by Michael Paloian, President, Integrated Design Systems
This project serves as an excellent example of how a vision, cooperation, great communication, and technical expertise can result in successful products. The classic Qdesk design—adapted for a new consumer market—is the focus of this Case Study.
Qproducts LLC is a multinational organization dedicated to designing, manufacturing and licensing unique eco-friendly products. Their manufacturing plant is located in Venezuela and its marketing offices in Clearwater Florida.
Their flagship product is a one-piece rotationally molded school desk, which was originated by its founder Benedetto Lombardo. He successfully marketed it throughout South America, Mexico, and Asia. The distinctive design has been so identifiable with Qproducts that it has become a branded image for the company.
Qproducts has offered this product in different sizes for various age groups through licensees throughout the world. The product has gained a reputation for being comfortable, stylish, virtually indestructible, very affordable and recyclable.
Based on the overwhelming success of the Qdesk, Mr. Lombardo decided to introduce a consumer version of the product for preschool children, called Qdesk One. The new Qdesk One was targeted for preschoolers in the 2- to 6-year age group.
This eco-friendly, two-piece product is a desk designed with soft contoured lines to provide the ergonomic support for children during their growing years. The Qdesk One was also intended to be durable yet practical and attractive. Its appearance was to be virtually identical to the original Qdesk, building upon the existing popular brand that would be appealing to young children.
The use of 100% recyclable polyethylene provided an extremely durable and lightweight structure that was also environmentally friendly. It was to be marketed through toy outlets in five bright one- or two-colored varieties to promote learning at an early age.
Qdesk contracted Integrated Design Systems Inc of Oyster Bay, New York to develop this new design based on several challenging requirements:
- The desk was designed for the consumer/home market
- The design had to be cost-effective
- The desk was to be ergonomically optimized for children, ages of 2 to 6
- The desk was to be designed in two parts; easily assembled by the customer
- The complex geometry of the original desk had to be modified to a two-piece mold without significantly changing the appearance
- The two-part design was to optimize packing density within the smallest box
- The design had to be virtually identical to the original Qdesk in appearance
- The product had to be safe
- The product had to maintain standards of durability associated with the original desk
How this unique desk design project unfolded with Qproducts…
Phase 1 – Information Gathering, Establishing Basic Dimensions, Concept Development
The first phase was gathering critical information for developing the criteria to comply with the established desk design specifications. This begins with accurately reproducing the original Qdesk geometry in a 3D CAD file. Since the pattern for the original Qdesk was modified so many times without any updates to the CAD file, there was no current CAD geometry available. Without a representative CAD file, it was impossible to recreate the original Qdesk shape.
The only means of accurately recreating a CAD model that represented the original pattern was utilizing laser-scanning technology. Subsequently, the pattern was sent to a laser-scanning facility that provided the design team at Integrated Design with a three-dimensional representation of the pattern.
The surface geometry was imported into a CAD program and remodeled as a parametric 3D CAD file to accurately represent the pattern. Once a parametric CAD file was developed, specific features could be modified to comply with design requirements of size, function and any other parameters. The original scanned surface geometry was compared to the new parametric geometry to verify overall compliance.
After an accurate and verified parametric CAD file was developed, the next step in development included a human factors study of children in the 2- to 6-year age group.
This investigation was completed in two major sub-phases. The first involved gathering statistical information of children based on overall heights, chest sizes, reach limitations, waist sizes, optimum sitting heights, and many other dimensional parameters. This information was used to resize the parametric CAD file to comply with the desired age group. A full-scale foam-core model of the smaller design was then constructed to verify the overall size and geometry.
Children in this age group were seated in the model desk and observed based on their comfort and seating posture. Minor adjustments were made to certain dimensions to optimize overall ergonomic considerations. Based on these observations, minor dimensional alterations were applied to the CAD file.
Concurrent with the human factors analyses, desk design concept options were considered for splitting the desk into two parts in order to optimize shipping and molding objectives. The objectives included not adversely affecting appearance, structural integrity or tooling. In addition, design options were required to optimize shipping carton size and ease of assembly by the end user.
Dozens of alternative ideas were sketched, and CAD modeled to derive the best design. Eventually, a simple split between the upper desk and lower seat base proved to be the most elegant desk design solution. The concept required additional detailing throughout the remainder of the next phase before it was finally resolved.
Phase 2- Detailed 3D CAD Production Design
The second phase was devoted exclusively to detailing the 3D CAD design for each part in order to comply with molding parameters, assembly and structural requirements. CAD geometries were developed to minimize complexity with a simple two-piece mold.
Throughout the development process within this phase, the toolmaker, Lakeland Mold, was contacted frequently to discuss tolerances, tool construction, and design intent. This close communication provided Qproducts with the highest probability of successfully attaining the desired quality and function. Parting lines, tolerances, and draft angles were routinely reviewed with the toolmaker using webinar meetings.
Constant communication was critical to the overall success of the project. After the production design was completed, the desk design was reviewed with Qproducts and released to Lakeland Mold for patterns.
The patterns were machined within three weeks following the release of the CAD files. At that time the team met at Lakeland for a pattern review. Benedetto and Michael Paloian of Integrated Design Systems examined each pattern was carefully.
Patterns were critiqued according to the overall appearance, fit and details. These patterns were identically matched to the CAD files since they were CNC machined directly from the files with no additional features. After the patterns were critiqued, a few minor modifications were made before they were approved for tooling. The 3D CAD models were updated accordingly.
Tools were cast and released to Qproducts five weeks after pattern approval and shipped to a designated molder in Florida where they were molded. A number of preproduction molded parts were assembled and officially introduced at Qproduct’s major product launch.
The final production design is now ready for licensees of Qproducts’ network group. Benefits and marketing advantages of the Qdesk One include:
- Ergonomics: The desk was carefully optimized for children between the ages of 2 and 4 years old. All the dimensions for the desk height, seat height, surface areas and angles were based on statistical data as well as verified with children within this age group.
- Use of Plastics: The product design was to be molded in 100 percent polyethylene. Except for four metal screws for user assembly, no additional materials were used. This exclusive use of a single material for a one-piece (inseparable) residential school desk is intentional and unique. School desks are typically manufactured in multiple materials or offered as separate desk and chairs.
- Cost-effectiveness: This design has been optimized for maximum quality at a minimal cost. The two-piece design minimized shipping volume by allowing the base to nest over the desk surface. These two items were then securely packaged within a carton that was one-third smaller than a one-piece unit. A 33 percent savings in packaging size improved efficiencies in warehousing, shipping and material cost. An additional objective of this design was to mold the complex geometry that is virtually identical to the larger one-piece QDesk. The two-piece mold can be cycled much faster than a four-piece mold and is much easier to maintain.
- Design Ingenuity: The desk design is best appreciated by first understanding the challenges. First, the desired “Qproducts appearance” had to be maintained without significant modification. The original design required a complex four-piece mold to achieve all the features while the new design was to be divided into two parts for efficient shipping and molded in a two-piece mold. These objectives required an extensive exploration of design options due to the complexity of the shape and difficulty in identifying an appropriate split line. In addition to integrating complex molding considerations with the desired form, the design had to be structurally sound, easily assembled by a homeowner, safe and cost-effective. It also had to comply with generous tolerances and a wide range of molding conditions expected from licensees.
- Performance Improvements: The two-piece design proves to be exactly what was aesthetically desired using a conventional two-piece mold. After assembly, the unified structure was exceptionally rigid, safe and extremely durable. Most importantly, after the product served its intended use, it could easily be dismantled and recycled.One of the primary objectives of this product was sustainability and recycling. Utilizing one predominant material that could be easily dismantled more than satisfied this requirement. No inserts or any other embedded hardware were included in the product to maximize recyclability.
- Energy Savings: Exclusive use of plastic, compact packaging and ease of disassembly accounted for every phase of the product life cycle in terms of maximizing energy savings. Processing plastic versus steel or other materials saved energy during manufacturing. Minimizing the shipping container increased warehousing capacity by 33 percent while reducing transportation energy consumption. Recycling of the final product further extended savings by reducing the energy needed to replace consumed polyethylene.
The Qdesk One is offered for worldwide distribution through the Qproducts network.
Contemporary marketing for Qdesk® “…the only student desk which is modern, eco-friendly, ergonomic, safe for the students and lasts a lifetime. This is the furniture that every student should have.”
Michael Paloian, President, Integrated Design Systems, Inc.
Mike Paloian, an authority in healthcare and medical product design, is an inventor, lecturer and educator. Integrated Design Systems Inc. (IDS), is an award-winning industrial design firm with practical expertise in medical, analytical and testing, and plastic display and plastic product design. Mr. Paloian is a faculty member, Plastics Engineering, University of Massachusetts Lowell, and a Contributing Design Editor for industry publications.