Smart moves

Manufacturers planning to launch next-generation products, seeking more profitable markets — or just wanting a fresh look — could find the answer in aesthetics. Mark Venables explains.

In technology-based products, the initial focus is firmly on the technology itself rather than its packaging and ancillary components.

Aesthetic design is important, but on the whole those keen to explore the latest technology are far more interested in what it can do rather than how it looks.

However, when a new technology begins to standardise and the threat from low-cost competition intensifies, aesthetics takes on a fresh significance for those looking to position their product into profitable markets and differentiate from competition.

Addressing the aesthetics is an ideal solution for manufacturers looking to launch next-generation products, or to move existing ones from the commercial to the consumer market. Making them look smarter will differentiate them — both from their own previous version and from competitive products.

At this stage, industrial design embraces aesthetics to meet the expectations of the marketplace. access components can help OEMs improve the look and feel of their products, yet the specification of latch, handle, fasteners or any user interface hardware often features very low down on the design process list and is almost treated as an afterthought. However, these ‘touch point’ applications — as US fastenings major Southco describes them — are the first things customers puts their hands on. They are the initial points of interaction — both physical and emotional — that any product owner experiences.

Southco’s industry manager Amedeo Aversa said: ‘With electrical, industrial and electronic enclosures or computer modules in particular, access hardware is sometimes the only opportunity to increase product differentiation in the eyes of the users. Stylish, well designed, branded components can help refresh and restyle existing products, and often an improved ergonomically-designed access solution can provide an additional benefit in terms of user friendliness.

‘And they can even be engineered as perfect replacements for previous components or as standard platforms capable of future upgrading. This has the additional benefit of reducing the cost of product development.’

An example of this is Southco’s slide latch — a standard popular mechanism that is used across a wide variety of industries. A typical problem for the enclosure manufacturer is the number of components required to latch or lock cabinet panels, which increases both production time and cost.

For example, a common solution in the industry for the side panel of an enclosure usually involves two slide latches and a quad latch.

Southco has produced a stylish lockable version of the product that integrates the function of a slide latch and a lock, reducing the component count and installation time. At the same time it offers manufacturers the opportunity to improve their product’s industrial design content.

Of course, aesthetics are not the only concern for fasteners. Sunseeker is famous throughout the yachting world as the epitome of boating excellence. And when the company began building its vessels some 35 years ago, BigHead Bonding Fasteners became one of the its earliest suppliers.

Designed to be bonded in during manufacture of plastic, GRP or composite structures, BigHeads provide a huge range of fastening and fixing solutions. In Sunseeker craft, they are used in hull and superstructure assemblies; internal trim and decorative panelling; in the galleys, engine rooms and exterior deck furnishings. The company pioneered the use of BigHeads in marine construction techniques, and the system is now used widely throughout the international marine industry.

In industrial applications, fasteners can allow a product to achieve its performance targets. Mateline Automation has recently manufactured and supplied to Hayden’s Bakeries, two similar, in-line machines for the production of confectionery goods such as jam tarts, mince pies, custard tarts and pastry cases.

The high-specification, stainless steel machines have an output of approximately 3,600 products an hour.

The bakery laid down a number of stringent requirements for safety features on the equipment, one of which concerned modification of the shatterproof, polycarbonate enclosures. The company had identified a possible risk of operators bending back the plastic inspection and access panels of conventional enclosures, to reach into the machine while it was still running — but without tripping the safety microswitches linked to the panels.

The simple solution was to replace the panels with rigid, stainless steel, hinged doors fitted with small inspection windows. However, the thorny problem remained of how to close the doors positively to ensure failsafe intervention by the microswitches.

So Mateline called upon Protex Fasteners, which recommended its stainless steel ProLatchT, which has the ability not only to pull two surfaces together — in a single plane like a normal overcentre fastener — but also to apply a strong closing force in a second plane. In this case it ensured correct operation of the microswitches.

The latch, measuring only 105mm long with its mating catchplate, has proved itself up to the task. Using two per door, each latch has a breaking strength of 325kgf (3.19kN).

Another company with a design problem was leading luxury golf trolley manufacturer Stewart Golf, which turned to Spirol Industries when axle pins holding the wheels in place were shearing prematurely. Stewart Golf was using the CLDP pin to prevent the movement of a plastic wheel centre, with the rubber attached to the outside rim, from moving about on the bottom axle of the trolley.

The pin was shear and hardness tested and conformed to all expected levels, but Spirol found that two issues were affecting its performance.

First, the plastic wheel centre had a curved hole against which the pin lay flat. Second, the hole in the shaft into which the pin was being pushed was counter bored, decreasing the amount of material around its length, which reduced the amount of radial tension it could achieve.

Spirol advised Stewart Golf to omit both of these counter bores in its next prototype. The result has been a further 20kN strength on the pin, which now performs as expected.