Concept Design : The Process Technology Forgot
It’s that time of year when consumers wait with baited breath to get their hands on this year’s top gift items—a wearable, perhaps, or maybe a sleekly designed pair of noise cancelling head phones. Yet well before the smart appliance, 3D printer, or space-age gaming system rolls into stores for the seasonal shop-a-thon, some engineer took pen to paper or maybe mouse to 3D modeling tool and began to plot the rough idea for the must-have holiday gadget.
In today’s hyper competitive age, companies need to have the concept design process down cold. The ability to quickly explore myriad ideas allows companies to zero in on the best design and avoid duds and miscues that could increase design complexity.
The problem is that unlike most areas in the product design process, the concept stage could still benefit from a technology-driven transformation. 3D CAD tools, now well entrenched in most organizations, have streamlined much of the product development process, such as facilitating design reviews and engineering change orders.
This chair being developed in PTC Creo’s Design Exploration Extension is a rare example of a concept design that’s integrated into the overall engineering workflow.
That’s not necessarily the case with early concept design, which remains much more ad hoc and often disconnected from core product development processes. The best ideas, for this year’s must-have children’s toy or for an award-winning industrial widget, could in fact be tucked into engineering notebooks, splayed across hand-drawn napkin sketches, or found in any number of disconnected rendering files and 2D drawings.
So what’s the best way to turn a scattered process into an integrated part of the total design cycle? Here are a few ideas to get started:
Choose tools that can support an integrated workflow. Maybe your organization is already using any number of truly exceptional tools to get the concept design job done. Yet just because you can bring a seed of an idea to life quickly with a rendering tool or sketch layout package doesn’t mean the resulting concept model flows easily into the rest of the engineering workflow. Especially, if the team has to do a lot of manual work to recreate the design in their own CAD tool. To avoid inefficiencies—not to mention, potential inaccuracies or misinterpretation of the concept design—choose tools that interoperate easily, maybe even as part of an extended design suite.
Don’t lose sight of design requirements. It’s easy to get caught up in the awesomeness of a design concept—maybe it’s a novel take on a commodity component or a stunning organic shape that changes the look and composition of a product. Yet it’s important for engineers to take a step back during this critical stage to ensure the functional requirements, customer requirements, manufacturability requirements, and other grounded deliverables are reflected in the proposed concept so the team doesn’t go off on a wild goose chase, culminating in a totally cool design that has no chance of being produced.
Don’t get stuck within the constraints of CAD. It’s been notoriously hard (maybe even near impossible) to fluidly come up with concepts using traditional parametric CAD tools. However, that’s changed a ton thanks to a variety of new adjunct tools and enhanced capabilities found in most CAD platforms. Among the new features making it easier to bring new ideas to life are direct modeling functionality, which opens up access to existing 2D drawings and sketches as a foundation for iterating new design concepts without having to recreate models; sandbox design areas like PTC’s Creo Design Exploration Extension; as well as freeform surfacing tools, which enable designers to spruce up their concepts with a good amount of realism.
Being good at concept design doesn’t just mean having the brain trust to come up with good ideas. If the concept phase remains wholly disconnected from the rest of the product design lifecycle, it undermines a company’s ability to systematically bring those good ideas to life. With so many options available to streamline the process, why take that risk?