Bridging the Gap Between Concept and Manufacturing

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When the concept itself or the concept designer cannot convey the idea or design to the engineer or manufacturing, it becomes the industrial designer’s job to walk the line between concept and engineering in order to convey the challenging concept to engineering and manufacturing.

This article will not only explore personal experiences of a professional industrial designer working between concept and manufacturing, but will also identify key workflows or processes of how the industrial designer can communicate design concepts more effectively through communication techniques with engineering and manufacturing. This article is for anyone who would like to gain an understanding of the workflow and thought process of the industrial design industry and learn techniques and workflows to communicate concepts and designs to others.

Techniques and Design Workflows the Industrial Designer Can Use to Communicate with Engineering and Manufacturing

An industrial designer is most noted for their creative ideas, sketches, styling, and prototype models in their industry. Their deliverables contain everything from research data to working prototypes, from sketches to CAD models, from helping develop processes to reverse engineering. These deliverables all depend on a company’s needs or situation and how an industrial designer is placed. Using the Design Thinking process or methodology empowers people to be innovative and collaborative in solving problems.

The industrial designer follows a process, not a linear process, more of a circular process, known currently as the Design Thinking process. This process anticipates obstacles which then allows the product to recycle through the process eliminating as many issues as possible that might occur in manufacturing, final production, and consumer use. Throughout my career, I have used, been part of, integrated in personal projects, and experienced four basic phases in the Design Thinking process: Research, Define, Ideate, and Prototype.

The Design Thinking process involves four phases: Research, Define, Ideate, and Prototype

Research Phase

In the Research phase it all starts out in the field, asking questions of the end user and knowing their feelings and thoughts on what they think could fix or improve on a product’s problem. It involves being sure to closely observe the end user using the product and how they work with the product’s problem in question, recording their behavior when they use the product and how it makes them feel, and investigating the scope of other similar products and how they compare to your product’s problem. See if a solution is addressed in the other products, thus getting you to a quicker solution.

Three Important Areas of the Research Phase:

  1. 1. Field Study
  2. 2. Observations
  3. 3. Investigation

Research Phase Key Points:

  • • Ask questions
  • • Interview end users
  • • Ask about perspectives
  • • Record actions and behavior
  • • Feelings relating to end user’s actions
  • • Compare similar products
  • • Record all information for later use

Define Phase

In the Define phase, you organize and develop a deeper understanding of the information gathered. This phase is where you create a comprehensive presentation of the research that can be used as reference. After going through the Research phase, the Define phase will allow you the opportunity to ask questions against the research allowing you the opportunity to redefine the problem and redirect your approach, if needed. With a redirect, you can go back to explore new ideas that could help you find a solution to your problem faster.

Define Phase Key Points:

  • • Timelines
  • • Review researched information
  • • Compare competitor parts
  • • Benchmark
  • • Reverse engineering
  • • Reference data
  • • Redefine
  • • Explore new ideas
  • • Create new approach

Ideation Phase

In the Ideation phase, there are no bad ideas. Be open to many possibilities to get to the good ones. One technique is to have brainstorming meetings. In these meetings invite a diverse group of people from different departments to help widen the scope of ideas. Organize and record the ideas and then sketch them out. Making the ideas visual in sketch format helps to clarify the idea to see how feasible it may be. Create another meeting and collaborate over the sketched ideas with another diverse group. Filter through the sketches and narrow the scope to just a few ideas to help bring a solution to your problem.

Three Important Areas of the Ideation Phase:

  1. 1. Collaboration
  2. 2. Brainstorming
  3. 3. Sketching

Brainstorming Techniques:

  • • Designate a facilitator
  • • Keep on task
  • • Invite a diverse group of people
  • • Structure the brainstorm
  • • Prepare the group to start thinking creatively
  • • Use note cards to record/sketch ideas
  • • Share and explain ideas on board or wall

Organize Ideas Into:

  1. 1. Categories
  2. 2. Rankings
  3. 3. Columns

Decide to Keep or Remove Ideas

  • • Record all data from brainstorming
  • • Develop ideas (sketch, render, diagram, etc.)
  • • Hold a follow-up meeting with developed ideas

Prototype Phase

Prototypes can be of many different types. They can be a tangible foam model, an SLA (stereolithography) 3D printed model or even a paper mockup. Even the 3D CAD model can be a prototype. It can convey volume, show aesthetic appearance in different light with multiple colors as well as show materials with texture and patterns. Here you can use the prototype to prove any design functions, surface issues, ergonomics with regard to human factors, etc.

CAD Prototype Phase Key Points:

  • • Prototypes can come in many different forms
  • • 3D CAD models
  • • Aesthetics
  • • Volume, weight, dimensions
  • • Assemblies
  • • Analysis testing
  • • 3D-printed models
  • • SLA (stereolithography) model
  • • Surfaces issues
  • • Design functions
  • • Ergonomics
  • • Human factors

Using the four phases of Design Thinking for your projects should help bridge the gap between concept and manufacturing.

Eric Bansen works as a technical CAD consultant for i GET IT Online Training for Engineers from Tata Technologies, focusing on online e-training for engineers and designers alike. Designing and drawing have always been Eric’s true career passion, but he has found himself working for a variety of companies generating, developing, and communicating new product and automotive design products, from concept through production.