Industrial Design: Common Mistakes and Best Practices
IoT, design thinking, Industry 4.0 – with the ever increasing vocabulary of buzzwords being thrown around and the meaning behind them becoming more and more diluted, it is often neglected how those concepts should be applied when it comes to engineering and industrial design. At the same time, outdated practices and judgement errors persist. The reality is that despite all recent technological advancements and improvement, very few of them actually make it into the workflow of man common engineers and designers.
Let’s take a look at industrial design beyond the popular concepts and consider what best practices can be derived from them.
The Evolution of Industrial Design Tools
Industrial design broadly refers to the creation of products intended for mass-consumption by millions of people. And nowadays, more so than ever before, companies face constant pressure to come up with new innovative products – and industrial design is the key component in that process. It is estimated that 70 percent or more of the life cycle cost of a product is determined during the design stage . Well-thought-out industrial design improves product quality, reduces manufacturing costs and time to market, and ensures the overall competitiveness of the product. Such design takes into account both form and function, and sees the product in the context of the intended user as well as the environment.
In the (still fairly recent) past the resources at the designer’s disposal were very limited and his main go-to tools would be the good old pen and paper. The robustness and reliability of the final design would depend on the number of prototypes the company would afford to test and thus limited by the budget allocated to the development of the product. The development cycle was consequently very long and expensive, and the new product launch was always to a certain extent a gamble, with many products revealing unforeseen flaws and delivering disappointing performance.
The emergence of Computer-Aided Design and Engineering (CAD/CAE) solutions had the potential of completely revolutionizing the industrial design process, yet their impact has been limited. Due to the extreme complexity of the multiphysics involved, as well as the high hardware and software costs, the adoption of these solutions has been slow, and many smaller companies still stick with the conventional “trial and error” method. And while CAD solutions have been showing signs of democratization, CAE has remained the privilege of big corporations with massive budgets.
And despite the active on-going discussion on ways to optimize industrial design processes, in both academic and corporate circles, little has challenged the status quo for small and medium manufacturers. So what are the do’s and don’t’s of industrial design in the context of these recent developments?
Abandon the “Move Fast and Break Things” Mantra
This has been the modus operandi for many modern start-ups, as well as some established companies. This view of design – getting a minimally viable product to the market as fast as possible and follow it up with continuous tinkering – may be sensible for software manufacturers, but it often fails when applied to industrial design. Unlike a smartphone app, a hardware product cannot be patched or updated, so it needs to be foolproof before being shipped to the consumer to avoid mass recalls or (in extreme cases) even lawsuits. Bigger companies can fall prey to that mentality as well – the most recent and prominent example being the overheating and exploding batteries of Samsung Galaxy Note 7. The company was forced to make massive recalls and eventually stop production of the phone, suffering considerable losses. Many public businesses as well as airlines banned the product, severely damaging Samsung’s reputation. That might have been avoided if the design validation and testing process had been more vigorous.
Integrate Computer-Aided Solutions Early in the Design Process
Some design issues may be obvious. Others – far from it. Yet, as the case of Samsung demonstrates, they can affect product performance in a major way when tested in a real life environment. This is where simulation and analysis software comes into the industrial design process. Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) have evolved into powerful tools that empower engineers to spot design flaws and deliver better, more reliable products more efficiently. CAD and CAE solutions help narrow down design options, identify flaws and potential problems early on and validate the final design – consequently saving a considerable amount of time and money, as well as protecting the company’s reputation. It comes as no surprise that the new safety protocols adopted by Samsung to prevent the problem in the future involve performing simulations that imitate accelerated consumer use cases under a wide range of operating conditions .
Make the Shift to the Cloud
One of the main sources of hesitation and skepticism about adopting CAD/CAE solutions is the high software and hardware costs, typically associated with traditional on-premises software. Many smaller companies that never employed simulation before in their industrial design process, are naturally intimidated by such investment requirements with unclear returns. That dilemma can be avoided – with the emergence of cloud-based solutions engineers have the option of accessing the required computing power remotely from a simple laptop, scaling the capacity as needed. Platforms like Onshape (CAD) and SimScale (CAE) are among the pioneers offering cloud-based solutions. To further lower the adoption barriers and make the transition easier SimScale introduced its Community Plan – granting access to the full functionalities of its platform to everyone, free of charge. However despite that, since traditional on-premises software had established itself as the industry standard in both universities and companies, the status quo is slow to be challenged.
Despite the growing evidence supporting the benefits of integrating computer-aided solutions into the industrial design process, the awareness and adoption rates remain low. According to the Worldwide CAD (Computer Aided Design) Trends 2016 Survey, current usage of 3D Modelling, 2D Drafting and Simulation CAE solutions is at 76%, 68% and 34% respectively. The numbers are even lower for cloud-based solutions – partly caused by the status quo bias, but mainly due to simple lack of awareness. Yet it is clear that as engineering simulation is becoming more and more democratized a growing number of designers would be able to benefit from it. SimScale aims to contribute to this democratization process by offering engineers an easy-to-use cloud-based platform accessible from any browser – create a free account in under a minute and test it by using one of hundreds of simulation projects available in the SimScale Project Library.
 “Improving Engineering Design: Designing for Competitive Advantage”, National Academies Press
 “This Is Samsung’s Plan To End its Exploding Smartphone Problem”, Time.com