People 'n' Issues

Designing at the speed of thought

August 25th, 2015
Manufacturing and design are two industries where small companies can take on large enterprises. However, in order to do this, there is a constant pressure to innovate and review their development processes, writes CHRIS BUCHANAN, Dell Client Solutions Director.

Manufacturing and design are two of the rare industries where small companies have the ability to take on large corporations globally and vice versa. In this climate, the harsh realities of business are exposed and the importance of a competitive advantage is amplified. As a result, the ongoing competitive pressure drives organisations to constantly review their development processes and come up with new ways to innovate and create; at the end of the day, nobody wants to get left behind.

Rapid Product Development (RPD) plays a crucial role in these industries as it decreases the time it takes for products to get to market and also provides businesses with the opportunity to create better, innovative products. Efficiency is so often seen as a metric of success – the quicker a company can launch its product and subsequently get it to the end-user, the greater chance it has of being successful. In an “always on” world, launching first can help capture the attention of an audience, secure publicity, assist promotion and generate early sales.

Evolution of design

The way products are manufactured, designed and brought to market has evolved more rapidly in the last decade than even before. From drawing boards to smart desks, advancements in technology have had a profound impact across all stages of the production process. In fact, for many companies the entire process – from initial concept development and design, to market research, product development, production and marketing – has changed entirely.

Most recently, modernisations such as using the concepts of ‘Big Data’ to conduct social media analysis across millions of on-line conversations have come to the fore as a new way to gain initial product insight, and gain a competitive advantage. This is an example of something which would have never crossed the minds of manufacturers a mere decade ago. In particular, design solutions have been created to respond to traditional problems with form usability and physical ergonomics – whether the end product be furniture, cars, clothing or even hairbrushes!

While computers provide an established means of producing design plans and drawings, translating these ideas can be a time-consuming process. Consequently, workstations and the software they run need to be purpose-built and tailored specifically for industries to undertake this task. For example, Dell Precision workstations are designed & tested to support applications such as SOLIDWORKS and Auto-desk Design Suite to enable manufacturers and designers to create comprehensive 3D rendered models of products and solutions.

These photo-realistic renders can then be used in pitches and meetings to secure investment. They can be used in marketing presentations and campaigns to showcase the solution and build stakeholder interest before production has even begun. The forward-thinking technology in Dell Precision workstations and Auto-desk Design Suite make ground-breaking achievements, such as Kenguru’s development of the first ever electronic vehicle for wheelchair users, possible.

The ability to provide these detailed model simulations should not be underestimated as they provide businesses with the most accurate and comprehensive depiction of products. It can allow any errors to be stamped out, and subsequently increase the production quality. Furthermore, software-agnostic and Independent Software Vendor (ISV) certification helps boost productivity and efficiency during the development process as it allows businesses to customise their workstations to best suit their individual needs. It gives workers peace of mind when using often complex, high performance applications to create.

The power of prototypes

As competition gets fiercer, for many businesses, the expensive and time-consuming process of producing physical prototypes is phasing out. Much of this change can be attributed to the latest developments in High Performance Computing (HPC), as it offers the ability to switch from traditional physical to virtual prototyping. Organisations can now run huge complex simulations in short timescales whilst simultaneously increasing the quality of the products being designed. This allows better products to hit the market faster.

Developments such as HPC allow the efficient testing of millions of subtle design variations at a fraction of the previous cost. A great example of this optimisation is the virtual prototyping that the Emirates New Zealand sailing team undertook when testing its boat for the America’s Cup using Dell’s HPC cluster. This revolutionised the way the team prepared for the competition as it allowed the boat to be fully optimised and tested in a range of scenarios without the need to physically build various prototypes. As a result, it dramatically reduced the cost of producing the boat and perhaps most importantly, accelerated its time-to-market.

The third dimension

Another factor transforming the way in which products are developed is the colossal rise in 3D printing and scanning technology, which shows no signs of slowing down. According to Gartner, the worldwide shipment of 3D printers is expected to grow by 98 percent in 2015, followed by a predicted double of unit shipments in 2016.

3D printers give manufactures the power to develop, test and verify products quicker than the traditional prototype modelling methods. In fact, in some cases, 3D printing and the latest scanning technology aids in the design and production of components which were impossible to manufacture previously. ATOS scanners from GOM can scan product surfaces and the data copied in a 3D printer, enabling edits and customisations to be made for duplications. With solutions like this, the time-to-market implications can be huge, with increases and improvements in product quality and the speed and frequency of design modifications.

When competition is intense and margins are being squeezed, the capability to make manufacturing design iterations continuously is a huge competitive advantage in this day and age. This fact is further illustrated in a recent report by IDC, which states that the 3D printing revolution is now being utilised regularly in business applications – everything is being affected, from medical bone replacements to NASA telescopes, clothing to confectionery.

Looking ahead

As design and manufacturers evolve with the introduction of technologies such as the “smart desk” and virtual reality, product development will get faster and the quality of products will continue to improve. Progress will undoubtedly be made in 3D printing, expanding the scope of materials that can be printed to not only include plastic and metal but also electronics and rubber. The manufacturing possibilities are endless, and enable quicker product development especially when it comes to the latest and greatest innovations – such as wearable technologies. Designers and manufacturers will have the ability to create a host of new prototypes that were previously off limits, but arguably the biggest beneficiaries will be small businesses. By producing their own in-house pieces, the dependency on large supply chains will decrease whilst costs savings will increase.

In today’s global marketplace, time is money. We often hear from our customers that translating concepts to reality can be a time-consuming and frustrating process. Manufacturers need the right tools as an enabler to design at the speed of thought, once they have this, they are able to improve processes, maximise productivity, and enable opportunities for innovation and design creativity. Tools like Dell Precision workstations have the ability to give manufacturers these added benefits on a silver platter. How they put these benefits to use is up to them.


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