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Visual design accorded increasing importance by machine tool manufacturers Print E-mail
Written by Anand   
Thursday, 28 February 2008

Frankfurt: More and more manufacturers of machine tools and components are prioritising elegant design. Because it has demonstrably improved functionality and ergonomics, with concomitant gains in productivity for the user. The latest results will be on show at the METAV 2008 in Düsseldorf.

At manufacturers of capital goods like machine tools, awareness of visual design considerations is not a universal given, but is steadily increasing, as design and business expert Prof. Dr. Peter Zec, Managing Director of red dot GmbH & Co. KG, Essen, confirms: “Back in the early 1990s, a few German companies in the capital goods sector realised the value of good visual design, and their number is increasing. In this context, of course the salient factors are different from those applying for consumer goods. The primary consideration here is not on a pleasing appearance, but on function-driven design. Safety and productivity top the requirements list from manufacturers and users.” 

At the METAV 2008 in Düsseldorf – the International Trade Fair for Manufacturing Technology and Automation – various manufacturers and component suppliers to machine tool producers will be showcasing the salient considerations of visual machinery design as exemplified by their latest products: the principal focus is on customer benefits. This is manifested not least in the new design of the DMG machines, with their safety glass panes upsized by about 40 per cent. This means the operator experiences the machining process quite intimately. It is precisely this “hands-on” feeling that leads to closer identification with what’s happening on the shop floor, and ultimately to an enhanced level of quality.

One noticeable feature at many vendors is the increasing size of the operator control screens, which visually tend to resemble a modern-day flat computer screen than a machine control system. This results in enhanced read-off convenience, which thanks to supplementary status displays assures more reliability and efficiency.

Besides an enormous variety of function-driven advantages, design in machine tool manufacture, involves quite a lot more. An attractive visual appearance is underpinned by a unique appeal that radiates high levels of innovative vigour and quality. When this appeal is appreciated by potential customers, visual design will automatically become a value-enhancing factor. Moreover, a company’s recognition ratings will be upgraded when a harmonised corporate design is in place that covers all facets of the firm’s visual image – including the products.

Individualised product design needs freedoms. This fact, however, does not militate against standardisation in machine tool manufacture, as might have been thought. “On the contrary“, explains Prof. Zec, “I see standardisation as even helpful to designers, since it maps out natural boundaries for creative scope. Designers are thus facing a clearly defined challenge. They have to achieve an optimum of functionality, ergonomics and upmarket visual appearance.”

In machine tools, for example, there are many standardised parts on the component level. A subject that Messrs. Festo, Esslingen, have been addressing for years. The company is seizing the opportunity to give its products some eye-catchingly distinctive visual design. Both functionality and aesthetics play an important role in this context – from miniaturisation and use-friendly operator control to special shapes and colours.

The visual elegance of the components and the machine tools is not a primary focus of development work, but nonetheless conceals potential, as Prof. Zec explains: “It’s pleasanter for operators to work at a human-engineered, visually attractive machine. They’re proud of working with it, which ultimately is reflected in enhanced efficiency, because staff motivation is greater.” Moreover, they are more careful in handling visually attractive machine tools, and take care that they stay “in good shape”.

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