Mesh Systems, an expert in IoT design and deployment, approached Catalyst as a design partner to help present new technology for IoT based-digital couponing. Mesh Systems developed electronic technology to transform paper coupons into digital marketing solutions, allowing data to be analyzed in real time. Smartphone app (digital) based promotions on the consumer end are converted to a UPC system that can be scanned by retailers in real time during purchase transactions.
PROVIDING SOLUTIONS TO DESIGN CHALLENGES EARLY IN PROCESS
During the system development, there were a variety of usability concerns that needed resolution prior to deployment of field trials. The system needed to be able to scan a user’s phone, be wired to the network, and have an e-ink clerk display that could be scanned with a standard, existing UPC scanner reading device. Both the consumer and retailer components of the product had their own challenges.
On the consumer side, the device required that the built-in scanner point down with enough room to easily place any smartphone under the scanning area. This required in-depth research at all potential size variations within the smartphone market. The scanner device also required a specific distance for optimal reading of the digital image without becoming top heavy or massive in an already crowded countertop environment. The consumer side of the device also needed to incorporate branding for the RJR Spot-You-More couponing program along with lighting to accent specific branding and usability communications to the consumer.
The retailer side, however, required a simple display with optimal viewing and scanning angle for the cashiers, along with a few simplified interface buttons. Both user-interface components required modularity to facilitate a variety of counter top configurations and use scenarios. In some use cases, the two modular units were required to be nested as one and in others, they were required to be separated.
The Industrial Design team at Catalyst began the program working closely with the Mesh Systems team to define essential electronic components. The designers accommodated the electronics packaging of components and quickly generated a variety of concepts blending form, proportions, and aesthetics, while adjusting component placement to consider alternates for ergonomics and usability. The concepts were paired down to a select group and refined based on the best solutions. This collection of concepts were then developed in three dimensional (3D) virtual renderings and set into simplified counter top and register scene. The development of these virtual renderings allowed Mesh Systems to review concepts with RJR in a contextually representative image and determine the best concept direction for further development.
Once the final concept direction was approved, the Catalyst mechanical engineering team, working with the industrial design team, refined the device enclosure design. During the engineering development, considerations were taken to ensure the design would capture the aesthetic and functional requirements, while also simplify injection mold tooling for overall cost and complexity in manufacturing. The final engineering developed concept blended injection molded plastic enclosures, injection molded light pipe components, CNC machined lens material, and a sheet metal base component to provide the optimal configuration and construction for the device.
VALIDATION PROTOTYPING UTILIZED FOR VARIOUS NEEDS
During this process the Catalyst design and engineering team used 3D printing technology to develop initial prototypes to demonstrate the overall form and function of the device. Additional iterations of prototyping allowed the engineering team a mechanical assembly along with additional show models that would include all functional details and aesthetic refinements. Mesh Systems was able to share the 3D printed prototype models with RJR throughout the process to gain confirmation in direction and commitment from their client.
As the final concept direction reached maturity through engineering and prototyping, the Catalyst production team became an essential element in Mesh Systems achieving their goal of developing field test units for field sample product trials. In an expedited timeframe, the Catalyst tooling and molding team built multiple injection mold tools for the all plastic components required for the device. The Catalyst team also managed and coordinated the sourcing of metal base components, powder coated finishing processes, along with the decoration techniques needed for the device. As a final value-added step, the Catalyst team collectively worked with Mesh Systems to support the manufacturing and assembly of 200 field test units that were deployed throughout the Midwest and Southeast for market field trials. These field test units required injection molded plastic components to provide the ultimate in prototype solutions with a production intent quality.
COLLABORATION IS CRITICAL THROUGHOUT THE PROCESS TO ENSURE TIMEFRAME GOALS
This program followed a fast track design process. From the initial kickoff meeting to the completion of the 200 field test units, the program was complete within a 4 ½ month time period. Collaboration between Mesh System teams and all Catalyst internal teams was critical to ensure this expedited timeframe was achieved. This was all possible by blending the efforts of the Catalyst design, engineering, and production teams to allow opportunities for processes to overlap during the development cycle. Each team had the chance to provide input during all development stages to better improve the program transition. Mesh Systems’ team was also essential in providing clear direction on electrical development, quickly getting client feedback, and managing their client’s expectations. Without close client/team collaboration and the ability to include all development processes within one facility, this timeframe may not have been accomplished.