Winning 3D CAD Designs: An Ergonomic Orbital Sander [Interview]

A few months ago, PTC asked Creo users to submit their best work for a Product Design Contest. Submissions came from more than 60 countries and included objects like a wooden bike, a car that runs on compressed air, and beer bottles—all made with Creo 3D CAD software.

Among the top designs was a handheld power tool that clearly came from the desk of a talented industrial designer. Both sturdy and attractive, Xiyin Yao’s orbital sander looked like something we wanted on our own workbench. So, after we made him one of our finalists in the contest, we asked him to tell us more about his design, inspiration, and any tips he might have for other aspiring contest winners.

Industrial designer Xiyan Yao

Industrial designer Xiyin Yao’s resume includes work designing vacuum cleaner products, consumer electronics, and toys. His orbital sander was a finalist in PTC’s product design contest.

Location: United States

The design: Yao says he was trying to make the design that appeared powerful, but also looked fashionable. In fact, he says he was inspired by the work of apparel brand Nike. He says he hoped to add some femininity to the design. “A recent survey showed that women across the country are picking up power tools at an unprecedented rate,” he says.

His completed design work resulted in a hard-working power tool with a touchable and an appealing design.

Rendered image of Yao's orbital sander, designed with Creo

Yao’s orbital sander. Note rubber layers for a more comfortable hand grip and capped design that secures the two sides of the model.

The design challenges: Yao hoped to create a tool that stood out in both form and the function.

  • Form: The model must prove as ergonomic as possible, while also appearing stylish.
  • Function: The sander’s noise and vibration must remain at reasonable levels—ensuring ease of use.

The solutions: To create a device people would look forward to holding in their hands, Yao added an overmolded layer of rubber to the hand-held surfaces of the sander. Then, to stabilize the tool, he added a top cap that joins the left and right sides of the model.

As with anything, there were tradeoffs to his approach. Some parts required an extra manufacturing step (i.e., side action) during molding, and that raised manufacturing costs significantly. However, the model produced a much more robust internal structure, which kept the sander running smoothly and quietly during operation.

Exploded view of the orbital sander

Exploded view of the rendered 3D CAD model.

Why Creo? Two Creo features were especially helpful as Yao worked on his design:

  • Skeleton models: Many designers use skeleton models in Creo for top-down design. In general, they use these special assemblies to lay out the framework of the product. Then they add meat to the bones (sorry) by introducing subassemblies and parts that fit within the structure of the skeleton. With the sander, Yao laid out the critical geometry first, such as shared outer surface contours, part lines, and hole locations. Once the skeleton was set, he could easily add new parts to any level of the assembly.
  • Style features: Creo Parametric surface design tools helped Yao create the high-quality free-form curves and surfaces you see on the model quickly and easily. With Creo’s surfacing tools, designers manipulate curves and surfaces freely, and then add constraints as they settle on the design.

Advice for someone trying to create their own winning design with Creo? Yao’s orbital sander design was completed before the design contest was announced. The secret to winning, he said, is to choose your contest wisely.

 “To anyone who already has a good design, it is very important to choose the right design contest to enter,” he says. “Different design contests are going to have different rules and criteria even though they might share some of the same basic principles. You must make sure your design is best suited with the specified criteria of the contest in order to maximize your chance of success.”

Rendering of sander shown with side panel removed

3D CAD rendering of orbital sander with side plate removed.

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