What were two industrial designers and a mechanical engineer doing in an operating room at Mayo Clinic? Asked to provide industrial design services on a new surgical tool, the Phillips Plastics team needed to first understand how these instruments are used in the real world.
Since the mid 1980s, Phillips has leveraged this industrial design savvy to help customers gain a competitive edge. “Not many manufacturing companies embrace the value of industrial design like Phillips does,” notes Jeremy Odegard, a senior designer who joined Phillips in 2001 after several years with a Minneapolis industrial design firm. “But our company never wants to present a customer with a design concept that can’t be manufactured.”
To make sure that doesn’t happen, Phillips’ industrial designers share studio space with design and mechanical engineers. “At Phillips, we’ve removed that stereotypical barrier between industrial design and engineering,” says Odegard.
Step-by-step Design Journey
Companies that take advantage of Phillips Plastics’ industrial design services typically see a project go through five stages, according to Thomas Mayr, the product development engineering manager who oversees the operation. And by doing so, the Phillips industrial design team is able to deliver an optimum design for manufacture, which can reduce lead times and overall costs. These steps include:
• Investigation and research. As in the Mayo Clinic example, Phillips industrial designers and engineers research similar products as a take-off point to create improved concepts for a customer.
• Exploration. The Phillips team creates preliminary designs, based on user needs and ideas from brainstorming sessions. Designers prepare as many as a dozen concept renderings, using pen and ink, markers, 2D visualization software, or 3D CAD models. These concepts are reviewed by Phillips’ cross-functional team, including experts in metal injection molding, multi-shot molding, assembly, decorative finishing and other specialties to ensure the concepts can be manufactured. “This is where Phillips really adds value,” says Mayr.
• Refinement. Concepts are whittled down to a few choices, which are presented to the customer, along with approximate costs.
• Implementation. Once the customer decides on a single concept, the design proceeds to detailed 3D CAD, and the customer reviews prototypes, in foam, plastic, or stereolithography. Materials are selected, assembly issues resolved, and tool fabrication begins. Phillips engineers also use Moldflow and Finite Element Analysis software to determine strength, gating, fill properties and strategies for scrap reduction.
• Production. The completed design is transferred seamlessly to the appropriate Phillips production facility, including traditional injection molding, medical clean rooms, metal injection molding, or multi-shot molding.
Jay Kirihara, a mechanical engineer who is a sales representative for Phillips, adds that the percentage of his clients who opt for industrial design assistance from Phillips has risen sharply over the last decade.
Medical companies have led the way in using Phillips for industrial design. Other big ID users come from consumer electronics, sporting goods, and lawn and garden. Even the military has called on Phillips for design help on communications devices.
The Phillips team points to a raft of customer payoffs from industrial design. Among them: establishing a “signature” look for a brand, adding freshness to a product line, and even creating a roadmap for future designs though the brainstorming and concept presentations that occur.
But most important is ID’s role in delighting the end user. “Industrial design isn’t concerned with just the surface-level experience,” observes Odegard. “Our goal at Phillips is to create products that are meaningful and enjoyable to use.”