prototyping to mitigate design risk

Managing Design Risk with Prototyping

As a result of the nature of TILT’s work, we’re often engaged in projects that require a one-off site-specific design solution, so the opportunity to create a prototype is rare. It has been with great enthusiasm that the TILT team have embraced the chance to provide several for the UTS Central Project’s automated sun shade system.

A prototype is generally created with one of two focus points in mind:

  • Performance – to test structural, mechanical, electrical or functional aspects of the design
  • Visual – to ensure the finished product will meet the aesthetic the architect is trying to pursue

In this case, the prototypes have been built to test both of these purposes in one single unit.

Although none of the 108 individual shades on this project are identical, we have prototyped a “mean” – an average that represents most of the challenges we foresee. The repetitive nature of the design elements means we can refine the visual and performance based criteria of these components, managing the risk that comes with developing the unique design features of each piece.

The central purpose of the prototype is to inform. It takes the design off the screen, offering the opportunity for all stakeholders to explore and review the criteria most important for them and ascertain whether these are being met within the current specifications. For example, an architect will be ensuring the design fully creates the aesthetic they are aiming for, a structural engineer will be looking to confirm the structural integrity of the element, the façade specialist will be checking the materials are what they are expecting of finishes and the builders will use it to better understand the proposed methodology for installation.

For TILT, the prototype means we can consider aspects such as fixtures and fastenings, ongoing maintenance requirements and also manufacturing tolerances, informing how the parts are being made and whether we need to be more considerate in how each piece is designed considering manufacturing limitations. In short, the prototype is a trial that helps to ensure the best end product possible.

For this project, the prototype was built on a 1:1 scale, generally from the same materials we expect to use in production. It was assembled in TILT’s workshop and then delivered to the building site for everyone to see as well as a trial installation on the existing building. This provided the opportunity to experience site-specific conditions that will influence installation, for example how the shades will physically be moved, how the folded sheet metal behaves, the quality of coating applications etc. It also allowed viewing in close proximity to its design context, establishing the expectations of all stakeholders.

From observations gained through this process, TILT will now refine the design and build more prototypes for the purpose of performing accelerated lifecycle tests. In these tests we will look at the operable elements – elements such as bearings, gears, motors and utilise thermal cycling to see how the shades will endure use in their unique façade environment for the next 20+ years. This series of scientific trials will further manage our design risk by identifying future risks. Prototyping of this nature can ensure sound decisions are made with manufacturing processes, permit optimisations for cost effectiveness and assist with developing appropriate maintenance approaches of the custom operable elements.

There is considerable investment from both a time and money perspective in producing prototypes, and it is a wise piece of due diligence to test the product in order to improve manufacturing and mitigate design risk. It is a real pleasure to be working with The University of Technology and Richard Crookes Construction who both value a proper design process.

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