User Story

SurfaceWorks : POINT by POINT

David Sharbaugh is president of POINT by POINT, a small, California-based firm that specializes in industrial design. As chief designer, Sharbaugh's focus is the appearance, user features, and manufacturability of the products he designs. He works for companies in a range of industries including computer, telecommunications, and medical electronics.

Since industrial designers deal with products at the very onset of development, Sharbaugh's biggest challenges are translating his vision of new product into a reality that others can see and use, and then controlling the design's implementation. Accomplishing these challenges requires tools flexible enough to follow his vision, and to communicate with engineering and manufacturing. "Designs can be simple or complex," says Sharbaugh. "Of all the work I do, telephone designs are simpler in terms of number of parts but they are more complex in terms of shape. That's where SurfaceWorks, the innovative surfacing software for SolidWorks, comes in handy."

POINT by POINT customers want products that are aesthetically pleasing, contemporary and sellable to consumers in today's market. Sharbaugh's clients demand designs that accommodate all their functional requirements and are easy to use and easy to manufacture.

He adds, "We meet those requirements by evaluating a series of alternative designs. When I begin a new project I will usually, but not always, start with hand drawn sketches using color media. I work with internal engineering and marketing groups to determine which iteration best meets market and production requirements. Through the balance of the project, I gradually add more details using SolidWorks eventually producing a complete file to fully define the product."

Using CAD early in the process is a good design and communications tool for Sharbaugh. "I use SolidWorks early in the design cycle because it's so easy to generate forms and get elements to a point where I can get a good 'look' at the product. For me, it's essential to see a shaded view quickly to check my own thinking and make sure that the model is accurate. Often I'll use SolidWorks with Macromedia FreeHand to explore details. I generate images of shapes developed in SolidWorks and embellish them with buttons and legends using FreeHand. Those images make compelling presentations to my clients early in the project." And, as the project progresses, three-dimensional solid model images allows him to communicate his ideas to clients in a much more meaningful way than a 2D drawing or a sketch.

Sharbaugh started using SolidWorks in January 1996. Prior to implementing SolidWorks, he was using Ashlar Vellum. "I needed full 3D capabilities and true solid modeling," says Sharbaugh. While pleased with SolidWorks, Sharbaugh says he realized that he needed more surfacing capabilities than those available in the current product. He adds, "I was looking for a product that would allow me to do more complex and contoured surfaces. That's when I learned about and purchased SurfaceWorks.

"Because I deal with form and shape, SurfaceWorks allows me to integrate complex forms into SolidWorks. Today's products are increasingly more organic in shape with a lot of curved surfaces. There are very few straight edges and rarely any flat areas. Using a recent design for an answering machine as an example, there is a rounded surface with buttons coming through it and the buttons themselves have rounded tops. This looks simple, but it is actually difficult to model. Further, on some products, there might be 30 more buttons of differing shapes and sizes. This type of design challenge screams for SurfaceWorks. Using this technology, I was able to construct the button surfaces and maintain the integrity of my SolidWorks files.

"Things change and change often during the design process. Buttons are relocated, components are resized, and surfaces are reshaped. Using SurfaceWorks, I can move a button and SurfaceWorks will automatically move the associated surfaces. If I've created geometry in SolidWorks and used that geometry in SurfaceWorks, I can also adjust the overall shape and size. SurfaceWorks regenerates surfaces and updates my SolidWorks file. It gives me the flexibility of not having to work back and forth between two programs to make the subtle adjustments that designers always make. I needed a tool that allows me to do that all within the SolidWorks system," notes Sharbaugh.

Sharbaugh recently designed a new answering machine. "Early on in this year's projects," says Sharbaugh, "we explored a combination of two rounded top surfaces with the buttons coming through them. Using SurfaceWorks, I was able to create the surfaces easily and then use the surfaces themselves to create and control the contour of the buttons. All of the controlling geometry resides in SolidWorks. I can easily position or adjust the contour of the buttons, as needed.

"SolidWorks 98Plus offers a sophisticated 'shape' feature but it doesn't seem to have the same ease of creation or degree of control. The intersection of elliptical or freeform buttons with a rounded surface creates a complex outline. Doming these shapes is challenging. Using SurfaceWorks, I can control how much a surface domes - the way the edge of the dome meets surrounding surfaces or whether it comes to a point or a rounded top. With SurfaceWorks, I have a far greater degree of control over surfaces. For me, that counts. I don't just need a dome on a surface. I need a particular kind of dome and I need to be able to readily adjust it until it matches my vision," says Sharbaugh.

Five to One Productivity Improvements
With SurfaceWorks, Sharbaugh estimates a five to one productivity gain creating buttons. He says he can produce a higher quality product for his clients, one that better matches his vision and, one that is less subject to interpretation throughout the balance of the production process. "What's key," notes Sharbaugh, "is that the two products are so well integrated. Design relies so heavily on iterations. I can't really imagine being able to design efficiently with a less integrated approach."

Within one week of implementing SurfaceWorks, Sharbaugh was producing real parts. In addition, he says SurfaceWorks provided support and attention that allowed him to progress quickly. "We actually gained some time even though we were implementing new technology," Sharbaugh recalls.

Trends for industrial design
Sharbaugh says he started POINT by POINT to use CAD for industrial design. "I've seen a change in the way designers design new products. Traditionally, concepts were born as subjective hand sketches and subject to a lot of interpretation. And, the quality of interpretation often drove the quality of the design. Whether done by the designer when converting sketches into 2D data, or by engineers or manufacturing in converting the 2D data into a 3D product, interpretation often introduced undesirable changes.

"The process has become more objective, less subject to interpretation. With any 2D methodology, there is always the risk that the designer's intentions will be inaccurately translated to 3D. Implementing powerful tools such as SolidWorks and SurfaceWorks removes the need for interpretation or modification in most cases. When changes are needed, the new technologies give all involved an accurate look at the impact of those changes on the original design.

"As a result, I've evolved to using CAD much earlier in the design process. And I know that the 3D geometry that is sent to manufacturing will not be interpreted as anything other than what was designed and approved by my client. I plan to integrate SolidWorks/SurfaceWorks even earlier in the design process in the coming year.

"Using tools such as SolidWorks and SurfaceWorks allow designers to control their designs and their execution. I can show clients a 3D model that is very close to what they will ultimately see. For study models or prototypes, I can easily download the geometry from my CAD system and make stereolithography or CNC parts. The combined technologies give designers a new sense of confidence that new designs will match their vision and meet or exceed their clients' expectations."

Author: Laura Carrabine

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Page last modified on October 28, 2000
Copyright 2000 by John Stark