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We are delighted to see the Zephyr Plus Ventilator recognised with the C2I award for COVID-19 Response by The Engineer magazine.

Led by Babcock International Group in response to the UK Government’s ventilator challenge in the early days of the pandemic, this was a highly collaborative project where PDD and over 50 partners and suppliers worked together to find the most appropriate solution.

Jon Mason, Technical Director at PDD recalls: “There was a unique sense of collaboration and urgency amongst everyone involved, with suppliers eager to help in whichever way possible.  We worked in parallel workflows to deliver at speed, with a clear focus and a shared sense of purpose throughout.”

Congratulations to the teams involved. You can read the full article by The Engineer magazine here. You can also take a look at some of our other award-winning projects in the healthcare sector.

We are proud to announce that the Philips Water Dispenser ADD6910/90 has won a Merit at DFA Design for Asia Awards. The awards recognise designs that embody Asian aesthetics and culture, and influence design trends in the region.

With modern aesthetics, high-tech features and a contemporary visual brand language, the Philips Water Dispenser designed by PDD conveys the advantages of its high-end filtration system through an innovative user experience that stands out in the Asian market.

Philips Water Dispenser ADD 6910/90 designed by PDD

The touchscreen and controls are fully integrated into the body of the dispenser, seamlessly bridging the physical and digital experience for users. Features include real-time water temperature displays, a child-lock system, a water-shortage reminder and an ‘Ambient Water’ button that dispenses water at a steady 25C even in winter when inlet water temperatures drop.

The design by PDD also addresses some the issues associated with the use of water dispensers, such as changing the filter – a process that is often awkward and messy. Using slick interaction design and mechanics, our team developed a unique mechanism that works by simply opening the lid, turning and taking the filter out.

Philips Water Dispenser ADD 6910/90 wins at DFA Design for Asia awards.

The dispenser also stands out for its flexible and adaptable design. As a countertop appliance, it requires no installation and has a smaller footprint that suits the needs of contemporary households. The water tank is designed to fit different water sources with different spout heights, a common feature in many households in Asia. The clean-cut, minimal design also incorporates instant heating technology to provide drinks of different sizes and temperatures.

Successfully launched in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Singapore, the Philips Water Dispenser ADD6910/90 is conceived to meet the needs of the stylish, health-focused, affluent Asian consumers.

DFA merit award 2020 logo.

Despite its many advantages, FEA is little known within parts of the design world and even less understood outside the industry.  A quick dive into the subject is worthwhile for anyone with an interest in product design.

FEA, What is it?

FEA stands for Finite Element Analysis and is a tool commonly used by engineers to simulate and evaluate the key properties and functions of the products they develop.  FEA splits complex parts into many simple bricks or tetrahedrals called elements that can be analysed using computerised numerical methods. A model is meshed into elements before applying external conditions. In the case of a structural analysis, these will typically be in the form of supports, loads, displacements (or movements) and heat. The software then calculates how the product responds under these conditions by analysing points in each element and it neighbouring elements until the whole picture is resolved, or in the technical language, the ‘stiffness matrix is converged’. Once the software has finished its calculations, it returns results such as stresses, energies and deformations. These can be interpreted by engineers using animations and coloured contour plots such as shown below.

Physical vs virtual testing

The physical testing of complex products can be an expensive, time-consuming activity and although widely accessible 3D printing significantly shortens prototyping timelines, its use for structural purposes remains limited: The 3D printing materials are not entirely representative of production grades, test equipment and fixtures can be expensive and testing can still take considerable time. It can also be difficult to interrogate the results of physical testing. Which part is failing first? Where and how is it failing and what is happening internally?

This is where FEA can be used as a virtual testing platform to accelerate the design process. Before any prototyping is done, it can model the structural behaviour of complex systems and geometries and lower the development risks of product features and functions. It allows exploration of adventurous ideas to be de-risked and enables potential failures to be detected early in the process so that design changes can be made when they are still inexpensive. In later stages it becomes a powerful optimisation tool and often goes hand-in-hand with prototyping and testing. It can also be used to test worst case scenarios that you probably don’t have physically available.

…Be wary of ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’!

FEA is a simplification of reality and many factors influence the fidelity of the model and accuracy of the results.  These typically include:

  • The material data, often only partially available
  • The loads applied and assumptions about appropriate safety factor
  • The material friction values, which we frequently test to establish
  • The mesh density and element type
  • The 3D CAD model might differ or be simpler than final products
  • The supports and constraints, which have to be correct in all directions and rotations

These sound like many pitfalls to be avoided, and they are.  As in computer science, FEA practitioners talk – and warn – about the GIGO syndrome: Garbage In, Garbage Out.  In other words, the result is only as good as the data, assumptions  and model you use.

Experience, engineering expertise and critical interpretation of the results are the best cure for GIGO. Bench-marking the FEA results is so important and can take the form of a classical calculation or a test of existing parts. It can also be another FEA, performed and validated earlier in the project or created using a different setup. Even when this is done, analysts have to examine results carefully in conjunction with the setup to understand and report any misalignment or simplification from reality.

At PDD we understand the power of FEA as well as its pitfalls. Most importantly we know how to avoid the latter through experience of structural design as well as an intuition of the expected results and the meaning of underlying numbers. Used rigorously, FEA is an incredibly effective tool. It has enabled the rapid development of new solutions that push materials and geometries to their full potential, leading to better user experience, patient safety and cost reductions.


PDD has used FEA for over 20 years on several platforms. The applications of analysis have been expanded and refined over the years and today form an integral part of our product development process; from early conceptual stages, through engineering and the verification of design ahead of transfer to manufacture.

PDD engineers and designers use ANSYS Enterprise, considered by many as an industry leading application for structural analysis.  We also use Solidworks Flow Simulation for additional fluid and thermal analysis. The technical team is always applying this to new challenges and more recently, free-fall impact simulations have been performed on rugged equipment and medical device projects. This has proven a valuable use of the tool, where we can assess the internal behaviour of a device both during and following an impact. On a recent sterile device project this allowed us to identify potential failure modes, address them in design and reconfirm satisfactory performance in both FEA and physical tests.

Other notable applications of FEA at PDD include:

  • Optimising resistance to wind-loading during the development of a rapidly-deployable canopy used for mobile windscreen repair.
  • Enabling polymer valves to be used for the innovative new generation of digital showers.
  • Analysing weather and flying debris impacts on the new generation of graphical motorway signage systems. 
  • Ensuring the performance of a spring-loaded, patient-use, drug delivery systems following free-fall impact.

If you need your product innovations to be better performing, more efficient or use less material, then why not challenge us to see what we can do to help you?

As a human factors and usability consultant I talk about usability a lot, unfortunately – but also understandably – most people do not share my enthusiasm; that is, until I apply it to something they find absolutely infuriating. This can range from tin openers to a local council website, whatever it may be it puts the problem in context. There’s one particular product that I find most people have a problem with, a product that irritates me so much that I will join in any conversation involving it. Admittedly there aren’t very many of these conversations, but they’re almost always focused on the criticism of usability; let’s see if you agree.

Here at PDD we are equipped with a robust Human-Centred and risk managed Human Factors & Usability capability. The reason for this is that we are compliant with the regulatory rigours of the Medical/Pharma sector; one of the world’s most regulated. We’d say that puts us at the forefront in human factors & usability, but not all sectors are as rigorous and usability is often an oversight or afterthought. This is surprising given the value it can add; in fact many sectors have the potential for improved usability which could put products and services well ahead of their competitors.

Usability engineering process overview. Image credit: PDD. Featured image:

The beauty of our human factors & usability process is that it can be stripped back to its core – the bare usability bones if you will – then built back up to tailor to individual sectors that may vary with respect to regulatory compliance. The word ‘process’ here is key, human factors isn’t something you can whack in at the end then tick a box, it should be considered right from the beginning of a project and applied interactively throughout.

It’s frustrating to see products and services that could be improved vastly by focusing on the user or users throughout the design process. From fiddly food packaging to car park flows to medical gas compressors, the examples are endless. However, there is one product that springs to mind when I think of awkward and nonsensical; the vending machine.

Vending machines are a great example of a product with usability potential and the need for human factors to be considered early in the design process. By and large the vending machines I see on a day to day basis look something like these:

Traditional vending machines. Image credit L-R: PDD,

The example on the right is a typical design I have had my fair share of frustration with. My experiences can be roughly summed up in this flow chart :

* Vending machines kill four times more people each year than sharks do. Ref: Image credit: PDD

Of course snacks are not the only output of a vending machine, and the example I’ve provided is by no means the only type, merely an illustration for my point. There is a large variety that can dispense hot food and drinks, sanitary and contraceptive products, umbrellas and even live crabs, but none appear to have really addressed the lack of usability that seems so apparent. That is, until I turned to Tokyo.

Japan boasts the highest number of vending machines per capita in the world, in 2011 it had one vending machine for every 25 people; bear in mind that the population had almost reached 128 million, that’s a lot of vending machines. That’s also a lot of competition, so it seems only natural that vending manufacturers began investing time and money for their machines to stand out from the crowd. One manufacturer in particular – JR East Water – came up with this:

The ‘acure’ vending machine. Image credit:

The ‘acure’ was designed by Japanese industrial designer Fumie Shibata who clearly considered both usability and the user experience. This digital vending machine features a whopping 47” touch screen display, camera, 4 different payment methods, and the ability to serve both hot and cold drinks. Initially installed in August 2010 at Shinagawa Station (Tokyo), in a 6 month period it reported to sell around twice the amount of the surrounding vending machines. Why?

Simply, the overall experience seems to be preferred by users. The ‘acure’ has an interactive and friendly user interface; all drinks that are available are presented clearly and visually on the screen (those that are sold out aren’t shown). They can then be selected for further information and purchased using cash or card, the Japanese metro card, or using NFC technology available on most Japanese smartphones. The collection bin is located higher than on most machines negating the need for the ‘vending stoop’ pictured below, and the large screen replaces those letter-number panels with tiny digital displays.

Image credit:

The ‘acure’ has technology to recognise gender and estimate age which leads it to recommend certain beverages to the customer. Lastly, once a transaction is complete it says ‘Thank You’ – a simple but human gesture. Even when not in use, it displays advertising depending on the time of day, temperature and season; for example it may show a steaming hot coffee on a cold winter morning.

From an overall usability perspective it takes into account maintenance and restocking, the ‘acure’ is linked to a central server which is updated in real-time so daily stock deliveries are optimised. This purchasing data (combined with sex and estimated age) is fed back and used to provide valuable user insights for the company which can fine-tune design modifications or marketing strategies. Also, it can be instructed to provide free beverages in emergency situations. What a machine!

With products such as these focusing on user needs and completely changing the game with respect to the vending user interface, other designs are no longer cutting the mustard. Vending needs to be brought up to date; the technology, materials and manufacturing methods are there, but the design is not. A fresh, iterative, user-centred approach, using a human factors & usability process is needed to create machines which are appealing, provide a great experience and are easy to use. Check out our website for more details on how we approach Human Factors & Usability at PDD.

It seems you can’t open a tech magazine these days without some mention of 3D printing. But is it all hype or has the technology really developed into something that will transform the lives of designers, manufacturers and consumers?

Mark Hester, PDD’s Principal of Design Development was invited to share his views on a panel at the Engineering Design show which he followed up with a visit to an exhibition at London’s Design Museum called The Future is Here: A New Industrial Revolution‘. In this post he reflects on the controversy surrounding 3D printing.

According to a survey conducted by the Design Museum in conjunction with Ipsos Mori, 71 percent of people know nothing at all or very little about 3D printing. So I was curious when Paul Fanning, editor of Eureka magazine, invited me to share my views on the subject with engineering designers at a conference running alongside the Engineering Design Show. What questions would this audience have about a technology that is new to the high street but has been around as a professional tool for over a decade?

It turned out that the hottest issues for this group of about 100 designers were:

When is it the wrong tool to use?
Does it really have value as a manufacturing process?
What do we need to know about its future?

Image credit: Patient-specific drill guide, from Materialise.
Feature image credit: CC Image courtesy Ultra-lab on Flickr.

In answering those questions along with my fellow panellists I noticed two trends…

Firstly, there are already situations in which 3D printing is a viable manufacturing process. Stijn De Rijck from Materialise described how they were the first to make a bespoke orthopaedic guide using 3D printing a few years ago. Now they process orders for about 3000 guides per month. The benefits to the surgeons and patients are obvious and there is no other cost-effective way to manufacture these one-off surgical tools.

Image credit:

Secondly, 3D printing in metals is genuinely game-changing for designers. Because the parts are built in real materials (Aluminium, Stainless steel and Titanium are all possible) designers can make parts without compromising on structural properties. All sorts of people are already using this technology today from artists to aerospace engineers.

You might have seen the Commonwealth Games 2014 Queen’s baton on the news recently. This was designed to combine traditional Scottish craftsmanship in the elm handle with the latest in additive manufacturing for the complex, organic lattice of Titanium around the top.

Image credit: Femur Stool, Assa Ashuach Studio 

My visit to the Design Museum confirmed that 3D printing is not just about making things quickly. Combined with other digital technologies designers are able to produce things from the outer edges of their imagination. 3D CAD is being supplemented by coding algorithms that are able to generate highly complex yet constrained forms. This is illustrated in the work by Assa Ashuach which is on display at the exhibition.

05_3D Printing – Hype or Ripe

In the brief video that he shot for the exhibition Ron Arad made a plea that designers would stop getting over-excited about the raw technology of 3D printing and concentrate on how it can benefit people. This reminded me of the most heart-warming use for 3D printing that I have come across. Yahoo in Japan recently combined a 3D printer with voice-search technology. The printer was then presented to some blind children so that they could tell the printer what they wanted a model of and feel it in their hands shortly after.
 With that kind of thinking I’d say the future is already here.

We received the sad news on 28th July that Frank Height had passed away. Frank was Professor of Industrial Design at the Royal College of Art, London until 1986 and founder of the pioneering Industrial Design Engineering (IDE) course from which at least 20 PDD staff graduated over the years and became inspired into their current careers.

Frank was also a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Chartered Society of Designers and the Royal Society of Arts. He won three Design Council awards; the Silver Medal XII Triennale, Milan; international design awards in Paris, Hanover and New York; the Institute of Packaging Award; and the Sir Misha Black Medal for services to design education. His professional work included the design of: furniture, domestic products, medical and office equipment and interiors.

We remember Frank warmly. He was an advocate of the integration of industrial design with research and engineering and passionate about cross-discipline innovation. His retirement lecture “The Redesign of Design” attended by Prince Charles, Ove Arup and many other leading figures was testimony to his influence and is fondly remembered by those of us involved. He was a gifted professor whose legacy is surely the generations of designers in prominent positions in business, education and research the world over.

Last week I spoke at the Injectable Drug Delivery International Conference on the essential link between ethnographic research, human factors engineering and risk management in injection device development, a subject close to my heart. We come across many medical companies that engage in ‘over the fence R&D’, a process that can, and does, lead to gaps in device development. At PDD we  apply a fully integrated process that involves the key skill sets throughout and ensures risk management, usability engineering and user satisfaction, all key requirements for injection device development and approval.

If you didn’t attend the event, I’ve published the presentation here.

If you would like to discuss this in more detail, get in touch: