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Creating a Visual Storm

Renfrew Group : 04 January, 2005  (Application Story)
The 600 group has instigated a brand enhancement project, and turned to the Renfrew Group to help provide, in collaboration with its own in-house engineers, the combination of visual design inspiration and practical engineering insights that would be critical to creating a commercially viable solution.
It is not only in consumer goods where image and first impressions count. As UK machine tool builder the 600 Group is now finding with its Tornado CNC lathes, selling advanced equipment is far easier when the product’s appearance more effectively reflects its technology, capabilities and ‘fitness for purpose’ in a modern manufacturing environment.

Machine Tool design has evolved significantly over the past decade, but not just in terms of the technology applied. It is now increasingly recognised that the visual appearance of the equipment, combined with ease of access and maintenance, can no longer be left to chance.

The fact is, that factories and machine shops are changing. Lean principles are becoming commonplace, with the acceptance that clean and tidy environments are important. Operators are being expected - through practices such as TPM - to take better care of equipment, and managers are looking to create a modern looking environment. Equally, everyone is now far more aware of visual design cues. The result is that people expect technologically advanced equipment to reflect its sophistication in its appearance, and conversely, unassuming looking equipment is increasingly regarded as old and lacking development.

In recognising this new market environment, one UK company that is now taking a lead in this area is the 600 Group. With the recent re-launch of its Colchester brand of Tornado CNC Lathes, the company has, with the help of the Renfrew Group (an industrial design consultancy), applied much higher levels of design sophistication to the product’s guarding, cladding and user interface. The result has been a complete and cost effective overhaul of the product’s previous workman like appearance and feel, with new styling and features that forcefully emphasise the ongoing developments in the product’s engineering and technology, and help build up the overall brand’s perception to that of the best competitors.

When introduced in 1992, the original Tornado was considerably ahead of the competition in terms of its price/performance. It effectively ushered in a new era of affordable slant bed CNC lathes, with a host of innovative features, including the monoque all steel fabricated chassis with polyconcrete ballast, low turning centre and vibration isolated ancillaries. More recently, the product has seen further enhancements with technical developments that offer bigger capacity turrets, higher spindle speeds, off-centre machining axis with driven tools that give machining centre capability, and most recently a ‘lights-out running capability and a host of software production tools for quality and productivity improvement.

However, as John Anderson, the managing director of 600 Lathes, notes, “After ten years in the market, sales were becoming much harder to achieve. Yet, the problem was not with the core product, as the on-going developments had ensured that the Tornado remained competitive, in terms of technology and performance. But, what hadn’t changed was the product’s look. For instance, any indication of the ‘lights out facility’ was particularly low key. And, it became clear that many of the recent advances had gone largely unnoticed by most specifiers and owner/users.”

Furthermore, research indicated that the overall perception of the brand’s capabilities remained rooted in the original brand projection, that of a good workhorse solution rather than a machine that could deliver high precision as well as high throughput at an affordable price.

“Therefore, while we knew we had a technically excellent product, we also recognised that we needed to overcome its rather lack-lustre image. Essentially, we needed the look and ‘feel’ of the lathes to more effectively reflect the technology and high end capabilities that had been built into them, and emphasise their ‘fitness for purpose’ in a modern high performance manufacturing environment,” adds Anderson.

To deliver this new appearance, the company instigated a brand enhancement project, and turned to the Renfrew Group to help provide, in collaboration with the 600 Group’s own in-house engineers, the combination of visual design inspiration and practical engineering insights that would be critical to creating a commercially viable solution.

The industrial design consultancy already had wide experience in applying its design thinking and wide engineering knowledge to this area, having undertaken previous machine tool design projects for both the 600 Group and other leading manufacturers. In addition, as Bruce Renfrew, managing director of the Renfrew Group, observes, “We had also come across what leading German machine tool manufacturers were achieving in using systematic design development and brand enhancement to help create premium product ranges, and so well understood the need and the challenge of the brief for the Tornado.”

The initial work relied on the Renfrew team, which comprised of industrial designers and engineers, to create a new ‘innovative’ visual direction and develop a number of 3D concepts. These covered everything from overall appearance, and new ergonomic user interface features, to the materials, texture finishes and graphics to be used to draw attention to the ‘quality’ of the product.

Once the agreed concept was selected, by the company’s management, this was then jointly developed further, with the creation of a definitive CAD model, and specifications. More specifically, the in-house team used its experience to undertake the task of working the concept for the main cladding and guarding elements into detailed designs. During this work, close contact was maintained with the Renfrew team to ensure that practical compromises did not destroy the overall design intent. At the same time the Renfrew team focused on fine tuning the engineering and ergonomic design of the key defining features, including the access door and viewing portal, handles and control surfaces.

Another major aspect of the task was maintaining close control over the final product cost. “One of the principle design requirements was that the new cladding and guarding had to be cost effective, and not add unnecessarily to the cost of the product,” says Renfrew. “In fact, by combining our wide design for manufacture expertise with the 600 Group’s own design knowledge, it proved possible to take enough cost out of the main structure to cover the more expensive new features, and so maintain the same overall cost as for the previous basic cladding,” he adds.

The result of the completed project, which was unveiled earlier this year, is a completely restyled range of lathes. The ‘fresh’ look and higher quality detail finish have delivered a step change in appearance, which now clearly draws attention to the existing quality of the product’s engineering, and helps to differentiate the Tornado as a high performance piece of modern equipment. Equally, the new cost effective guarding and cladding arrangement also includes features for improved operator access and control, while the overall design takes account of the emerging auto-load/unload manufacturing cell options.

“The project has definitely delivered what it set out to achieve,” reports Anderson. He continues, “The old basic flat panel cladding has gone, and instead we now have machine tools that look modern, innovative and capable of delivering high performance at an affordable price. In many ways, this product also now reflects the changes we have made to the business.”

Moreover, the company has now had the opportunity to exhibit the re-launched Tornado throughout Europe and the USA, and the response, according to Anderson, has been overwhelmingly positive, with many people very impressed by its new physical appearance. As a result, not only are people talking about the look, but also are now more prepared to reassess the machine, and this is providing a much better opportunity to sell its technology and performance merits.

The success of the project also means that the Tornado brand enhancement project is likely to be just the first step, with the company now citing ambitions to ‘redesign’ other products in the Colchester range in order to help further build up the brand’s image and so increase sales opportunities.
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