Setting New Consumer Electronics Design Standard with SOLIDWORKS

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Cisco Consumer Business Group

The Company 

This is the story of how professional designers combined time-honored aesthetic principles with advanced 3D design and printing technologies to produce some of the world's most elegant consumer electronic equipment.

Devices like wireless routers, Media Hubs, and the Wireless Home Audio system create what the Cisco Consumer Business Group calls the connected life, a life that's more personal, more social, and more visual than ever. Constant network connectivity is a cornerstone, and the focus is on the content—music, video, photo, and Internet content coursing through the home.

As these devices further infiltrate the home, they become more central to our lives, moving from the "computer room" to the living room. Like a stainless steel refrigerator, electronics must be aesthetically pleasing with sleeker, less boxy lines while increasing connectivity, reliability, and intuitive operation. Thus, making functional objects both simple and beautiful is the challenge Cisco engineers face every day.

The Challenge

Since design excellence is paramount for the Consumer Business Group, it has established design centers in Europe (Copenhagen, Denmark) and in North America (Irvine, California). Drawing on the Danish influence of Scandinavian design, the company emphasizes functionality, minimalism, and affordability without compromising design aesthetics. Executing on these principles requires design tools that are as intuitive as pencil, paper, hammer, and chisel but harness the power of today's powerful computers. For Cisco, that's SOLIDWORKS® 3D CAD software.

"We love using SOLIDWORKS software," says Sandro Klein, senior manager, industrial design, for the Cisco Consumer Business Group, based in the United States. "It has a robust, user-friendly interface and enhanced surfacing features. We no longer have to turn to other software for complex surfaces. SOLIDWORKS software handles it elegantly, and is becoming a top choice for industrial designers."

Another key design principle, which also happens to be a Scandinavian ideal, is that the designer must hold a prototype of his or her creation in their hands, sense the proportions, heed what the object has to tell them, and ensure that the form ultimately follows the function. The designer may then modify the design, create another prototype, and examine the new design just like the first.

The problem is that traditional handcrafted prototypes are time-consuming and expensive to create. Most automated rapid prototyping technologies are just as costly, and the prototypes must be outsourced, adding time and inconvenience to the process. And though many designers rely on screen images alone, they are simply insufficient to create the quality the Consumer Business Group demands. The challenge, then, is upholding the highest aesthetic standards while meeting deadlines in the highly competitive consumer electronics business, where time to market is critical.

The Solution

Cisco's solution was to invest in an office-friendly 3D printer from Z Corporation that would enable designers to create their own physical prototypes. This technology helps Cisco quickly and inexpensively create the physical models it needs, creating tangible objects from SOLIDWORKS 3D data much as a 2D printer creates documents from word-processing text. The Consumer Business Group can apply its exacting design standards in a manner that keeps the development cycle humming, helping products get to market on schedule. ZPrinting pumps out prototypes in hours instead of weeks and for one-fifth the cost.

"Proportions and ergonomics are paramount, yet too many designers rely on computer screens alone as their design medium," says Eskild Hansen, head of Cisco's European Design Centre in Denmark. "For our strategic design approach, we depend on physical prototypes and the ZPrinter® 450 for each design review, both locally and globally in concert with our design partners in the United States. ZPrinting is an easy and effective way to conduct a productive global design review."