Fast App: Cisco Uses Z Corp to Uphold Scandinavian Design Tradition
By incorporating 3D printing technology into its design process, Cisco was able to quickly and inexpensively create physical models, maintain design standards, and get products to market on schedule, at one-fifth the cost.
December 2, 2009
By DE Editors
Devices like wireless routers, media hubs, and wireless home audio systems create what the Cisco Consumer Business Group calls the connected life, a life that’s more personal, social, and visual. Constant network connectivity is a given, and the focus is on content—the music, video, Web pages, and work materials coursing through the home, office, or classroom.
Figure 1. Cisco’s consumer electronics European Design Centre in Copenhagen, Denmark, continues the venerable Scandinavian tradition of creating functional, minimal, and affordable products without compromising design aesthetics. Image courtesy of Cisco Consumer Business Group
As these devices further infiltrate the home, networking gear becomes more central to our lives, moving from the computer room to the living space. Thus, like a stainless steel refrigerator, electronics must be aesthetically pleasing, with sleeker lines, while increasing connectivity, reliability, and intuitive operation. Making functional objects both simple and beautiful is something Cisco engineers do every day (Figure 1).
The task before the engineers is to uphold traditional design standards in the fast-growing consumer electronics world. Because design excellence is paramount for the Cisco Consumer Business Group, the company recently established a European Design Centre in Copenhagen, Denmark. Here the company continues the venerable tradition of Scandinavian design—creating functional, minimal, and affordable products—without compromising design aesthetics (Figure 2).
Scandinavian design tradition requires engineers to hold prototypes in their hands, sense the proportions, heed what the objects have to tell them, and ensure form ultimately follows function. The artisans then modify the designs, create new prototypes, and examine the results in the same manner they evaluated the original prototypes.
Figure 2. Because electronic devices such as this Linksys router are moving from the computer room to the living space, engineers must produce designs that are aesthetically pleasing, reliable in performance, and intuitive in operation. The Cisco Consumer Business Group is able to achieve these results using 3D printing technology, which helps its engineers quickly create physical models, maintain exacting design standards, and get products to market on schedule. Image courtesy of Cisco Consumer Business Group
The problem is that traditional handcrafted prototypes are time-consuming and expensive to create. Unfortunately, using some automated rapid prototyping technologies can be just as costly as the traditional approach and must be outsourced, adding time and inconvenience to the process. Although many designers rely on 2D screen images alone, they are simply insufficient to create the quality the Cisco Consumer Business Group demands. The challenge, then, is to uphold the highest aesthetic standards while meeting deadlines in the highly competitive consumer electronics business, where time to market is critical.
Z Corporation’s 3D printing technology helps Cisco quickly and inexpensively create the physical models it needs. A 3D printer creates physical objects from 3D CAD data, much as a 2D printer creates documents from word-processing text.
3D printing gave Cisco a way to apply its exacting design standards and keep the development cycle humming, ensuring that products get to market on schedule. ZPrinting pumps out prototypes in hours instead of weeks and for one-fifth the cost.
“Proportions and ergonomics are paramount, yet too many designers rely on computer screens alone as their design medium,” says Eskild Hansen, head of Cisco’s European Design Centre. “For our strategic design approach, we depend on physical prototypes and the ZPrinter 450 for each design review, both locally and globally, in concert with our design partners in the United States. ZPrinting is an easy and effective way to conduct a productive global design review.”
Cisco uses the ZPrinter 450 to create 10 models per week, on average, for design review. Models are printed directly from 3D CAD files submitted by Cisco designers around the world.
Designers pass around the resulting models, mark them up with pencils, revise designs in the software, print out new models, and repeat the cycle as necessary. The hands-on step is an absolute must, according to Hansen, who selected Z Corporation’s technology because of confidence in the brand and his experience using it in other settings. “We get prototypes quickly. We refine them quickly. We create new ones. And we derive our elite designs,” says Hansen.
Z Corporation’s 3D printers simultaneously print in multiple colors. Color dramatically communicates the proposed look, feel, and style of engineering product designs and develops architectural concepts, landscapes, entertainment figures, and medical information.
“It’s inspiring to see what my team can do with what the world has always received as a basic black box,” says Hansen. “Designs like these don’t just emerge from a computer screen. Because design is very important, 3D printing is an important element of our product strategy.”
Cisco Consumer Business Group
- Formerly known as Linksys, a division of Cisco, the group develops home networking and networked entertainment solutions under the Linksys by Cisco brand, which targets the consumer market
- Upholding traditional Scandinavian design standards in the competitive world of consumer electronics
- Investing in the ZPrinter 450 multicolor 3D printer from Z Corporation, capable of printing in multiple colors simultaneously
- With the help of fast, affordable prototyping throughout the design process, the Cisco Consumer Business Group produces elegant consumer electronics gear.
- ZPrinting produces prototypes in hours instead of weeks, at one-fifth the cost of other prototypes.
- 3D printing lets Cisco apply design standards in a way that keeps the development cycle humming.
- Cisco designers get all the prototypes they can handle, resulting in high-quality products.