Prototyping and the Design Process

 

In our last article, we talked about our design process for the Capelli Stool, which we created in 1998 and later licensed to Herman Miller. At that time, it was typical to devote most of the up front time to concept exploration, leaving high-quality prototyping until later in the project. However, the advance of technology and tools since then has given rise to a different approach to the design process, one with many benefits for us and our clients.

Now, tools and technology have advanced to such a degree that high-quality prototypes in engineering materials are available to us not in weeks or days, but hours.

This half-scale Capelli prototype took days to build by hand.

This half-scale Capelli prototype took days to build by hand.

With 3D printing, we could have tested the weight bearing properties of the stool much earlier.

With 3D printing, we could have tested the weight bearing properties of the stool much earlier.

These technologies are a small subset of Industry 4.0, a revolution in product development based on the rapid sharing of data, AI, and virtual systems. In this article we will focus on our use of one of those techs, additive manufacturing (more commonly known as 3D printing).

We have a set of desktop 3D printers in-house that would have been the size of a walk-in closet in 1998 and would have printed lower quality parts in fragile materials. Now, high quality prototyping is done as soon as possible in the process, allowing us to vet concepts earlier and make changes more rapidly.

In our studio, we have always been limited to what shop tools were available to us. 3D printing has eliminated much of our need for a large model shop. 3D printers also drastically reduce the labor required to create prototypes to test a concept.

The slightest change to an in-ear headphone can drastically affect the comfort. With 3D printing in-house, we can test each slight variation with no extra hand labor.

The slightest change to an in-ear headphone can drastically affect the comfort. With 3D printing in-house, we can test each slight variation with no extra hand labor.

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The smallest change to a design in the virtual world of sketching or CAD can have a dramatic effect on its performance. With 3D printing, we can go straight from the virtual to the physical with no additional in-between steps like creating specifications and control drawings.

3D printing gives us the freedom to experiment with more concepts. Rather than having to limit our thinking to reduce risk down the line, we can quickly create a large number of ideas and test them in the real world before jumping to any conclusions.

These capabilities have improved our process and our clients benefit from that. We collaborate more effectively and gain real world insight from our concepts much faster than ever before. We continue to keep an eye on the industry as it grows and evolves, so that we can always understand how our process can be improved upon.

 
Carol Catalano