SunCorp, a Hong Kong-based telephone manufacturer was getting its lunch eaten by competitors like Siemens and Phillips only a few years ago. Today, it has achieved the position of the number two supplier of digital cordless phones in the world — thanks to an innovative design process that helped them produce very different handsets for different markets in record time by leveraging a common platform design.
To pull off this feat, SunCorp partnered with Alloy Ltd., a product design consultancy firm that has pioneered an innovative product development process. Called the Alloy holistic 3D process, they say it produces cost-effective, easy-to-implement designs that can be extended across entire product families.
“The key is that at the start of every project, we make intelligent assumptions about what constraints will inevitably apply,” says Gus Desbarats, chairman and founder of Alloy. A trained designer with degrees in mechanical and systems engineering, he says the process involves estimates of such things as the size and shape of the main internal components — things that will remain constant across all model variations.
Alloy leverages UGS' NX digital product development technology in its design work flow. At the start of the process, estimates of the main internal components are modeled in UGS NX CAD software as part of the assembly. The team has the authority to revise these assumed shapes during the industrial design phase, points out Desbarats, but only within certain boundary conditions agreed to at the start. The team then moves quickly from early theme sketches straight into 3D around the internal assumptions, bypassing 2D renderings.
By creating 3D visuals and then 3D solid shells early in the design stage with NX, Desbarats says this “pre-CAD phase” not only eliminates the kind of interpretation problems inherent in handing over an industrial designer's sketch but also makes the whole process more efficient because the models are ultimately reusable. Alloy estimates this process can eliminate the effort on the part of mechanical engineers by some 40 percent.
“What we have essentially eliminated at this point is the need for the design engineer to do any reverse engineering or deal with only crude approximations. If they had to take an Alias shell out of a 3D surfacing product, for example, they would have had to find ways to effectively convert that into a parametric solid in the solid modeling tool they were using,'” says Desbarats. “In contrast, what we are delivering is a detailed model right down to the wall thickness.”
Design engineers downstream can then work concurrently on different aspects of the design or different models by creating a wave link in NX so that all models share access to the common package data. In the case of SunCorp, model variations included such details as the outer profile, earpiece detail and display bezel (see images at left).
Desbarats says the approach has two other benefits. “One, we can be far more innovative with the overall shape of the device because we have a better feel for the risks behind our decisions,” he says. “And, two, any design we create is less likely to need late changes.”
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