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Catalyst Product Development
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Product Development Company Brings Processes Together, Compresses Lead Times
Speed is of the essence at Catalyst Product Development, a multi-faceted company that specializes in helping clients get to market fast. With its stated mission to “set the standard for rapid product design and development,” the 17-year-old firm aims high while striving to reduce time to market without sacrificing creativity or quality. The plan seems to be working: Catalyst, which began in 1999 with four people in a 500-square-foot house, has been awarded the Indiana Growth 100 Business Award and the Industrial Designers Society of America’s Gold Award for Excellence in Design, among others.
Today, the company employs more than 30 people at its 28,000-square-foot facility in Indianapolis, home to a portfolio of product development services that span brainstorming, mechanical and electrical design, prototype building and testing, tooling and fixture assembly, and short-run injection molding and assembly. It’s this integration of diverse services under one roof that enables Catalyst to work quickly without sacrificing quality or creativity, the company says, ultimately allowing it to compress design cycles and lead times.
Catalyst’s clients represent a number of different product manufacturing segments, including consumer products, medical, and automotive. In support of them, Catalyst provides services ranging from market research all the way through to production. Among them are consumer (user needs) research, focus groups, product testing, and industrial design, as well as concept refinement, mechanical engineering and simulations, and prototyping—both 3D printing and prototype tooling for injection molding. The company also has a full manufacturing facility at the same location.
“We provide machined parts and components, as well as injection molding tools and parts of low to mid volume, and some light assembly,” said Sarah Woodruff, marketing manager for Catalyst Product Development, in response to an online survey. “Our niche is speed to market. With our insert system, we are able to tool and provide samples very quickly.”
Catalyst provides its clients with the ability to create tools, make changes to those tools, and create inserts within a matter of days—a capability that Woodruff attributes to the QC10 grade of aluminum that Catalyst uses for its tooling. “In past projects, we have completed design, engineering, tooling, and first shots within 10 days,” she said.
As a maker of plastic injection molded components for OEMs, Catalyst uses heavily engineered resins and provides overmolds, insert molding, insert tooling, multi-cavity and family tooling, and stand-alone tooling. With six engineers on staff, the company prides itself on finding creative approaches to difficult geometries and features that other molders might shy away from. Its process focuses on collaboration, supporting project engineers’ efforts to test different features and materials, and providing the ability to make quick changes to tooling and validate their designs.
Although it supplies plastic injection molded components to OEMs, Catalyst doesn’t limit its design and engineering applications to plastics. Instead, it focuses on selecting the appropriate material for the application—a mindset that has the company designing products in wood, sheet metal, clean room stainless steel, and aluminum, as well as plastic.
“Because we have a full machine shop and molding facility on site, our design and engineering teams have been exposed to many different manufacturing techniques and mediums,” said Woodruff. “This has given them a hands-on knowledge of designing for manufacturability, and allows them to understand the constraints and benefits of working with any particular material.”
For one product development program, Catalyst’s design and engineering team helped its client modify an existing product line—a diesel fuel filter used in heavy duty trucks and equipment—to meet the incinerability requirements of European nations and incorporate a number of improvements. Not only did the product design need to be optimized with respect to cost and component count reduction, but the manufacturing and assembly processes that were being used in multiple production facilities had to be re-evaluated and enhanced to ensure that they met the new product design requirements.
Catalyst’s full complement of design and engineering services came into play on the project, beginning with upfront research (user needs, materials, and manufacturing methods and processes) and then extending into concept development (3D CAD renderings showing assembly details), before branching out into 3D CAD engineering and support via flow analysis and finite element analysis (FEA). The company also employed its prototype rapid tooling process, followed by low-volume injection molding.
A major technical challenge, according to Woodruff, was the use of specific materials and processes that were not traditional to the application, in an effort to improve the design of the product. To meet specific program requirements, designs utilizing these specific materials needed to be analyzed with FEA, and prototype components were physically tested to validate the designs based on the specifications. One of the challenges of investigating new processes, she said, was to merge or integrate some of the client’s current processes with new, state of the art processes, in order to optimize manufacturing.
“These processes may have been utilized on completely different product lines with different engineering and manufacturing teams within the client’s knowledge base,” said Woodruff. “Catalyst was able to bring these groups together to brainstorm and ideate on new and improved manufacturing processes for the new product design.”
Catalyst began by using its research services to determine and fulfill user needs. Along with user needs research, Catalyst supported manufacturing and process research for the new product line, delving into materials, manufacturing techniques, decorating, and assembly needs. Production personnel and supervisors from its client’s manufacturing facilities were also interviewed to gather important data and research that supported the Catalyst team during the industrial design and engineering steps of the program.
A major portion of the industrial design phase consisted of ideation sessions and concept generation, Woodruff said. Concepts were developed, reviewed, and rated based on criteria set forth by both Catalyst and the client. Multiple concepts—focusing on all aspects of the design, from mechanical function and assembly techniques to aesthetics—were generated. Catalyst’s engineering team was engaged during the ideation/concept development steps, as well as during the engineering development portions of the program.
“Engineering supported and worked with the client’s engineering staff, developing 3D CAD geometry of the selected designs for FEA and flow analysis,” said Woodruff. “From the analysis results, iterations were developed and then prototype assemblies were developed for testing.”
Catalyst was able to support the prototype assembly with its insert tooling and injection molding process. This allowed prototype components and assembles to be developed in materials of choice that fit the design requirements.
“These prototype models could then be tested and iterations implemented based on the physical test results,” added Woodruff. “Once the design was finalized, low-volume field test units were also developed for validation prior to production tooling and manufacturing release.”
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