Nigel Mac-Fall, Minale Tattersfield’s head of 3D, is characteristically blunt about the styling of the Viero Playmaker II silk-screen silk printing machine – prior to his getting his hands on it – “It looked like an old boiler, circa 1820.”
There were several immediately identifiable problems with the machine’s ergonomics. Operators had nowhere to put their feet as they leant over the machine, surplus ink poured over the sides, and the ventilation vents were not best placed.
Righting these wrongs fell to Mac-Fall after Minale Tattersfield had redesigned the Italian manufacturer Viero’s corporate identity. Mac-Fall came in to apply the identity to the machinery, and the rest of the job followed.
Manufactured near Lake Como in northern Italy, the Playmaker II was incredibly well engineered, with hair-splitting tolerances, but had never been touched by a product designer.
The first factor Mac-Fall had to get his head around was the sheer scale of the machine. At 30m long, it is enormous, says Mac-Fall.
“You can’t look over it. It’s basically a table for silk-screening with a huge drying unit at one end.”
Mac-Fall continues: “We went to see these machines and they are vast. They are nailed together with these massive plates of steel. As the engineers had designed new bits they had just been added on – the machine had no form at all. The first thing that came to mind was to clad it – and not in great grey/green panels but with something reflective to lose some of the vastness of the thing. We wanted to cut down on the weight and on maintenance.”
Back in Richmond, Mac-Fall made a model, forgot what was inside the machine and tried to envisage it as he would like to see it. To arrest the dripping ink from wrecking the operators’ shoes, Mac-Fall angled the side panels up from ground level. Not only was the ink contained, operators had somewhere to put their feet.
A new model was constructed and Mac-Fall presented it to the client. “I don’t know what they thought,” he confesses, “because the whole presentation was in Italian, which I don’t speak.”
A month later a drawing came back which was almost precisely what Mac-Fall had suggested. Some additional “shapes” had to be incorporated which could not be streamlined away.
Mac-Fall made another model, this time using string. “It works a treat as you can still read the lines,” he says. The second model was dispatched and months later the full monty was built and displayed at an Italian trade show.
Minale Tattersfield chairman Marcello Minale went to have a look, and “took some appalling photographs”, according to Mac-Fall. But they were sufficient enough to show that Mac-Fall’s design was a success. Indeed, the machine was sold off the stand.
Minale Tattersfield has worked for the silk industry based around Lake Como before. So this has proved a rewarding project for Mac-Fall: “It has been nice to not only have dealt with the end product – the beautiful silk scarves and ties – but now also with the people who work at the coalface getting their hands dirty.”