Industrial designers hire a model shop or use an in-house model shop to build physical prototypes of new products and other ideas. Knowledge of prototyping, materials and manufacturing techniques enable the model maker to refine an idea from two dimensions into a physical model that turns that idea into a product.
Here are 8 reasons why industrial designers use model shops:
1) Reality. As stated on page 132 in the 1947 book "Design for Business" by J. Gordon Lippincott
"Before any design goes into mass production, a full scale model should be made and, if at all feasible, an operating model. The costs of tooling, merchandising and advertising are so great that any economies gained by skipping the model-making step are more than offset by the greater risk of producing an article that lacks consumer acceptance through failures in styling or function.
Renderings are particularly misleading and should serve only the function of stimulating new, fresh, creative thinking. In other words renderings are only the expressions of the idea stage. As soon as a proposed form for a new product has been selected, models should be produced - in full scale wherever possible or practical. Half and quarter-scale models are completely misleading because most people do not have the ability to appreciate changes in scale. A molding on a quarter-scale model of a refrigerator may look perfectly satisfactory, but when the same design is enlarged to full scale, the molding will be completely out of proportion - usually too large."
Raymond Loewy stainless steel ashtray prototype for the 1954 Greyhound Scenicruiser bus
2) Capability. The industrial designer usually needs a model maker that has a shop with a variety of capabilities including machining, rapid prototyping, woodworking and finishing work such as sanding and painting. The space, machinery and model making talent needed to produce the industrial designer's prototypes and appearance models are simply too expensive to do at the industrial designer's location unless there is a constant volume of work to do.
The larger industrial design firms like IDEO and large companies like Steelcase tend to have an in-house model shop to create prototypes and appearance models. However for peak loads of work, special expertise or equipment, and a short run of parts they may use an independent model shop.
3) Expertise in materials. Professional model makers know from practical experience what materials may best meet the demands of the designer's intentions and the conditions a product will face.
RAYOVAC ROUGHNECK flashlight - adjusts from Spot to Flood
4) Speed. Initial prototypes may be quicker if made in thin acrylic or styrene with vacuum forming. Rapid prototyping is also used to create quick prototypes once the computer CAD work is done. Machining plastic or metal is often the best way to create the final model since there usually can be much finer detail, more durable material and less finishing work.
5) Product development. The initial design is tested with potential customers to see how well the product design works. Sometimes the product when held doesn't feel balanced. Many prototypes may have to be built and tested sequentially with changes before the product is ready to sell in the marketplace. Design is a collaborative process and model makers help the industrial designer perfect his craft.
Bernard welding handle final prototype
6) Appearance. A passion to do finishing work, the right grit of sandpaper, the right primer, the right shade of paint, a gloss, semi-gloss or flat finish often determine the success of a new product. The texture and finish must be the same as the final product. We hired one model maker because he could produce a flawless high gloss black finish on a wood base 10" high X 48" X 96". Sometimes industrial designers specify a specific model maker because of his or her superior finishing work.
7) Testing. Sometimes a design looks good on paper but doesn't work right when a prototype is built. The best model makers have the mechanical and electrial skills to help solve those problems.
8) Imagination. You never know when someone else's imagination, expertise, experience or knowledge may improve a product design. Model makers at in-house shop usually have a great knowledge of a particular product's history and techniques that were used to make that type of product.
Independent model shops often have a broad range of experience and may bring in new ideas from their diverse experiences. At our independent model shop we sometimes find ourselves delving into a dusty two volume set of books titled "Ingenious Mechanisms For Designers and Inventors" that was first published in 1930 with chapter titles like "Intermittent Motion" to create special mechanical motions for a new product. Mechanisms in this book have already passed two important tests - (1) these are designs of mechanisms that will function properly and (2) they are simplified designs which normally are less costly to manufacture and more durable. This is just one example of the resources and experiences that model makers have. Last week we found a new nanotechnology based consumer product that removes and then prevents fingerprints on stainless steel.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss prototypes or other projects contact us at Model Builders, Inc. 773-586-6500 or email@example.com .