“There are two ways of getting models of your design,” says product designer Julian Brown with a wry smile. “One is to pay someone a lot of money and often wait a long time to see the results. The other is to make them yourself out of foam in a couple of hours.” It’s generally the second path that appeals to Brown, and the models he produces at Studio Brown are part of the design development process. The quality of the models belies the humble tools he uses: a file, a blade, cardboard, a photocopier and sand-
paper. As Brown points out, these models aren’t intended to replace the highly precise work of modelmaking firms, but “you can think about an idea for years and then within a day you’re holding a facsimile in your hands”. The original models for Brown’s Vercingetorige clock for Rexite were produced in exactly this way.
For the Rexite Attila cancrusher, shortlisted in this year’s BBC Design Awards, the design went through various model stages produced in- and out of house. Two years ago Brown produced a fully functioning wooden prototype to prove that the engineering aspect of the design would work. Previous cancrushers had been wall-mounted and depressingly industrial, but in this case the idea was that the action of crushing a can would hold the whole thing stable on any flat surface. It did, crushing aluminium drinks cans with the minimum of effort to a fifth of their original volume. Brown’s 2D computer drawings for what would be the final product were then passed on to Random Technologies’ workshop. The 2D paper plans were read into a
CAD-CAM package, Camax Camand, a 3D surface-modelling environment. From this, software machining code to control CNC (computer numerically controlled) milling machines were generated. “Now we’re able to create a functioning prototype in acetal, an engineering plastic, to ensure it looks right when it’s in use,” explains Hans-Christoph Haenlein, senior design engineer at Random.
For Brown, physical models will never be replaced by 3D computer models, however convincing they are: “Ultimately, you’ve got to see and hold a design to judge it. Hands never lie.”
A final model of the cancrusher was machined out of ABS plastic, the material that would be used in the end product. Refinements in weight and strength were made to produce a prototype
virtually identical to the final production model.