Introduction and Client's Brief
The client is a manufacturer of electrical and electronic test equipment for aerospace, rail and defence vehicles which is experiencing a period of focussed growth and development. They had developed a new system for testing electromechanical connections within assemblies - vital for ensuring that vehicles are safe - but felt that their current test-probes (one held in each hand by the test technician) did not portray the high standards and forward-thinking image they were aspiring to.
Hillside Product Design began an intensive scheme of work to optimise the ergonomic and mechanical aspects of the test probes, with the aim of designing and sourcing high quality injection moulded parts suitable for use in critical environments under stringent control.
In order to simulate the conditions that the probes would be used in – tight spaces within chassis, fuselage and aero engines, a series of tests were devised which required a range of test users to reach to high and low points, position the probes through tight spaces, and apply precise pressures. This was documented by video and collated to form the ergonomic requirements for the product. It was remarkable how many different methods the testers used to reach the same markers, indicating that the devices and their visual outputs must be suitable for use in any variety of orientations without causing discomfort and fatigue.
Concept Design and Development
Sketching and block modelling was used to generate a wide range of concepts which were shortlisted down to three presentation concepts. There were presented to the client’s Board who decided on the features and assembly they felt was best suited to their customer’s requirements.
The chosen features were amalgamated into a single design which was prototyped using high resolution 3D printing, and painted and textured to accurately mimic production components. This prototype was assembled at the client’s premises with their engineers by Hillside Product Design, and subsequently used internationally for sales pitches with blue-chip aerospace manufacturers.
The Design Brief Widens
At this stage, the client decided that they would like Hillside Product Design to develop the design of another element of the test system – a handheld controller used to start tests and provide the user with easy to comprehend test results by way of a traffic-light go/no-go display. The client had built a test-controller which allowed them to review and improve the performance of the system, but they felt that Hillside Product Design could help to elevate the perception of the product in prospective customer’s eyes. As Hillside were already in the process of designing the test probes we could easily apply the established knowledge and visual language to ensure that the product design was attractive, robust and ergonomic while effectively enclosing the delicate electronic assembly within.
After the client had reviewed the probe prototype, feedback was given regarding the internal arrangements, function of the rear indication LEDs, and ergonomics. At this point, the client decided to maximise the return on their tooling investment by combining a second probe type (used for different electrical tests) into the concept. This required Hillside Product Design to liaise closely with the toolmaker to ensure that the design was optimised for tooling in all configurations, with complex split-lines, interchangeable inserts, and sliding side-actions required to achieve the client’s requirement.
Once the developed designs for the probes and hand-held controller had been prototyped with Hillside Product Design’s in-house 3D printing facility, the client tested and approved the design for tooling. The tool build was commenced and regular liaison between the toolmaker, the injection moulder and Hillside Product Design was maintained to ensure that the client’s requirements were met.