Smart Design: Smart Magnets, and Much More


Mark Shortt
Editorial Director
Design-2-Part Magazine

It's an exciting time for manufacturers, as new developments around advanced materials, part design, 3D printing, collaborative robotics, and data analytics are quickening the pace of innovation while changing the way products are designed and manufactured. As smart, networked products pop up left and right, requiring a new approach to design, the concept of “smart design” is evolving to reflect the new realities of today’s manufacturing world.

If you’re a design engineer, you might be working to bring a potentially life-saving implantable defibrillator to market, or to reduce the weight of a critical aircraft part. One thing is certain: You’re going to need the support of experts who can help optimize your design and provide the most cost-effective ways to manufacture key components without compromising quality.

Design-2-Part Magazine considers smart design from a number of different angles:

Designs that are product differentiators. They may lead to parts or products that ultimately win industry awards, or are distinguished by noticeably improved functionality and performance. Among them are designs that incorporate Polymagnets®, also known as Smart Magnets, which enable engineers to design innovative products with unique, even counter-intuitive, properties.

Designs that integrate multiple disciplines—software, sensors, processors, electronics, and hardware, to name a few—to create “smart,” connected products. These designs are being spurred by increased machine-to-machine communication and the accelerating build-out of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Design for user experience (UX)—that is, meeting the exact needs of the customer to give them products that they're really happy with, a precedent effectively set by Steve Jobs. User-friendly designs resonate with customers in the marketplace, and product manufacturers are taking notice. Today, many company execs are working to emulate the customer-centered approach of successful designers as they seek to cultivate a more “design-driven” culture in their businesses.
Design and engineering assistance (prototyping, 3D printing, and engineering) offered by contract manufacturers, job shops, and suppliers to help product manufacturers bring innovative designs to market.

Why Smart Design is Good for Business

What makes a smart design? More and more, it’s becoming a design that improves the user experience—a product that gives the customer (user) what they really want, whatever that may be. In order to accomplish that, product manufacturers need to really know their customers, understand their problems, and offer products that solve those problems. Products that achieve this while delighting their users are big revenue generators for the companies that make them.

Knowing this, many company execs are now trying to build a design-driven culture into their business because this customer-centered point of view enables product differentiation, better customer service, and opens the door for greater revenues.

One engineering design and product development company, known for its work with medical and connected devices, received a prestigious design award after its redesign of an ultrasound healing therapy system helped the user—in this case, a physician—focus better on the patient. A key element of the company’s workflow assessment uncovered the need to move the display, or user interface, from the console to the treatment wand, freeing the user to focus on the patient without having to look over their shoulder at the console. The design enhancement not only made it easier for healthcare providers to use the technology, but also improved the patient experience. Another design change involved moving the saline control function to the treatment wand, providing clinicians with better control over the precise delivery of the treatment.

Smart design is also coming to mean multi-disciplinary design, as the emergence of a new wave of smart, connected products requires the design function to be more interdisciplinary. The design of connected products is a complex undertaking, requiring communication and close interaction among multiple domains that integrate industrial design, software, sensors, microcontrollers, the cloud, and hardware components into a final product. The smarter the product, the greater the need for a design partner with established skills in a multi-disciplinary design environment.

Amid these developments, one interpretation of smart design remains constant. It still often means implementing a design change that makes a product more manufacturable, one that reduces manufacturing costs while maintaining high quality, or one that reduces production and delivery time.

In another case, a metal fabrication specialist, whose design for manufacturing work is detailed in this issue, helped an OEM customer make key design changes that reduced unit cost by 34 percent and shortened delivery time by 54 percent for an electronics enclosure. How? They used a proprietary customer engagement process that applies well-honed design capabilities, as well as engineering expertise and advanced manufacturing technology, to improve quality, cost, product performance, and lead time.

The original design, which had been welded and painted, had a long delivery time. One of the design changes involved changing the material from raw carbon steel, which required post-fabrication finishing, to pre-finished electro-galvanized steel. Another was the development of a “snap-together” enclosure design that didn’t require painting, welding, or hardware insertion. The metal fabricator’s tooling engineers designed and tested the “snap-together” shear form feature, which was incorporated into the final design following approval by the client.

The new enclosure is formed in a press brake and snaps together, eliminating the entire welding secondary operation. Also, by combining laser, punching, forming, and tapping into the blanking operation, the fabricating company eliminated the need for downstream operations. Hardware insertion, using PEM fasteners, was unnecessary because holes were extruded and tapped during the blanking process. Ultimately, unit cost was lowered more than 34 percent, first pass yield quality was reported to have exceeded 99 percent, and delivery time was shortened by 54 percent, going from 22 days to 10 days.

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