Why have a workshop?

For most of the team at 4c, the most valuable asset is the workshop. While computer aided design has an important place in the detailed design process, prototyping allows the members of the 4c team to design and test concepts, develop multiple iterations, fast.

 

Freedom to Experiment

4c is an agile team with typically more freedom and less red tape than clients. This allows us to have a ‘let’s see attitude’ and experiment with:

    • different prototyping methods using a combination of our machines
    • Verify and decide on mechanisms built from left over stock and samples we’ve collected since starting 4c in 2002
    • recreating tests either as fully automated rigs or by recreating the in-operation environment
    • Building assemblies as products are developed to ensure it can actually be made

Note: this use of the workshop is key during the Innovation Sprint process where we encourage our clients to join us in the ‘scrap heap challenge’ element of the workshop.

Image 1: ergonomic testing for handheld tool for the aerospace mimicking worst case scenario positioning of operator. 

 

Breaking Things

To test an idea, 4c designers and engineers will head to the workshop to knock something together to see if it’ll function in the intended way. Sometimes a product, often needs to be broken. There are multiple test rigs in the workshop which can test the pressure, strength, movement and the lifespan of 4c’s products. You will often find 4c’s mechatronics engineer, Mark Craig, working on intricate test rigs, attempting to find a fault in a new prototype.

 

Video 1: Test rig build to test durability of argricultural tool 4c designed. Target was 100k cycles based on top selling competitor, we reached 200k and gave up on testing it.

 

Looks like, works like

Often, we’re briefed to take an opportunity all the way through to manufacturing. A crucial stage is to develop prototypes that work in the intended environment and can satisfy stakeholders. Not only must it function to provide confidence to those invested in the product, but it must look the part to get buyers onside and sales teams excited. These are often put together with love and care by our talented model maker, Tom Harris.

Image 2: Final prototype of the Numnuts tool using 3D printed components, some T1 samples and machined parts. Used for testing on farms and to seek further investment.

 

Agile and adaptable

4c work for a wide variety of industries, and for that the workshop is constantly adapting. The workshop tables and machinery are often ferried around to make space for new projects. This is particularly useful for design and engineering projects such as life rafts and wave energy equipment.

Image 3: Prototype bottling machine built for Moredun. Read more about that project here.

 

Organised chaos

The team also find it difficult to throw things away. Old products are dissected and put into stock and whilst we buy new equipment to assist with certain projects, workshop machinery is sometimes bought second hand and refurbished. As a result, the workshop is fully stocked with raw materials and components. This means we don’t rely on 3D prints and can jump into the workshop and build key prototypes using comparable materials. Often in less time than the printer.

Image 4: Just a quick showing of some of the workshop.

 

What is rapid prototyping?

A common misconception is that rapid prototyping consists solely of 3D printing. 4c values its FDM / SLA 3D printing capabilities, however, it is often found that they are not always the fastest way to produce a reliable physical concept.   Located beneath the design studio, the 4c workshop also consists of CNC machinery, an industrial lathe, wood working and metal fabrication tools which allows the design team to bring their concepts to life.

Image 5: Several different puncturing spikes designed for strength using various methods. We didn’t rely on 3D printing because the strength wasn’t there and it took too long to build due to size. We instead used a plasma cutter, several forming tools and a TIG welder to knock up reliable, testable prototypes before building a reinforced 3D printed prototype (far right).

 

It’s Not all Work

4c is an employee run business and the workshop is not just an asset to the company, but to the team as well. Late at night you may see the team tweaking mountain bikes, pumpkin carving for Halloween and working on pet projects such as furniture or robots.

Image 6: Whilst working on an e-bike project, we wanted to see what power assist you could get for <£100. A 80cc 2-stroke engine and a bit of modification to a dirt jump frame led to what is known at 4c as the shonky. A top speed of 15mph which is comparable to a UK legal e-bike. This was just done because our model maker thought it would be fun.

 

Why is a workshop important in Innovation?

In this new digital age, physical prototyping often gets overlooked, making way for advances in computer aided design and virtual reality. Often resulting in inefficient processes to develop products and services that cannot function. Because of this, 4c believes that to research, design, test and manufacture a concept, physical prototyping is the most reliable and efficient way forward.

After all, we’re designing for people – it makes sense to put it into peoples hands as soon as possible.

The key to good design.