My focus as a designer has changed dramatically over the years. As a younger product designer, I put a lot of my energy into the first design sketches; those really early sketches where the initial design began to take shape. I loved doing those sketches. I loved to see a wall covered with amazing looking sketches! But as the years ticked by and I learned more about what my real goal was; a successful, high quality product that could be mass produced for the right price. I saw time and time again, issues in execution, manufacturing problems and material choices that didn’t perform as expected taint the overall product experience.
It didn’t seem to matter that my sketches or those early design renderings looked so awesome, if the finished product was a letdown. After all, what good was my sketch that I put so much heart into, if the end result fell short of the design intent?
I began to understand the phrase; “It’s all in the details”, in a much different way.
From my vantage point of thirty three years as a product design consultant and completing more products than I can remember, I see things in a way I did not, even just a decade ago. Because we engineer every product we design, manage it through the entire manufacturing process and beyond, I have taken a mental note of every area where problems can occur. In this blog I want to talk specifically about an area that can cause a world of problems if it is not addressed early on in the design process. That area is material choice. The following points are a few ways this one topic can make or break your product design and what to do so it doesn’t!
Pushing a material or its manufacturing process to perform at its limits requires a lot of extra upfront design work. As a designer I love pushing the boundaries of materials and manufacturing processes. It seems most everything I want to create does that. What I didn’t realize when I was younger was that this mentality required a lot more up front due diligence.
One of the products we designed and now produce is called BackShield. It is a high-tech take on a back support. BackShield is made up of only handful of materials; injection molded ABS plastic, open cell foam, PopFoam EVA, elastic straps and snaps. But even with this simple Bill of Materials (BOM), our choice of materials meant everything to the success of the product. And as it turned out, we pushed the manufacturing process of injection molded EVA (PopFoam) in order to achieve the design vision and product performance we desired.
The PopFoam material and the way it is produced allowed us to make shapes and features that were not possible in other materials. The shape of our injection molded EVA part was complex; large undercuts, thin walls next to thick walls, and interior part cutout features. Our design required us to spend more time testing material durometer to get the proper shape. It required extra time to figure out the gate locations for proper part fill. It required design changes to address mold flow lines on aesthetic surfaces. The point here is to know as many of the areas that can cause problems ahead of time. This will allow the design team to systematically deal with each potential problem area, instead of being surprised at the 11th hour.
Learn more about Victor's design firm, Driven Innovation.