Typically, when customers contact us regarding a product concept, they usually have either a general idea of what the final product should look like, or a requirements sheet. Customer’s napkin sketches or hand drawings can give us a good idea of where to start the design process. A requirements sheet might identify the desired production price point, that it should be waterproof, smaller than a cell phone, and made of plastic. Sometimes customers describe what a competitor is selling, and say that they want their product to be better or different in a number of ways. Even if it is not initially clear what the final product should look like, we can help.
There are many ways to represent product concepts, both 2-dimensionally and in 3-D.
The methods we select are based on what our customers need. Some can easily visualize forms and colors. For others, it's nearly impossible to translate variations on a theme in the mind's eye. In the past we started with sketches, moved to computer (solid) modeling, then to 3-dimensional study models as the design direction became more focused. In general, preliminary concepts are still loose in early phases; sketching is fast and it is easy to generate many ideas quickly.
Within the last few years, rapidly evolving CAD programs have really changed the concepting process.
SolidWorks™ models, unlike blueprint-type drawings, appear as 3-dimensional objects on the computer screen or on paper. This attribute makes them great concepting and engineering tools. Using the mouse, solid models can be rotated and viewed from all sides in real time, just like a real product. They are so effective, quick and easy to visualize, that if the customer knows what they want, we can start concepting with solid modeling.
Producing computer renderings is not as fast as sketching, but the trade-off of time versus comprehension is worth it. Concept variations are easier to demonstrate, and because they look so real, consensus can be reached earlier than with hand sketches. What computer models can't do is replace physical models for ergonomic critique and verification. To show the mechanics of an assembly, or for presentations to non-technical people, solid models are what most of our clients are looking for.
For about a third of our clients (who ask us to take realism to the next step), we use KeyShot™ and 3-D StudioMax™ software. Visually, it is a giant leap. Photo-realistic rendering of a solid model adds 3 elements: 1) material textures and surface finishes, 2) lifelike lighting with shadows and reflectance, and 3) a setting or environment which adds scale and the illusion of mass to the image. These type of renderings are often used before more costly prototypes are constructed, or to make absolutely sure concept details are really understood. Time wise, the extra step is minimal, but the added impact is often vital for a marketing brochure or when persuading prospective investors. If we start with a solid model, it can usually be transformed to a photo-realistic rendering that same day.