability, and so on.

A good example of improved design thanks to value engineering is the Wrench Clencher. The inventor, larry Barbrow, brought in a rough, handmade version of the product — a handle for carrying a complete set of wrenches. The company that now licenses and will soon manufacture Wrench Clencher liked his original idea. The prototype worked for showing designers what he intended the product to do, but it was not feasible to manufacture. Value engineering on the product included:

Analyzing the original. The customer created the initial concept, so the design team had a good starting point. We love it when so-called nonexperts generate a design because they bring a lot of ingenuity to the table. They are inventors, but not necessarily engineers or designers. some industrial designers automatically discard ideas from nonprofessionals. But this is a mistake. Their "crazy" ideas often lead to great designs. Also, such innovators are experts because of firsthand experience with the problem they are trying to solve.

Redesigning the product. The original Wrench Clencher model had three par ts — a handle, cover, and rubber tool holder. A design rule of thumb says the fewer parts, the better. This usually makes a product less costly to produce. The original Wrench Clencher had a cover to hold the wrenches in place. Our redesign included a simple bar at the bottom of the handle, underneath the wrenches. This made the cover unnecessary.

The process of selecting color was straightforward. red is appropriate for tools. For one thing, red is popular among leading tool manufacturers such as Snap-On and Craftsman. In addition, a red handle shows up well, hanging on the wall or buried in a toolbox.

The Cheskin global Market Bias Color report at cheskin.com/view_articles.php?id=9 provides useful information on color selection in different cultures. In the U.S., primary colors such as red, yellow, and blue are associated with toys and other kids' products. Kitchen tools and medical products, on the other hand, must look (and be easy to) clean. And it should be easy to determine if they are, in fact, clean. That's why many such items are white, chrome, or stainless steel.

We try to create designs that are clean in form and look modern. In the end-user's eye, a modern look connotes ease of use and luxury, no matter the product.

Selecting materials. The original Wrench Clencher handle was fiberglass, which is not suitable for tools because it tends to fracture. Also, fiberglass requires a labor-intensive manufacturing process. We had these factors in mind when we designed a sleeker, ergonomically correct handle out of injection-moldable plastic that was easier to hold because it fit the natural curve of the hand and fingers.

Next came the sketching of design variations and finally building the 3D model. The CAD file then went to a fused-deposition modeling (FDM) rapid-prototyping machine.

Finishing. When the Wrench Clencher prototype was ready, we gave the manufacturer a set of specs that the 3D model does not show. We specified a scratch-resistant, finely textured plastic for the finish. The material is great for garage tools because grease wipes off easily. More importantly, the handle was easy to mass-produce because the shape could be injection molded.

The finished prototype provides a fully functional model to guide the manufacturer.

The handmade version of the Wrench Clencher was made from items the inventor found in his garage.