Case Study: Faster, Smarter Product Development at Robert Welch Designs Ltd.
| by Stan Spring
About Robert Welch Designs Ltd.
Based out of Chipping Camden, UK, Robert Welch Designs Ltd. went from being a one man firm
in 1955 to a brand known worldwide today. Whether for the living room, kitchen, dining room, or bathroom, this home goods company creates a wide range of classic-contemporary products that are meant to last. Most products are affordably priced and can be found in stores like Crate and Barrel, Williams-Sonoma, or Bed, Bath, and Beyond. With a legacy of work in stainless steel, the business also takes commissions from clients, like royals, world leaders, and premier companies.
Robert Welch Designs puts contemporary twists on classic styles and pushes the boundaries for its ideas. In the early stages of product development, each new design is questioned, challenged, and refined until it meets the company’s distinct standards of timeless, elegant beauty. With such a huge array of products, Robert Welch Designs needs a means of prototyping and iterating on designs that is fast, effective, and precise.
Since many products are stainless steel, glass, or silver, it’s critical to understand what a product feels and looks like before it’s manufactured. Once a design is finalized, the CAD drawing and file are sent to the company’s factory in Vietnam. Sometimes, the factory also recommends small tweaks which need to be validated.
Robert Welch Designs discovered a preliminary answer in 2006. According to Rupert Welch, Managing Director and son of Robert Welch, “Ten years ago, we bought our first 3D printer, and I have to say, unquestionably, I think it’s one of the best things we ever did.”
To quickly iterate on ideas, reduce costs, and validate changes from the factory, Robert Welch Designs now employs three different 3D printers: a MakerBot Replicator® Z18 3D Printer, MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D Printer, and a Stratasys Objet30 3D Printer. The company first chose the Replicator Z18 for its larger build volume and its ability to 3D print a 1mm wall for a pitcher. With that resolution, the MakerBot 3D Printers allow the design team to explore and evaluate many different product concepts early in the product development phase. For example, according to Senior Designer Kit deBretton Gordon, they’ve prototyped “50 to 100 different spoons, changing the shape a little bit, adding an angle. And it changes the pattern completely.”
Later in the design process, designers 3D print on the Stratasys Objet30 3D Printer for advanced, production-ready models. They also use this 3D printer to validate changes from the factory.
With MakerBot’s 3D Printers, the low cost of consumables allows Robert Welch Designs to quickly prototype a greater number of concepts at low cost. Designers can also easily get a real feel for many different concepts and collaborate to evaluate each. As Kit deBretton Gordon says, “Using the MakerBot allows us to really get the shape refined, and make sure that it feels nice in the hand so that you can actually use it. It’s a 3D object so people can understand it.”
Beyond considering the look and feel of their designs, there are other advantages. Design Director Paul deBretton Gordon explains, “Rather than worrying about the cost of it, we can just print as many as we want.”
For ergonomically-accurate, production-ready models, the design team then 3D prints on the Objet30. As Paul deBretton Gordon says, the Objet30 “could handle the thickness of the bowls… It’s also the strength of it as well. It’s been an absolute godsend, because there’s no mess, there’s no fuss with it. It just prints.” The Polyjet technology within the Objet30 allows for 3D prints with advanced materials like VeroClear that yield sturdy, crisp, high-precision models.
Just before production, the overseas factory sometimes sends back design refinements as CAD files, which designers then discuss and validate in their UK offices with further 3D printing on the Objet30. This feedback can eliminate mistakes, speed up the manufacturing process, and drastically reduce tooling costs.
With MakerBot and Stratasys’s 3D Printers, Robert Welch Designs Ltd. can quickly explore new product designs at low cost, validate realistic, production-ready models, and streamline their manufacturing process.