The Future of Disposable Medical Devices

The Future of Disposable Medical Devices

By: Polly Britton
Project Engineer, Product Design

7th March 2018

Home » Polly Britton

As one of the few sectors where waste produced is increasing year by year, there is a huge interest in the healthcare industry for disposable devices. The cost benefits of lower lifetime devices include maintenance, sterilisation and ease of convenience. These benefits are driving interest in and demand for medical devices akin to the “razor and cartridge” product model – inherently designed and produced to be, part or completely, disposable.

In the case of healthcare waste, the danger of cross-infection from re-using devices or recycling the waste is considered more important than the conservation of materials and energy. This is why many tools and devices used in hospitals are disposed of after a single use, and all the waste is incinerated. Based on current trends, the amount of waste produced by the healthcare industry is likely to increase over coming years, as more medical products become disposable. This trend can already be observed by looking at the increase in medical waste year-on-year. It is also possible that it may also decrease eventually.

Why make a product disposable?

Despite the culture of being environmentally conscious, all businesses ultimately have to follow financial incentives in order to be competitive in the market. When deciding whether to reuse a product in most industries, the main factors that need to be considered are:

A. How much does the product cost to purchase?
B. How much will it cost to store the product between uses and prepare it for its next use?

The word “cost” here means not only the monetary cost, but the cost in effort and time spent by whoever does the purchasing in the case of “A”, and whoever does the using, storing, and preparation of the product in the case of “B”.

If the “reuse cost”, B, is higher than “purchase cost”, A, the product is usually disposed of after every use. If A is bigger than B the product is kept and re-used. This is similar to the calculation to determine whether to fix a product when it breaks or to buy a new one: Is the cost to repair the product greater than or less than the value of the product?

What makes healthcare products different?

In the case of the healthcare industry, products often need to be sterilised before being used, which is especially important if the product has previously been used on another patient. The cost of disinfecting equipment is high since the staff doing the work need to be trained professionals. This makes the cost to reuse very high compared to other industries. Even after rigorous cleaning and disinfecting, the risk of cross-contamination cannot be eliminated completely, which introduces an additional factor: “risk to patient’s health”, which cannot be quantitatively compared to factors “A” and “B”.

It is the high reuse cost and the additional risk to patients’ health that has resulted in so many healthcare products being designed as single-use, such as gloves, paper gowns, syringes, and some surgical tools. Some of this waste is considered “hazardous” officially and therefore cannot be legally disposed of in landfills, so almost all healthcare waste is incinerated, including a lot of non-hazardous waste produced by hospitals, which is not kept separately.

Why might healthcare products become more disposable?

Advances in manufacturing and automation have decreased the production cost of many products, which has reduced their purchase prices. If this trend continues, products that are now considered too valuable to throw away will become so inexpensive that they will start to be considered disposable. This could include electrical products and complex surgical tools. Furthermore, once these products are designed specifically to be single-use they can be made from cheaper materials and processes that will bring the price down even more.

Why might healthcare products become more disposable?

Although disposing of more waste by incineration causes concern for the environment, in the case of medical technology, keeping costs low allows more people to have access to effective healthcare.

How could products become less disposable?

There is also a way that future advances in technology might reduce the cost of reusing products in the future and hence reduce the incentive to dispose of products in the healthcare industry. If automation can be introduced into the disinfection process for medical products the requirement for trained staff to clean the equipment manually could be greatly reduced, and an automated disinfecting process might even be more effective at reducing the risk of cross-infection. What’s more, the disinfection process could be combined with an automated inventory management system of the type already seen in other industries.

Government regulations and incentives relating to environmental concerns could also have a big impact on the market. For example, medical products in the UK are currently exempt from the Waste Electrical and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) Directive but if that were to change, the cost of making any electrical medical devices disposable would increase.

Conclusion

The future of disposable medical devices is hard to predict since the market is driven by new technology while at the same time advances in technology are driven by market demands. With the advance of inexpensive manufacturing technology, more products may become disposable, but advances in automated sorting, cleaning, and storing could have the opposite effect. In addition, the culture of concern for the environment could also drive the government to change the relevant regulations.

For at least the short-term future, it seems more medical devices will become disposable and medical waste will continue to increase in volume per patient. However, any predictions about the healthcare market more than 20 years from now can only be speculative, due to the fast-paced nature of technological improvements.

As one of the few sectors where waste produced is increasing year by year, there is a huge interest in the healthcare industry for disposable devices. The cost benefits of lower lifetime devices include maintenance, sterilisation and ease of convenience. These benefits are driving interest in and demand of medical devices akin to the “razor and cartridge” product model – inherently designed and produced to be, part or completely, disposable.

In the case of healthcare waste, the danger of cross-infection from re-using devices or recycling the waste is considered more important than the conservation of materials and energy. This is why many tools and devices used in hospitals are disposed of after a single use, and all the waste is incinerated. Based on current trends, the amount of waste produced by the healthcare industry is likely to increase over coming years, as more medical products become disposable. This trend can already be observed by looking at the increase in medical waste year-on-year. It is also possible that it may also decrease eventually.

Why make a product disposable?

Despite the culture of being environmentally conscious, all businesses ultimately have to follow financial incentives in order to be competitive in the market. When deciding whether to reuse a product in most industries, the main factors that need to be considered are:

A. How much does the product cost to purchase?
B. How much will it cost to store the product between uses and prepare it for its next use?

The word “cost” here means not only the monetary cost, but the cost in effort and time spent by whoever does the purchasing in the case of “A”, and whoever does the using, storing, and preparation of the product in the case of “B”.

If the “reuse cost”, B, is higher than “purchase cost”, A, the product is usually disposed of after every use. If A is bigger than B the product is kept and re-used. This is similar to the calculation to determine whether to fix a product when it breaks or to buy a new one: Is the cost to repair the product greater than or less than the value of the product?

What makes healthcare products different?

In the case of the healthcare industry, products often need to be sterilised before being used, which is especially important if the product has previously been used on another patient. The cost of disinfecting equipment is high since the staff doing the work need to be trained professionals. This makes the cost to reuse very high compared to other industries. Even after rigorous cleaning and disinfecting, the risk of cross-contamination cannot be eliminated completely, which introduces an additional factor: “risk to patient’s health”, which cannot be quantitatively compared to factors “A” and “B”.

It is the high reuse cost and the additional risk to patients’ health that has resulted in so many healthcare products being designed as single-use, such as gloves, paper gowns, syringes, and some surgical tools. Some of this waste is considered “hazardous” officially and therefore cannot be legally disposed of in landfills, so almost all healthcare waste is incinerated, including a lot of non-hazardous waste produced by hospitals, which is not kept separately.

Why might healthcare products become more disposable?

Advances in manufacturing and automation have decreased the production cost of many products, which has reduced their purchase prices. If this trend continues, products that are now considered too valuable to throw away will become so inexpensive that they will start to be considered disposable. This could include electrical products and complex surgical tools. Furthermore, once these products are designed specifically to be single-use they can be made from cheaper materials and processes that will bring the price down even more.

Although disposing of more waste by incineration causes concern for the environment, in the case of medical technology, keeping costs low allows more people to have access to effective healthcare.

How could products become less disposable?

There is also a way that future advances in technology might reduce the cost of reusing products in the future and hence reduce the incentive to dispose of products in the healthcare industry. If automation can be introduced into the disinfection process for medical products the requirement for trained staff to clean the equipment manually could be greatly reduced, and an automated disinfecting process might even be more effective at reducing the risk of cross-infection. What’s more, the disinfection process could be combined with an automated inventory management system of the type already seen in other industries.

Government regulations and incentives relating to environmental concerns could also have a big impact on the market. For example, medical products in the UK are currently exempt from the Waste Electrical and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) Directive but if that were to change, the cost of making any electrical medical devices disposable would increase.

Conclusion

The future of disposable medical devices is hard to predict since the market is driven by new technology while at the same time advances in technology are driven by market demands. With the advance of inexpensive manufacturing technology, more products may become disposable, but advances in automated sorting, cleaning, and storing could have the opposite effect. In addition, the culture of concern for the environment could also drive the government to change the relevant regulations.

For at least the short-term future, it seems more medical devices will become disposable and medical waste will continue to increase in volume per patient. However, any predictions about the healthcare market more than 20 years from now can only be speculative, due to the fast-paced nature of technological improvements.

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Further Reading

Medical Drone Technology

Medical Drone Technology

Nigel Whittle - Head of Medical & Healthcare

By: Nigel Whittle
Head of Medical & Healthcare

21st February 2018

Home » Polly Britton

There has been much spoken about the use of drones for delivery of commercial products. In 2013, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos claimed that drones would soon become ‘as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road’. However, despite significant expenditure and extensive testing programmes, that goal still seems a long way off. Meanwhile, use of drones has quietly moved forward in another significant sector…

One of the biggest challenges facing the provision of affordable healthcare in the developing world is the patchy distribution of facilities and expertise. In particular, remote rural areas often lack trained healthcare workers due to the difficulty in attracting such practitioners, and the general migration of better educated people to the cities. The problem can be compounded by a poor infrastructure of roads and other transport networks, and as a result it is not uncommon for patients to walk many miles over harsh terrain to consult a healthcare practitioner, who himself may have limited resources. And that walk may have to be repeated many times for further diagnosis and treatment.

A paradox of developing countries is that they are often capable of leap-frogging more advanced economies through infrastructure developments, in the same way that mobile networks have rapidly supplanted fixed line networks in many countries. Similarly, disruptive health technologies have the potential to transform the lives of millions of people in countries where access to healthcare is limited. This is because many novel diagnostic technologies are being designed for use at the point of care, where the need is most acute, rather than for the centralised hospital and laboratory systems found in the developed world. For example, rapid and affordable DNA-based tests for infectious diseases can not only provide sensitive indications of exposure to pathogens but can also indicate the correct course of treatment.

However, there still remains the problem of delivering appropriate medicines for treatment to the patient, while again avoiding an arduous trek to the doctor. Additionally, where such tests do not exist, health care in remote areas is still dependent on logistic support to transport samples to the nearest health centre and to transmit the result back to the clinic. In practice, this has meant reliance on land-based transport in the form of motorbikes or cars, which are vulnerable to the state of the roads.

Future Delivery of Medical Supplies

A solution that is being adopted in a number of countries is the use of Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles (UAVs), or drones. Drones have the potential to make the transport of drugs, vaccines or medical aids much faster and more efficient, due to their ability to be rapidly deployed and to function in conditions that are unsuitable for wheeled vehicles. Perhaps the most impressive example is Zipline International, a Silicon Valley start-up that uses drones to deliver medicine and blood to rural clinics in Rwanda. This system for the delivery of life-saving medicines, established well in advance of the introduction of pizza delivery in developed countries, has been so successful that the company plans to launch a further system in Tanzania in 2018.

The organisation is now functioning so well that health workers at remote clinics and hospitals can simply text orders for necessary medical products to Zipline, and within minutes those products are loaded from distribution centres onto drones, arriving by parachute 15 minutes later for what would previously have been a 4-hour journey. Having this agile supply chain can make a massive difference in the provision of critical healthcare to patients and is hugely effective at empowering doctors.

It seems likely that the use of drones for distribution of high-value items in remote and adverse environments will only grow, leading to an increasing need for enhanced control and navigation systems. For technology companies to take advantage of this, solutions will need to be designed specifically with drones in mind. This means miniaturised systems with minimal size, weight and power factors to allow for deployment. We’ve pushed the development of enhanced control and navigation further through our micro-radar system, using mm-wave frequencies from a miniaturised antenna to allow for navigation of difficult terrain in all weather conditions.

These unmanned drones offer a remarkable example of how a technology from one industry can facilitate the provision of life-saving care in another sector, either for ‘routine’ use or to help in circumstances when time is crucial, such as natural disasters or medical emergencies. It may be that the use of these medical drones drives the breakthrough in adoption that will see Jeff Bezos’ vision come to fruition.

There has been much spoken about the use of drones for delivery of commercial products. In 2013, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos claimed that drones would soon become ‘as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road’. However, despite significant expenditure and extensive testing programmes, that goal still seems a long way off. Meanwhile, use of drones has quietly moved forward in another significant sector…

One of the biggest challenges facing the provision of affordable healthcare in the developing world is the patchy distribution of facilities and expertise. In particular, remote rural areas often lack trained healthcare workers due to the difficulty in attracting such practitioners, and the general migration of better educated people to the cities. The problem can be compounded by a poor infrastructure of roads and other transport networks, and as a result it is not uncommon for patients to walk many miles over harsh terrain to consult a healthcare practitioner, who himself may have limited resources. And that walk may have to be repeated many times for further diagnosis and treatment.

A paradox of developing countries is that they are often capable of leap-frogging more advanced economies through infrastructure developments, in the same way that mobile networks have rapidly supplanted fixed line networks in many countries. Similarly, disruptive health technologies have the potential to transform the lives of millions of people in countries where access to healthcare is limited. This is because many novel diagnostic technologies are being designed for use at the point of care, where the need is most acute, rather than for the centralised hospital and laboratory systems found in the developed world. For example, rapid and affordable DNA-based tests for infectious diseases can not only provide sensitive indications of exposure to pathogens but can also indicate the correct course of treatment.

However, there still remains the problem of delivering appropriate medicines for treatment to the patient, while again avoiding an arduous trek to the doctor. Additionally, where such tests do not exist, health care in remote areas is still dependent on logistic support to transport samples to the nearest health centre and to transmit the result back to the clinic. In practice, this has meant reliance on land-based transport in the form of motorbikes or cars, which are vulnerable to the state of the roads.

Future Delivery of Medical Supplies

A solution that is being adopted in a number of countries is the use of Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles (UAVs), or drones. Drones have the potential to make the transport of drugs, vaccines or medical aids much faster and more efficient, due to their ability to be rapidly deployed and to function in conditions that are unsuitable for wheeled vehicles. Perhaps the most impressive example is Zipline International, a Silicon Valley start-up that uses drones to deliver medicine and blood to rural clinics in Rwanda. This system for the delivery of life-saving medicines, established well in advance of the introduction of pizza delivery in developed countries, has been so successful that the company plans to launch a further system in Tanzania in 2018.

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The organisation is now functioning so well that health workers at remote clinics and hospitals can simply text orders for necessary medical products to Zipline, and within minutes those products are loaded from distribution centres onto drones, arriving by parachute 15 minutes later for what would previously have been a 4-hour journey. Having this agile supply chain can make a massive difference in the provision of critical healthcare to patients and is hugely effective at empowering doctors.

It seems likely that the use of drones for distribution of high-value items in remote and adverse environments will only grow, leading to an increasing need for enhanced control and navigation systems. For technology companies to take advantage of this, solutions will need to be designed specifically with drones in mind. This means miniaturised systems with minimal size, weight and power factors to allow for deployment. We’ve pushed the development of enhanced control and navigation further through our micro-radar system, using mm-wave frequencies from a miniaturised antenna to allow for navigation of difficult terrain in all weather conditions.

These unmanned drones offer a remarkable example of how a technology from one industry can facilitate the provision of life-saving care in another sector, either for ‘routine’ use or to help in circumstances when time is crucial, such as natural disasters or medical emergencies. It may be that the use of these medical drones drives the breakthrough in adoption that will see Jeff Bezos’ vision come to fruition.

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Further Reading

4 Steps to Designing Products That Delight Your Customer

4 Steps to Designing Products That Delight Your Customer

By: Polly Britton
Project Engineer, Product Design

7th February 2018

Home » Polly Britton

This year Plextek encouraged me to attend a two-week course on Product Design taught by Magnus Long at Central Saint Martin’s College.

During my time there, I was taught to approach product design in four stages: Research, Ideation, Development, and Communication. I’m going to give a brief introduction to each of these using one of my own designs as an example.

The project brief was to “Improve the experience of ‘privacy’ within shared workspaces.” The product also had to be suitable for the Opendesk brand, meaning that it had to be constructed from simple plywood shapes.

Stage 1: Research

Before you can design for a specific problem you must know about the scenario. Where is it happening? Who is it happening to? Why is it happening? When is it happening, time of day, time of week, time of year?

“Where” was specified in the brief so I started the project by going to shared workspaces: the British Library, the University Library, King’s Cross Station, and Costa Coffee. I watched people working, asked them about their experience of privacy and working in shared spaces in general, and I thought back to my experiences of working in the university library when I was an engineering student.

What I found was that nobody was bothered by a lack of privacy and many of them enjoyed sharing the space with others because it helped them to focus. I thought about improving privacy, rather than increasing it, and about the Plextek office where we work side-by-side and I only need to turn my head to address another engineer in my department. In this instance, improving privacy meant decreasing it.

During the research stage, you might also want to create a user persona to keep in your mind as you develop your design. My persona for this project was a student I met in the university library, who went there to study for exams and write up course-work, but a persona could be an imaginary combination of real people.


Stage 2: Ideation

The ideation stage is your chance to let your imagination go wild. You are probably familiar with brain-storming and talking through ideas over a meeting table, but there are other techniques that you can try. The most important thing is giving all ideas a voice. Perhaps you can think of an existing product that can be improved on or re-purposed to solve the problem, or you have an idea that does not even obey the physical laws of the universe. Sometimes, thinking about what would make the problem worse can help think of a solution. Instead of thinking about why someone else’s idea won’t work, try to top it with an even crazier idea. This will encourage everyone’s creativity and lateral thinking.

After all the ideas have been recorded you can start to eliminate the impossible, the unsafe, and the illegal, then the unfeasible, the prohibitively expensive, and the offensive, etc. until you are left with the best of them. Depending on how long you have for the project, you could bring a few ideas forward to the next stage or just one.

I only had two weeks to finish my entire project so I brought just one idea forward: A desk chair that became two seats, for when two people want to work together at one desk.

Stage 3: Development

Even with just one idea there can be many ways to execute it, so you may repeat the ideation phase to explore the possible embodiments of the idea.

I sketched some different ways the chair could work; a stool could be stowed under the seat, a flap hinged on the side that extended the width of the seat, a similar extension that slides out from under the seat. The solution I settled on was to divide the chair vertically and have the two halves kept together by the back of the chair. When the back piece is slid out, the chair becomes two stools.

For this concept to work, the seat must be stable in its combined form, as well as each stool being stable on its own. This involved the application of basic principles I learnt in the Mechanics module of my Maths A Level and some intuition.


Stage 4: Communication

In my last blog, I discussed some ways to think about product personality, how it is communicated, and how it relates to company branding.

For my project, I chose to put my trust in Opendesk’s branding and style, since they have managed to build a business on it already. I used their most popular products to inspire my chair design so it would look natural in the collection. I added curves in some places and straight lines in others and drew a few variants, which I showed to some other people to get their opinion. This is the ½ scale miniature I submitted for my final design:


How can this help you?

In the competitive world of design, there isn’t always time to go through this entire process, and it isn’t always appropriate. In some circumstances, companies often develop technology before finding an application for it – their clients might even save them the trouble by laying out exactly what they want with a detailed specification.

However, if you can identify a problem that a significant number of people have and provide a product or service that solves that problem, your customers will pay you not just for the work but for also improving their lives. Different projects require different approaches, but when it comes to design you can never have too many conceptual tools, ready to be applied when the right project comes along.

This year Plextek encouraged me to attend a two-week course on Product Design taught by Magnus Long at Central Saint Martin’s College.

During my time there, I was taught to approach product design in four stages: Research, Ideation, Development, and Communication. I’m going to give a brief introduction to each of these using one of my own designs as an example.

The project brief was to “Improve the experience of ‘privacy’ within shared workspaces.” The product also had to be suitable for the Opendesk brand, meaning that it had to be constructed from simple plywood shapes.

Stage 1: Research

Before you can design for a specific problem you must know about the scenario. Where is it happening? Who is it happening to? Why is it happening? When is it happening, time of day, time of week, time of year?

“Where” was specified in the brief so I started the project by going to shared workspaces: the British Library, the University Library, King’s Cross Station, and Costa Coffee. I watched people working, asked them about their experience of privacy and working in shared spaces in general, and I thought back to my experiences of working in the university library when I was an engineering student.

What I found was that nobody was bothered by a lack of privacy and many of them enjoyed sharing the space with others because it helped them to focus. I thought about improving privacy, rather than increasing it, and about the Plextek office where we work side-by-side and I only need to turn my head to address another engineer in my department. In this instance, improving privacy meant decreasing it.

During the research stage, you might also want to create a user persona to keep in your mind as you develop your design. My persona for this project was a student I met in the university library, who went there to study for exams and write up course-work, but a persona could be an imaginary combination of real people.


Stage 2: Ideation

The ideation stage is your chance to let your imagination go wild. You are probably familiar with brain-storming and talking through ideas over a meeting table, but there are other techniques that you can try. The most important thing is giving all ideas a voice. Perhaps you can think of an existing product that can be improved on or re-purposed to solve the problem, or you have an idea that does not even obey the physical laws of the universe. Sometimes, thinking about what would make the problem worse can help think of a solution. Instead of thinking about why someone else’s idea won’t work, try to top it with an even crazier idea. This will encourage everyone’s creativity and lateral thinking.

After all the ideas have been recorded you can start to eliminate the impossible, the unsafe, and the illegal, then the unfeasible, the prohibitively expensive, and the offensive, etc. until you are left with the best of them. Depending on how long you have for the project, you could bring a few ideas forward to the next stage or just one.

I only had two weeks to finish my entire project so I brought just one idea forward: A desk chair that became two seats, for when two people want to work together at one desk.

Stage 3: Development

Even with just one idea there can be many ways to execute it, so you may repeat the ideation phase to explore the possible embodiments of the idea.

I sketched some different ways the chair could work; a stool could be stowed under the seat, a flap hinged on the side that extended the width of the seat, a similar extension that slides out from under the seat. The solution I settled on was to divide the chair vertically and have the two halves kept together by the back of the chair. When the back piece is slid out, the chair becomes two stools.

For this concept to work, the seat must be stable in its combined form, as well as each stool being stable on its own. This involved the application of basic principles I learnt in the Mechanics module of my Maths A Level and some intuition.


Stage 4: Communication

In my last blog, I discussed some ways to think about product personality, how it is communicated, and how it relates to company branding.

For my project, I chose to put my trust in Opendesk’s branding and style, since they have managed to build a business on it already. I used their most popular products to inspire my chair design so it would look natural in the collection. I added curves in some places and straight lines in others and drew a few variants, which I showed to some other people to get their opinion. This is the ½ scale miniature I submitted for my final design:


How can this help you?

In the competitive world of design, there isn’t always time to go through this entire process, and it isn’t always appropriate. In some circumstances, companies often develop technology before finding an application for it – their clients might even save them the trouble by laying out exactly what they want with a detailed specification.

However, if you can identify a problem that a significant number of people have and provide a product or service that solves that problem, your customers will pay you not just for the work but for also improving their lives. Different projects require different approaches, but when it comes to design you can never have too many conceptual tools, ready to be applied when the right project comes along.

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Further Reading

Giving Your Product Personality

Giving Your Product Personality

By: Polly Britton
Project Engineer, Product Design

22nd November 2017

Home » Polly Britton

All products have personality, whether it’s a sleek, modern smartphone or an industrial, rugged drain cover. The “look” of a smartphone is carefully crafted by its designers over weeks or months; while I suspect the drain cover engineers just made a cast iron plate to do the job and added some texture to the surface so no one would slip on it.

No matter how ‘everyday’ a product may seem, each engineer designs with the end-user in mind and how they would ultimately “feel” when they look or use the final product. Don’t believe me? Do you not feel the safety of added grip when walking over a drain cover’s embossed grooves? And we all get a feeling of excitement when we hold and use the latest smartphone. It’s all these major and (nearly almost always) subtle characteristics that create emotion and defines a product’s personality.

What personality should you give your product?

The kind of personality given to a product can depend on a number of things.

If the target customer base is mostly composed of a particular gender or age group, or defined by some other common characteristic then that might make a big difference to how the product looks and how it is marketed. Razors for women are pink and sleek. Toys for children are vibrant and simple. An expensive sports car has to look fast, to the point where the shape of the car might actually be less aerodynamic.

You might also think about the location and situation the product will be used in: if it’s the kitchen, the product should look “at home” among other kitchen appliances and furniture, just like a hand-drill should not look out-of-place next to other tools and workshop equipment.

You also have to take the company’s branding into account, whether it’s your brand or your client’s brand. Brand recognition is very important for business so a product might have to look instantly recognisable as belonging to that brand. But branding is not just the colours and shapes the brand uses, it’s the overall character. Is the brand accessible or exclusive? Modern or traditional? Playful or serious? Think about how the company brands itself compared its competitors.

These are just some of the biggest considerations. There are many more! Not all of them will be relevant to every product and in some designs one will take priority over the others.

Some products are more ambiguous, like Coca-Cola, which is broadly appealing and instantly recognisable, no matter the age, gender, country, profession, or situation. I think this is only possible because of how old the product is; everyone already knows what it is and what it’s for because it has remained largely unchanged for over one hundred years. Compare this to Diet Coke, which is directed at young women so successfully that The Coca-Cola Company invented Coke Zero so men could have a low-calorie Cola drink too!

How do you communicate personality?

Let’s take a look at the Cubert desk lamp, a Colebrook Bosson Saunders product with the electronics designed at Plextek, for modern hotel rooms and offices. Cubert has a simple, modern look to compliment a computer monitor, TV screen, or phone that might be on the desk with it, and the devices that will be plugged into it. This is achieved with the square base, the slender stem, and flat, adjustable head. It is coloured in neutral tones so it will not clash with any colours in whatever room it is in. The light tones also give the impression of light itself, since white is the most reflective colour.

Here is an exercise I find fun and useful: if Cubert was a person, what kind of person would it be? I imagine a man in his twenties wearing a clean white shirt, no tie, likes to solve Sudoku puzzles on his phone and is easy to talk to at parties. This is not to be confused with your target demographic; it’s just a way to start thinking about personalities.

If you want to develop your intuition about product personality, start by paying attention to the products and brands all around you. Look at the furniture in your home, the packaging on your food, and cars on the road, and think about their human characteristics. It can help to compare products that serve the same purpose that look different. For example, the shape and packaging of Cadbury, compared to Galaxy, and compared to Hershey’s. Starbucks compared to Costa, and compared to Café Nero.

“Personality goes a long way”

One of the exciting things about product design is that a small spark of inspiration near the start of a project can have a big influence on the finished product. For this reason, thinking about personality early in a project can elevate the final product from something that functions as it should, to something eye-catching or delightful or so at-home in its environment that you barely notice it’s there. However, you always want your customer to feel a positive emotion when they see your product and you can prod them in the right direction by adding personality.

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All products have personality, whether it’s a sleek, modern smartphone or an industrial, rugged drain cover. The “look” of a smartphone is carefully crafted by its designers over weeks or months; while I suspect the drain cover engineers just made a cast iron plate to do the job and added some texture to the surface so no one would slip on it.

No matter how ‘everyday’ a product may seem, each engineer designs with the end-user in mind and how they would ultimately “feel” when they look or use the final product. Don’t believe me? Do you not feel the safety of added grip when walking over a drain cover’s embossed grooves? And we all get a feeling of excitement when we hold and use the latest smartphone. It’s all these major and (nearly almost always) subtle characteristics that create emotion and defines a product’s personality.

What personality should you give your product?

The kind of personality given to a product can depend on a number of things.

If the target customer base is mostly composed of a particular gender or age group, or defined by some other common characteristic then that might make a big difference to how the product looks and how it is marketed. Razors for women are pink and sleek. Toys for children are vibrant and simple. An expensive sports car has to look fast, to the point where the shape of the car might actually be less aerodynamic.

You might also think about the location and situation the product will be used in: if it’s the kitchen, the product should look “at home” among other kitchen appliances and furniture, just like a hand-drill should not look out-of-place next to other tools and workshop equipment.

You also have to take the company’s branding into account, whether it’s your brand or your client’s brand. Brand recognition is very important for business so a product might have to look instantly recognisable as belonging to that brand. But branding is not just the colours and shapes the brand uses, it’s the overall character. Is the brand accessible or exclusive? Modern or traditional? Playful or serious? Think about how the company brands itself compared its competitors.

These are just some of the biggest considerations. There are many more! Not all of them will be relevant to every product and in some designs one will take priority over the others.

Some products are more ambiguous, like Coca-Cola, which is broadly appealing and instantly recognisable, no matter the age, gender, country, profession, or situation. I think this is only possible because of how old the product is; everyone already knows what it is and what it’s for because it has remained largely unchanged for over one hundred years. Compare this to Diet Coke, which is directed at young women so successfully that The Coca-Cola Company invented Coke Zero so men could have a low-calorie Cola drink too!

How do you communicate personality?

Let’s take a look at the Cubert desk lamp, a Colebrook Bosson Saunders product with the electronics designed at Plextek, for modern hotel rooms and offices. Cubert has a simple, modern look to compliment a computer monitor, TV screen, or phone that might be on the desk with it, and the devices that will be plugged into it. This is achieved with the square base, the slender stem, and flat, adjustable head. It is coloured in neutral tones so it will not clash with any colours in whatever room it is in. The light tones also give the impression of light itself, since white is the most reflective colour.

Here is an exercise I find fun and useful: if Cubert was a person, what kind of person would it be? I imagine a man in his twenties wearing a clean white shirt, no tie, likes to solve Sudoku puzzles on his phone and is easy to talk to at parties. This is not to be confused with your target demographic; it’s just a way to start thinking about personalities.

If you want to develop your intuition about product personality, start by paying attention to the products and brands all around you. Look at the furniture in your home, the packaging on your food, and cars on the road, and think about their human characteristics. It can help to compare products that serve the same purpose that look different. For example, the shape and packaging of Cadbury, compared to Galaxy, and compared to Hershey’s. Starbucks compared to Costa, and compared to Café Nero.

“Personality goes a long way”

One of the exciting things about product design is that a small spark of inspiration near the start of a project can have a big influence on the finished product. For this reason, thinking about personality early in a project can elevate the final product from something that functions as it should, to something eye-catching or delightful or so at-home in its environment that you barely notice it’s there. However, you always want your customer to feel a positive emotion when they see your product and you can prod them in the right direction by adding personality.

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Further Reading

Will Model-Based Definition Be the End of 2D Drawings?

Will Model-Based Definition Be the End of 2D Drawings?

By: Polly Britton
Project Engineer, Product Design

26th July 2017

Home » Polly Britton

Despite advancements in computer-aided design over recent decades, 2D technical drawings remain as the industry standard deliverable. This means that after designing a part for a customer or manufacturer in 3D, they will expect you to prepare drawings like these:

Click images to zoom

This way of representing a 3D object on a 2D page through using a number of different viewing angles is called “Multi-view orthographic projection; it has been the standard for engineering design across most of the world for many decades now. The 3D model is just a tool to help create the drawing views and dimensions, which are what truly define the part.

But now there is another way…

A rotatable 3D model with dimensions, tolerances, and annotations all included. It’s called “Model-based definition (MBD)” and there are some who think it is the future of engineering design. A simpler version can be seen below, just click the play button to enable the 3D ability.

As computers become more powerful, more people than ever before can open a 3D model file, like this one pictured, on their PC, tablet, or even smartphone. People can also intuitively figure out how to navigate around the model to find and extract the information they want from it.

Is it better?

To overcome the 2D drawing’s legacy of over 200 years, any new system trying to take its place would have to be far superior to encourage engineers to make such a major change to how they work. So what are the advantages?

Seeing is understanding

Trying to imagine a solid object using information from “flat” 2D views sometimes results in errors, and unnecessary mental gymnastics that are done away with when using MBD. However, standard 2D drawings already have a solution to this, which is to include a 3D orientation view.

A view like this one on the right, or even a few of them, can go a long way to helping the reader understand your drawing. 3D orientation views can be easily generated from Computer Aided Design (CAD) models.

Dimensions

MBD does make it easier to find information about a particular feature all in one place. Just zoom-in and see every dimension you need to fully understand the feature. This replaces the need of having to inspect multiple 2D views to find the various dimensions for the width, height, and depth, which might be far apart on the page. These dimensions can even include geometric tolerances (the subject of my last blog).

File types

There is no universal or standard file type for MDB yet. Different CAD packages have different file type outputs that require a specific program to be installed on your device to open. Some PDF readers can display 3D PDFs, which allow you to examine 3D models and their annotations in a slightly cruder, less controlled way.

With 2D drawings, all you need to view them is paper, which can then be copied and carried into workshops and meeting rooms, and easily annotated by hand if necessary. And when the project is finished the designs can be physically archived in your company’s filing system of choice. These days, it is common to save drawings as PDFs, which can be opened on any device, and archived electronically. And that’s the way we like it, for now at least.

Conclusion

So, as the title of this blog asks, will model-based definition be the end of 2D drawings? I don’t think it will happen soon. The small conveniences allowed by MBD are not enough to encourage engineers to convert to a new format, especially one with its own set of difficult quirks. MBD may well become more popular in the future, but for now, I believe old-fashioned 2D drawings will still play a fundamental role in engineering and my career.

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Despite advancements in computer-aided design over recent decades, 2D technical drawings remain as the industry standard deliverable. This means that after designing a part for a customer or manufacturer in 3D, they will expect you to prepare drawings like these:

Click images to zoom

This way of representing a 3D object on a 2D page through using a number of different viewing angles is called “Multi-view orthographic projection; it has been the standard for engineering design across most of the world for many decades now. The 3D model is just a tool to help create the drawing views and dimensions, which are what truly define the part.

But now there is another way…

A rotatable 3D model with dimensions, tolerances, and annotations all included. It’s called “Model-based definition (MBD)” and there are some who think it is the future of engineering design. A simpler version can be seen below, just click the play button to enable the 3D ability.

As computers become more powerful, more people than ever before can open a 3D model file, like this one pictured, on their PC, tablet, or even smartphone. People can also intuitively figure out how to navigate around the model to find and extract the information they want from it.

Is it better?

To overcome the 2D drawing’s legacy of over 200 years, any new system trying to take its place would have to be far superior to encourage engineers to make such a major change to how they work. So what are the advantages?

Seeing is understanding

Trying to imagine a solid object using information from “flat” 2D views sometimes results in errors, and unnecessary mental gymnastics that are done away with when using MBD. However, standard 2D drawings already have a solution to this, which is to include a 3D orientation view.

A view like this one on the right, or even a few of them, can go a long way to helping the reader understand your drawing. 3D orientation views can be easily generated from Computer Aided Design (CAD) models.

Dimensions

MBD does make it easier to find information about a particular feature all in one place. Just zoom-in and see every dimension you need to fully understand the feature. This replaces the need of having to inspect multiple 2D views to find the various dimensions for the width, height, and depth, which might be far apart on the page. These dimensions can even include geometric tolerances (the subject of my last blog).

File types

There is no universal or standard file type for MDB yet. Different CAD packages have different file type outputs that require a specific program to be installed on your device to open. Some PDF readers can display 3D PDFs, which allow you to examine 3D models and their annotations in a slightly cruder, less controlled way.

With 2D drawings, all you need to view them is paper, which can then be copied and carried into workshops and meeting rooms, and easily annotated by hand if necessary. And when the project is finished the designs can be physically archived in your company’s filing system of choice. These days, it is common to save drawings as PDFs, which can be opened on any device, and archived electronically. And that’s the way we like it, for now at least.

Conclusion

So, as the title of this blog asks, will model-based definition be the end of 2D drawings? I don’t think it will happen soon. The small conveniences allowed by MBD are not enough to encourage engineers to convert to a new format, especially one with its own set of difficult quirks. MBD may well become more popular in the future, but for now, I believe old-fashioned 2D drawings will still play a fundamental role in engineering and my career.

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Further Reading

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