Transforming and Strengthening the Links Between Industrial Design, Engineering Design and Production

University dissertation from Division of Machine Design, Department of Design Sciences, Faculty of Engineering LTH, Lund University

Abstract: The current form-giving activity in industrial design is characterized by explorations that depend on the individual capability to mentally manipulate a solution space from which to select and express the intended result. Designers often rely on artistic experimentation, aesthetic inspiration, or product specifications. These approaches often lead to satisfactory results, but they could be augmented by algorithmic form generation, optimization, and complex morphologies. By adopting this approach the designer would also be able to efficiently use forms that have previously been too complex to handle and evaluate manually, thereby gaining new ways of expanding his or her morphological repertoire. Algorithmically controlled morphologies not only pave the way for the unimaginable, they also present methods to handle and adapt them to an intended purpose. This development has been seen in other creative professions such as architecture, fine arts, modern music, and contemporary dance, but because of a different set of constraints linked to physical products the progress has not been as rapid in industrial design. The difficulty of satisfying these constraints is evident, as many iterations in the product development process are necessary between the different activities such as industrial design, engineering design, and production before a satisfactory design has been achieved. These iterations increase the development time, and often result in compromise solutions. Research has been aimed at better integrating the different product development activities through for instance concurrent engineering, but little research has been focused on how to better integrate industrial design with the rest of the product development processes. A connected issue in this context is that as the amount of mass-produced products increases, and companies offering made-to-order products are becoming scarcer and more expensive, the need increases among the customers of products to be able to tailor them to their needs and preferences. Several companies, most notably in the automotive and sportswear industries, have noticed this change in consumer attitude and are now offering online customization tools. However, these tools do not allow for full customization of the product form, but rather the selection of pre-defined components such as colors and materials. To confront the status quo described above, the Renaissance 2.0 research program has been initiated. Its role is firstly to extend the morphological repertoire of the industrial designer by increasing the integration between the industrial design activity and the other product development activities. Secondly, if form is algorithmically generated and engineering and production constraints are integrated in the process, partial or full transfer of the design activity to customers becomes a concrete option. The possible results of achieving these goals are that designers have a larger repertoire of morphologies to work from, the product development time can be reduced, the design concepts can stay true to the original vision of the industrial designer, and the customers can tailor products to their needs. To achieve these goals this thesis suggests an approach that entails developing a computer-based product design tool that allows a non-technical user to design products with complex forms, while assisting them in ensuring the products’ producibility and function. The purpose of this thesis is to investigate the domain of application of the Renaissance 2.0 approach, and to develop and test its technical feasibility. This has involved compiling an inventory of suitable morphologies, production systems and products, implementing several variants of the computer-based product design tool described by the approach, looking into challenges concerning user manipulation of complex morphologies, handling technical constraints and objectives with the help of techniques and tools from engineering design and production, testing their acceptance with industrial designers and customers, and producing physical objects based on the output from the computer-based tool and exhibiting them to ensure the quality of the output. The results of the studies show that this approach can already be recommended to the industry. There exists a feasible domain of application; there are computational methods for handling technical and user constraints and objectives; there is at least one way to implement the design process that satisfies most users; the physical products could be produced and were accepted by international design fairs. Several areas, however, require further research. The adaptation of the studied morphologies to more complex products can be more difficult. Many morphologies have not been investigated, such as 3D morphologies and their coupling to dynamic systems. Also, more complex products than the ones studied in this thesis might reveal other problems not yet encountered. Finally, it is necessary to perform several case studies in an industrial context to show the approach’s validity and economic feasibility. It is thus also necessary to study suitable business models. If one wants Sweden to be in the front line in the development of advanced, high-value products, it will be necessary to continue investing in research on new morphologies and their applications, on effective optimization and constraint handing systems, on production automation, and on intuitive user interfaces for handling complex forms.

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