Lab equipment is an interesting challenge for industrial design. Most medical and lab devices are produced in low quantities, making large tooling investments difficult to justify for a client. Hand-assembly and the need for calibration or maintenance often mean that a sheet metal box is the de-facto form of a product when it is first introduced. The difficulty comes in continuing to market a product that might cost tens of thousands of dollars, yet still resembles an engineering prototype.

National Optronics produces equipment for the Optometry industry, which perform such tasks as tracing existing lens profiles, precision grinding and polishing lens blanks, or measuring lens curvature. The company was interested in modernizing its family of products, both to create a family appearance and to introduce various functional improvements. Through a mutual relationship with Spark Engineering, Sprocket signed on to provide the industrial design.

High-precision internal mechanisms had dictated a strong aluminum plate chassis design for each of the products. Rather than trying to hide these potentially unattractive parts, Sprocket took advantage of them. By specifying their shapes and details, we were able to leave the structural aluminum exposed, forming a focal element for the equipment and a unifying theme for the product range. Because the side plates were now part of the exterior, the resulting molded covers could be smaller, giving us more design options while minimizing cost. The team opted for RIM parts for most of the housing panels, which is an excellent low-cost molding process in these applications.

Sprocket was instrumental in spatially organizing components and assemblies, using sketches, physical mockups, and CAD visualizations. These enabled the team to configure the internal layouts for maximum benefit, improving user interaction and calibration access. At Sprocket we strive to understand and respect the engineering realities of a project. We are still going to push the design -- and maybe even your thinking! But in the end you will have a product that functions as good as it looks.

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