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Book review: Manufacturing Processes for Design Professionals

News | May 1, 2008 | By:

When I was an intern, I worked with an architect who started his career as a contractor. He used to shake his head at new designers coming out of school, who he claimed never had held a 2 x 4 in their hands. He firmly believed that one needed to understand how things are built in order to design. Designer and author Rob Thompson seems to share this view, stating that “there is a danger today of designers becoming detached from manufacturing as a result of CAD, globalization, and design education.” His book, Manufacturing Processes for Design Professionals, aims to restore the balance with a hands-on approach to design and production. It is a truly brilliant text that explores established, emerging, and cutting-edge production techniques that have, or will have, an important impact on the design industry. And in spite of its impressive mass, it is easy to navigate. The book is organized into two main sections, Processes and Materials. Used together, the Processes and Material sections help encourage cross-pollination of ideas between industry and design, allowing designers to create to their full potential.

The first four parts of the ‘Processes’ section cover the following processes: Forming, Cutting, Joining, and Finishing. These sections discuss everything from what used to be known as traditional “crafts” to the latest technologies. Forming Technologies, for instance, explores areas from plastic thermoforming to studio glassblowing, to the latest in rapid prototyping. While some processes have changed dramatically due to technological advancements, others have remained virtually unchanged. Over 70 manufacturing processes are explained with full technical descriptions and analysis of the typical applications, along with explanations of how the machinery involved works. It goes on to discuss competing or related processes, quality, costs, design opportunities, and environmental impacts. An accompanying case study shows products or components being made by leading manufacturers from around the world, in quantities ranging from one-offs to rollout. A well designed data panel quickly enables the reader to compare a wide range of similar processes to see which would be the most effective in producing a given item or component.

Part five takes us to the Materials section of the book, categorized under the groupings: Plastics, Metals, Wood and Natural fibers, Ceramics, and Glass. This part of the book serves as a directory of over 50 materials. The objective of these material profiles is to support the Processes, expand opportunities for designers, and provide relevant information for potential applications.

This is a valuable book that not only can help product designers choose from the vast possibilities of materials out there, but also find the best way to prepare their products for manufacturing. Along with over 1,200 photographs and illustrations and a list of featured companies (with contact information), Manufacturing Processes for Design Professionals could achieve its goal of becoming the definitive resource for product designers, engineers, and architects.

Jeremy Clark is a contributing editor for Fabric Architecture who specializes in reviewing products, materials and design. His review of Design like you give a damn appeared in the Mar./Apr. 2007 issue.

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