At Phillips: No Design Barriers

November 16, 2007

6 Min Read
At Phillips: No Design Barriers

Design News: As an experienced industrial designer, why did you decide to go to work for a manufacturer like Phillips Plastics? 

Jeremy Odegard, Senior Designer, Phillips Plastics: I was very pleased seehow industrial design fit into the company. It’s a different business model from what you generally see in industry. It is not very common for a manufacturing company to embrace design to the extent that Phillips does. It goes back to the mid-‘80s when Bob Cervenka, the founder of Phillips, began working with a design consultancy and soon afterwards added industrial design services to the company’s design development center in Hudson, WI. And the company has continued to expand its industrial design talent ever since.

DN: What’s behind this focus on design at Phillips?

JO: Many of the products that Phillips has been asked by customers to manufacture over the years were not originally designed with good manufacturing practices in mind. As a result, Bob Cervenka came to believe very strongly that if products were designed properly from the very beginning of the development process, you could save time in the production cycle and minimize or eliminate manufacturing issues.

DN: How about the transition for you personally of coming from an industrial design firm and having to relate every day to engineers?

JO: For me, it was a natural fit, because I had seriously considered engineering when I was exploring career options. I was torn between art and engineering, and it was really in college at the University of Wisconsin-Stoudt that I realized there was a discipline that rode that line – industrial design. So it has always been easy for me to understand engineers and their needs. Here at Phillips, we are all a part of the same team and are co-located in our work space. I sit next to another industrial designer and a mechanical engineer.  So there’s a lot of mutual respect. The stereotypical barriers between the two professions don’t exist here, and that’s refreshing.

DN: Where does industrial design come into the picture on a typical project at Phillips?

JO: Many of our customers are medical device manufacturers, so let’s take the example of a new surgical tool. In this case, the customer did not have an existing product in the category that they were targeting. The first step in our process was to visit hospitals, which in this case included an operating room at Mayo Clinic, to witness first-hand how similar tools were actually used by surgeons, as well as to talk with doctors about these instruments and their likes and dislikes. The goal, of course, is to identify features that could benefit from design improvements. Involved in these site visits were two industrial designers and one mechanical engineer. Such research is really essential and makes up the first step of the process. We share our research findings with the customer, and then begin internally to brainstorm ideas for product design with a cross-functional team at Phillips.

DN: And how does the design proceed from the research stage?

JO: The next step is concept exploration. Many times the industrial designers will spend a significant amount of time with pen and ink, or marker sketches. We also use 2D visualization software, such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Macromedia FreeHand. Increasingly, though, we are using 3D CAD to build our concepts because it speeds up the development process by giving us the ability to more quickly build physical prototypes and transition to the design for manufacturability stage. In the 3D CAD area, we use a variety of packages, including SolidWorks, Pro/ENGINEER and Ashlar Cobalt. We also use Alias Studio Tools for free-form surfacing, photorealistic renderings and animation.

DN: And during this process, you’re working closely with engineering?

JO:  Correct. At the beginning of any program, we establish a team that includes industrial designers, design engineers and manufacturing engineers. Concepts developed by industrial designers are continuously reviewed by engineering. The goal is to make sure that the concepts that we present to the customers can in fact be manufactured efficiently. And typically, we will present anywhere from three to six concepts to the customer, and evaluate each according to the list of requirements that we received from the customer at the beginning of the program. With customer feedback, we then go into a refinement stage where we focus on developing a strong, cohesive final concept. Here, too, we use 3D CAD tools. Typically, in this final concept we will pass 3D models back and forth to the customer for comments and suggestions. Where we once relied on foam models, use of 3D CAD allows us to use stereolithography and other rapid prototyping models to generate physical models that customers and end users can review.

DN: What happens in the final stages of development?

JO: Once the customer has approved the final concept, a design engineer will work on the design detail of each individual part of a product for prototyping and manufacturing. This includes detailing of the assembly features, making sure there is sufficient draft on all surfaces, specifying areas for texture, and checking that the rib-to-wall ratios are appropriate and so on. Also during this phase, we use software analysis tools, such as FEA, to further test the geometry before manufacturing. For example, we can test the strength of a snap feature or simulate drop tests in a computer environment.

DN: In general, do you think that more customers have an appreciation for what industrial design can do for a product?

JO: Over the last 10 years, I believe that the appreciation of industrial design both as a field of study and as a contributor to company success has grown significantly. People can relate to the effectiveness of good design when you see the success of such companies as Apple, which has used design very effectively to differentiate itself. Here at Phillips, we see such fields as medical embracing good design as a key part of product development. As a result, medical products are becoming more and more like consumer products. We’ve also worked on some military programs that have really benefited from the integration of design principles. The important thing people need to realize is that the industrial designer is not just concerned with the surface-level experience. The goal is to improve the overall user experience with a product. In other words, we want to create products that are enjoyable to use.

From consumer products to medical devices, Phillips relies on industrial design to help fashion products that delight users.

Sign up for the Design News Daily newsletter.

You May Also Like