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Scottish Plastics and Rubber Association Scottish Plastics and Rubber Association

ARBURG sponsored meeting: From Design to Dragons' Den

William Mitchell, 4cDesign

SPRA President Fergus Hardie welcomed an audience of 42 to the November Technical Lecture, hosted by ARBURG, at the Westerwood Hotel, Cumbernauld. Fergus handed proceedings over to Simon Wrighton, Sales Manager at ARBURG who introduced the running order for the afternoon, starting with William Mitchell, Design Director at 4C Design was first up. This highly enjoyable talk centred on a case study involving an automated sheep tagging system.

William led us into the case study with examples of why design is so important. The Apple iPod was cited as a classic example of design excellence leading to success, with Apple having over 70% of the market share for portable mp3 players. Apple always considered design and were continually updating and refreshing the design of their devices. Conversely, the risks of not using design were highlighted, with an example of typical falling product sales and sales leads should the design of a product be neglected.

The barriers that many companies feel obstruct the use of design were explored.

  • Don't know where to start
  • Fear of making a mistake
  • Too busy
  • Don't understand the design process
  • Can't crack the problem internally
  • Have had fingers burnt before
  • Have too many products already out there
  • Don't know the market
  • Too risky 

William highlighted the fact that design consultants can not only de-risk the process through their experience, but also offer far more by virtue of exposure to many different products and markets, which could provide solutions that wouldn't seem obvious within particular organisations.

Sheep tagging device, designed by 4cDesign
The Sheep Tagging example was used to describe the "Design Process", and helped to answer such questions as:

  • What Does Design Look like?
  • What Does Design Feel Like?
  • When Do You Know When You Have Done Enough?
  • What Are The Results?

William emphasised the benefits of taking a broad concept view to begin with, and use of free-hand sketching - whilst understanding mechanics and functionality - as a good starting point. Only once these have been done should CAD be introduced to firm up the dimensions and aesthetics of concepts. In conjunction comes prototyping, starting with basic model making to explore functionality. Then the combination of several prototyping technologies can be used to produce working models. This is the time to ensure the product feels right, and this is the opportunity to try things, and make changes. Organisations shouldn't be frightened to make mistakes at this stage, as it becomes far more expensive once tooling has been commissioned. The risk of over-design was highlighted, and a balance needs to be struck between getting a working product to market, and continuing to add to the design. The results, for the Shepherd, was a successful product in the market, which was generating valuable feedback from customers, prior to a "Main Launch" 

Students examine the 'Tree fo Knowledge, featured on Dragons' Den
William finished off by highlighting a corporate training product he had been involved with, that had made it to BBC's "Dragons' Den". The "Tree of Knowledge" product involved various activities enclosed in brightly coloured pods, attached to the product. It was both eye-catching and functional, and relied heavily on its design.
The appearance on the show gave the inventors wider exposure, and a school-level version of the product is now being used across Scotland.

Report by David Barlow, SPRA Social Convener

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Technical Info from SPRA

  • Materials Thermoplastics, Thermosets, Elastomers, Additives.
  • Processes Moulding, Extrusion, Thermoforming, Ancillaries.
  • Design Product, Mould, CAE, Testing.
  • Applications Healthcare, Packaging, Electronics, Other Markets.
  • Environment Waste, Recycling, Sustainability, Legislation, Energy.
  • Business Issues Network, Seminars, Competitiveness, Innovation, Regulation.