5 reasons collaborative design produces the most innovative products

True innovation isn’t about outrageous creativity. It’s about bringing ideas down to earth. From the fiber optics in surgical endoscopes to the lighting in airplane cabins, the endless possibilities of design must inevitably meet the limits of manufacturing. Designers push the boundaries of the possible while manufacturers ensure a streamlined production process. However this balance isn’t always achievable.

Often, designers, component developers, and manufacturers work in siloes and are unable to develop one streamlined solution that incorporates innovative design without expanding production costs. This problem can be especially apparent for products that require unique lighting capabilities.

Fiber optics components, for example, are used in a wide range of devices and systems, including everything from medical instruments to jet planes. Designing robust products for these applications not only demands optical considerations, but thermal, electrical, and mechanical requirements.

However, it is possible to create a lighting device that not only meets design specifications, but also balances cost and performance for all parties. By working with skilled component manufacturers from start to finish, product developers can ensure smooth development from idea to execution. Here are five reasons why.

1. Optical design. As manufacturers become leaner, in-house specialty engineers are one significant casualty, especially when it comes to optical engineers. Often missing from design teams in recent years, optical engineers play a crucial role in developing lighting and imaging devices for dental curing, minimally invasive surgery, or clinical diagnostics. Designs for products like these must be cognizant of very specific parameters, including spot size, the distance from the object being illuminated, and light source medium. Engineers must consider the light source needed to produce the required light, its optical patterns, and the specific optical lenses that can do the job. That requires an expert’s eye that many companies no longer have on staff.

2. Thermal modeling. Some lighting and imaging components, especially in the medical and dental field, generate heat that could potentially be harmful to patients. Modeling where these hotspots are allows manufacturers to engineer devices that conduct heat away from the patient most efficiently. As an example, the packaging of an LED component on a dental curing rod must draw heat away from the light source or risk burning the mouth of a patient. Determining how and where a device generates heat — and how to dissipate it — plays into other important design decisions.

3. Material analysis. Every time a designer picks a material, it has implications for manufacturability. In our dental curing rod example above, using copper might help dissipate heat more effectively than other metals or composites, but it could be five times as expensive as similar materials. Is it worth it to use copper, or should the manufacturer opt for a similar product that’s less costly? It’s questions like these that manufacturers must weigh before moving forward with product development.

4. Mechanical design. Too often, engineers stay faithful to designs of the past and fail to consider a new design is necessary to integrate the best technology going forward. In some cases, designs don’t consider the precise technical requirements, such as electric current, sizes of individual components, or illumination properties, of the new design specifications.

Rather than simply collecting and combining black boxes from a number of different component manufacturers, the design and component manufacturing must happen in concert to ensure the parts don’t just fit together but are the best parts to function together as a whole.

5. Electronic modeling, testing, and inspection. A device that appears simple on paper might find new obstacles once it’s brought to life, especially because nearly every application requires custom components. In order to eliminate the discrepancies between the design phase and the production phase, engineers are designing devices, while keeping manufacturability in mind. Engineers that design for manufacturability are mindful of usability, size, and cost, while ensuring that devices maintain performance and functionality. New technologies have given manufacturers the ability to work in tight tolerances and extreme conditions. Without a collaborative partner to join the modeling, testing, and inspection of devices from the start, manufacturers all too often must extend the development phase to iron out any kinks.

Choosing the right partner

The most innovative products are a collaboration of creativity, expertise, and pragmatism. Simply solving a problem without planning for manufacturing will leave a product inefficient and more costly to produce. Furthermore, without expertise, creativity in use of materials and design is limited. As engineers design the blueprints for new products, they often rely on partners to ensure all components maximize a device’s effectiveness while reducing costs and excess size and weight.

SCHOTT’s Lighting and Imaging partners with manufacturers at the conception of a product, and works with them throughout the entire manufacturing process. Together, we marry design possibilities with cost-effective manufacturing to create products for everything from medical applications to automotive, aviation, defense, and other industries. Through collaborative development, modeling, and analysis, we produce products that not only serve a real need, but can be efficiently and cost-effectively produced. Plus, since SCHOTT oversees the full development process, from design to production, the Lighting and Imaging team can take full accountability of its products, ensuring that the final product will fit perfectly within the end device.

As lean design teams unearth the next innovations, they don’t have to do so while in the dark about how components work together and whether the final design fits manufacturing requirements. By working with companies like SCHOTT to analyze, design, and produce each lighting solution, manufacturers ensure the best final product.

July 21, 2015


Brigitte Sterf
Lighting & Imaging
SCHOTT North America, Inc.