When the Design Council was restructured in 1994, many of its services were transferred to the Business Links network in England. But as the network did not exist in Scotland, there was an opportunity to redefine the council’s role north of the border.
A new agency, Scottish Design, was set up under the auspices of Scottish Enterprise, Scotland’s economic development body. Unlike its predecessor, which had an aim of promoting better standards of design, Scottish Design provides more direct business assistance to companies in the area of product design.
‘We’re not on a preaching mission,’ says Andy Travers, chief executive of the Glasgow-based agency. ‘We identify problems that Scottish companies have and take a more practical approach to helping them find solutions.’
Part-funded by Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Design operates in four main areas to help firms with product design and development. First, it works with them to formalise their design process.
It also helps companies, and some universities, to commercialise product ideas.
Third, it trains and places skilled, redundant engineers with a speciality in product development with smaller companies which can use their expertise.
Finally, it tries to make industry aware that taking on good product development methods can improve market performance.
‘The backbone of all this effort is that we want to try to create more wealth and jobs, but on a sustainable basis,’ says Travers, who recognises the dangers to the Scottish economy of its heavy dependence on low-value assembly jobs.
Travers project-managed the first phase of Scottish Enterprise’s Project Alba announced last December, which will create nearly 2,000 highly skilled jobs in semiconductor design at Livingston, West Lothian. The project is a collaboration of industry, academia and the public sector, which aims to make Scotland the premier location for electronics companies to design the next generation of semiconductor devices.
Much of the Scottish Design’s effort has focused on helping firms integrate their product design. ‘Companies have to integrate not only market analysis but actual manufacturing methods and styles into the design process, taking into account customer needs, design for manufacturing, design for environment and so on,’ Travers says.
A separate team within the agency, the Centre for Integrated Product Development (CIPD), works with firms on these issues.
Audit tools have also been developed for firms to assess the efficiency of their existing processes. One software package called Readiness Assessment for Concurrent Engineering was used to good effect at shipbuilder Yarrow in Glasgow.
Design processes at Yarrow were not sufficiently well integrated, partly because of the huge nature of its projects. These can involve teams of up to 20 naval architects and 150 CAD draughtsmen working on the design of a warship and its mechanical, electronic and hydraulic systems, says Travers. ‘Not being able to reliably identify to a customer how long it would take to design, develop and manufacture a vessel was costing them potential business.’
Scottish Design got experts from Cranfield University to get design teams working together. It also hired an expert from Strathclyde University’s Department of Manufacturing and Engineering Management who helped set up a concurrent design process, and is now employed full-time with Yarrow. ‘Our role is not to follow through projects to their completion but rather to identify needs and act as co-ordinators and facilitators,’ says Travers.
Much of the work of the CIPD unit is with smaller companies, however. ‘Such firms take no formal actions towards improving design processes. They don’t see the benefits, only the costs,’ says Travers.
One project involved local manufacturer of plumbing products McAlpine & Company. One of its lines, a pop-up sink waste, comprised about 30 components with consequent high assembly costs.
The firm was losing out to cheaper competition from abroad and had considered redesigning the assembly lines. ‘We convinced them to redesign the product where much greater cost savings can be achieved,’ Travers says.
A post-graduate research student from Paisley University used design-for-assembly software to analyse the product. A new part was designed using 3D CAD tools. High cost factors such as individually moulded parts were eliminated, leading to a 29% reduction in part costs.
The firm also started working with a design and procurement team, which led to a 45% reduction in assembly time. Following the project the firm bought its own 3D CAD systems and sees the design of its products in a new way, says Travers.
In the area of commercialisation Scottish Design has worked with universities to try to bring feasible product ideas to market. ‘Universities are really skilled at negotiating licences for technology, not taking products to market,’ says Travers.
So the agency created a multi-skilled panel comprising technical experts, financiers, process and licensing experts to provide a guided entrepreneurship to bridge the gap from R&D to final product.
Scottish Design intends to use the assessment techniques developed in its work with academia to help small firms which ‘have ideas but lack the tools to assess their viability’, says Travers.
‘They do have access to market, however, which should make for greater commercialisation.’