Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Editorial, Volume 14, Issue 3.
Over the past few months I have had the privilege of spending part of each week working as a designer in a local small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME). This has been made possible by the generous provision of an Industrial Secondment Grant by the Royal Academy of Engineering, which has paid for my replacement teaching at Loughborough University. The company I am working with has eight employees and designs, develops and manufactures a range of electronic systems housed in various casings and enclosures. They realised that their products would benefit from being made more organic in shape and have also been receiving requests from customers for a wider range of options. The Managing Director had heard of rapid manufacturing (RM) and contacted Loughborough University to see if we could help in any way. I was recruited to the project with the aim of introducing design for RM into the company.
The exciting thing about being given this placement was that it enabled me to get out of my so-called “ivory tower” and start to put into practice many of the outcomes from the long-standing design for RM research at Loughborough University. This research has been undertaken within a series of projects and has involved work by Professor Richard Hague, Dr Mike Burton, myself and several others. Of course, the research has already fed into many companies in the UK and beyond but this was a unique opportunity for an academic to see what life is like “on the other side”. In addition, it was the first time that I was able to experience, first hand, the methodology known as Customer Interaction through Functional Prototypes (CIFP), as proposed by researchers from Loughborough University and the Central University of Technology, Free State in South Africa. This involves the customer working directly with the designer through a series of rapid design evolutions, supported by RP- generated functional models. This was achieved through me being located in the Managing Director's office and being able to discuss each and every significant design change with him. The outcome was a range of highly optimised, customer focused designs ready to be produced via RM.
Working on this design project has enabled both myself and the SME to learn many valuable lessons. From my own viewpoint, it is clear that RM can offer some unique geometric solutions. Specific examples include ready- assembled ball joints, internal ducting and snap-fit assembly features. There have also been some limitations on designs, in particular the achievable accuracy of assembly tolerances and minimum feature size. From the company perspective, design for RM and CIFP have delivered design flexibility, rapid product development, economic small batch production and libraries of component families. Important issues that have been raised include the need for in-house CAD capability and a close partnership with the RM service provider. More detailed dissemination of the project outcomes will be presented at the 3rd International Conference on Rapid Manufacturing (Loughborough, UK, 9 and 10 July) and at the International Conference on Additive Technologies (Pjuj, Slovenia, 17 and 18 September), both of which are supported by the Rapid Prototyping Journal. It is hoped that this will lead to future opportunities to work with other companies in a similar way.