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Slight polish

Site impression across devices
It has been two years already since the last update, time flies. A slight site polish was due, so here it is. I have simplified stuff once again and there have been a few customisations here and there.

Cat scratching poles, meh

Anyone with pets has probably encountered the issue I’m about to describe. Pet related items are not exactly appealing and tend to stick out like a sore thumb in your house. For example trying to find a well designed cat scratching pole may either prove impossible or lead to insane prices.

In some cases you may think you have found the (seemingly) perfect object, but the focus on appearance turns out to have come at the cost of functionality.

The solution here is simple: create the item yourself. In this case we were looking for a cat scratching pole, but could not find anything suitable. To make a long story short: our cats are now hugging and scratching a sheep shaped scratching pole. Not only a cute sight, but also highly functional – and of course the rope coat suits the sheep well.

Medica and Compamed 2015

Medica and Compamed trade fair at Düsseldorf, 2015

Under the auspices of Edwards Lifesciences I have attended Medica, the international trade fair and congress for medical technology, electromedicine, laboratory equipment, diagnostics and drugs. Medica, combined with Compamed, is an annual trade fair that takes place in Düsseldorf and serves mostly as a business-to-business meeting point for suppliers and distributors in the healthcare sector, though there are also some educational talks with interesting keynote speakers throughout the show.

The Düsseldorf Messe is huge and the trade show is spread over nearly 20 halls. With almost 5,000 exhibitors from 70 countries it is the largest medical fair in the world: last year’s edition attracted almost 130,000 visitors. Arriving at Düsseldorf Messe the sheer scale of the fair instantly becomes clear when you park your car and have to take the shuttle bus from the parking lot to the halls. Planning ahead is definitely advised.

Once inside, the contrast with a consumer trade fair is immediate and striking, especially when it comes to the level of integration in the displayed products and of course when it comes to aesthetics and usability. Most products seem to have jumped right from prototyping phase to production model, without iterations or improvements. The latter makes sense considering the investments required compared to the available budget for the often relatively small and highly specialised companies, but it also means there is a lot of room for improvement. Both the product and (production) processes can be improved significantly, reducing costs while also improving manufacturability, reliability, and usability.

The value of design as a discipline becomes markedly clear as you roam Medica, and we haven’t even touched upon user interface design yet. It will be interesting to experience first hand how far the concept of design thinking has permeated a medical multinational such as Edwards Lifesciences. For now, the breeding ground of medical wonder and ingenuity that is Medica has offered interesting insight into products catered to our healthcare sector.

Consulting at Edwards Lifesciences

Edwards Lifesciences Amsterdam - Centerpoint building

Development of medical devices has intrigued me more and more ever since it was once the topic of my master thesis. Medical products often pose complex and challenging problems, not only from an engineering point of view but also design wise; the latter is in part due to the complexity of stakeholders surrounding medical products.

Not only the challenge is satisfying for the mind; developing products that can save lives, or at least improve the quality of life, feels amazing. I’m glad to be able to use my skills for such goals, which is why when offered the opportunity to work for Edwards Lifesciences I didn’t hesitate.

From their office at Amsterdam I’ll be part of a team working on the next gen design of Edwards’ noninvasive continuous blood pressure meter, a product I’m already quite familiar with due to my master thesis. The development project will run parallel with engineering efforts in Irvine, hence our efforts will need to be closely coordinated. I will also be moving closer to Edwards’ office in Amsterdam, as a one way commute from my current location takes around 2.5 hours. Quite a few changes at once really, and I’m excited about them.

High Tech Discovery Tour

After an unexpectedly successful first edition of the High Tech Discovery Tour at Almelo, this year’s edition has returned with a similar recipe.

Twelve tech companies at Almelo opened their doors to the public, and Benchmark Electronics participated as well this year around. Well, sort of, as only the lobby was open to the public. Here various products were displayed that were developed and/or produced at Almelo, hardware production methods were explained, the site’s history was delineated, and children could conduct several experiments.

The event is actually mainly aimed at children, to show them how fun and exciting technology can be to offer context and inspiration for possible future studies in tech. Compared to other sectors the technological sector still has a rather negative image, not to mention the gender gap, that it can’t seem to shake off. It’s a tangent I won’t further elaborate on, though most certainly deserves more attention.

Due to a lack of budget I’ve had to improvise to put together a fun set of experiments for kids. Ideally the experiments would be somewhat representative of Benchmark’s activities rather than be a collection of unrelated little science experiments. I’ve been scavenging the department for parts left over from old projects (representative of Benchmark: check) to see if I could concoct something with those parts.

The parts I scavenged were ideal for preparing wire loop games. A large scale version making use of the logic function of a Fluke 115 Multimeter would be at the centre of it. A bit of leftover foamboard, some playful artwork, and some welding wire, all in conjunction with the multimeter, would form the main impromptu wire loop game.

For the kids I prepared small versions by creating foam board post cards containing instructions describing the experiment. They’d receive a bit of copper wire which they could bend into the shape they wanted, and then stick the ends in the sides of the foam board. The shape would complement the drawing they could make on the post card with conductive ink, which would double as a basic electric circuit. Finally, a small lithium battery and a rigid metal loop with flexible wire would be added to their post card to complete the wire loop game.

As example, and as inspiration for the kids, I drew a plant pot on a post card, and made a flower shape out of copper wire. The flower forms the wire loop game, and the plant pot the electric circuit. The experiment touches all facets of multidisciplinary product design, from sketching to prototyping, stretching their design beyond the demarcated post card shape, integrating functionality with aesthetics.

Children loved being able to craft, and I saw the most wonderful creations pass by: a face drawn on the post card with the copper wire being used to form a crazy hairdo, a tree sticking out from the forest, a robot with an antenna on its head and wires as arms, an elephant with large ears, and more. Their creativity and enthusiasm knew no bounds, which was great fun to see. Perhaps (and hopefully) this day has helped spark their interest in technology.

Glass workshop

Nothing beats raw shaping when it comes to form giving, especially when you use materials that have a distinct will of their own. Each resulting product is unique; a form frozen in time, capturing not only the skill of the maker at that moment, but also the specific circumstances under which the product was made.

Recently I met someone who shares my passion for design and creation, and our mutual enthusiasm truly motivates. Glass working turned out to be on both of our wish lists, and inspired by a recent visit to Glasrijk Tubbergen a workshop was quickly planned.

We drove to Orvelte to meet with Mark Locock; he runs a glass blowing/shaping workshop with the slightly cheeky name “Hot Marks Glass” in this historical little town. The town has been established somewhere in the 11th to 13th century, and the building material for the houses is wood and more wood. Not exactly your first choice to place a furnace in that reaches temperatures of up to 1100 degrees Celsius.

After a very warm welcome we got to practise on a bucket of water. The idea is that the molten glass in the oven is transparent and thus it is hard to see its surface. However what is easier to discern is the reflection of the pole in the surface of the molten glass, which is what we practise with the bucket of water.

Moving from water to fire, we first attempt to scoop a decent amount of glass out of the oven, before moving on to trying to work the material into shape. Starting small and simple with icycles, it goes quickly to slightly heavier multicoloured paperweights, ending with our very own glass- blown drinking glass. Or in my case: a tealight holder, because the bottom cracked after I made it too thin. Bit hard to drink from that without using your hand as a plug, and even then hot drinks are a challenge.

Time really flew as we incessantly tried to improve our skill and experiment with different methods. In the process we learnt about the effect of our actions (and mistakes) and tools. For example we saw the effect of using pigments and exposing those pigments to high temperatures for different amounts of time and we found out how air bubbles get trapped in the glass and how we can use that in our design.

We have to wait one day to retrieve our creations, as they still have to cool down in a different oven – yes you read that correctly: they have to cool down in an oven. Glass really is an amazing material to work with; especially when you see an experienced glass blower at work you realise (and recognise) the artisan craftmanship involved in crafting these unique pieces.

Brand new look

Site impression across devices
The website has received a brand new look, after the current one has served its task well for the past four years (apparently it has been that long already).

The change is more than just a fresh lick of paint but short of a comprehensive redesign. Some of the old content has been (re)moved and new content has been added, all in order to better reflect my current endeavours.

The visual style has changed, with more emphasis on showcasing the individual projects. In addition, the menu structure has been flattened to improve accessibility.

This time around the site is created in WordPress, which with its powerful content management system makes it notably easier to update content. With that in mind the blog has earned its own spot in the menu, allowing me to highlight more work processes and personal interests.

The update will probably require a bit of tweaking here and there over the next week, so please bear with me while I apply and optimise the changes.

Game design

Game design - level sketch

For some time I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a game. Games are a playful culmination of interface design, user experience design, and graphic design, so its appeal to me should not be surprising.

I’m an avid admirer of the indie game genre: a category of games that tends to result in the most creative and beautiful of games. Not being able to distract with graphic might, more focus lies on gameplay or creative graphic feats – the ingenuity is often as surprising as it is gorgeous.

Currently the game is only an idea (though rather detailed) and a few rough sketches, of which one is displayed at the top of this post. The idea features a refreshing mechanic and has a lot of potential, now all it needs is a lot of time and dedication for it to grow.

Material Xperience

Material Xperience 2014

Based around an independent and continuously growing collection of over 2,000 innovative materials, Materia aims to connect professionals through various media such as exhibitions and conferences. Today marks the first day of one such exhibition at Rotterdam with the theme “The Smart Environment”, presenting a wide range of cutting-edge materials accompanied by a select number of seminars.

Products are becoming ever more complex in their functionality, yet are not becoming more complex to operate. On the contrary: products are increasingly easier to interact with and operate as the human-machine interaction is more closely moulded to our needs and our limitations. This advancement is made possible due to a high level of integration of all the various disciplines involved in product development. All aspects of a product, from PCB to ABS housing and active to passive, synergise to fulfil a common goal.

Of course, the above is from the perspective of a product developer working for an OEM’er. The real beauty is: the above does not only apply to products in the conventional sense, it applies to all things created artificially. New technologies with regards to materials and surface treatment make it so that anything that previously fulfilled its function in an exclusively passive manner (e.g. roads, walls, fabric) is now able to fulfil additional active functions. And that opens up a whole new world of marvellous possibilities.

Materia aims to stimulate the development of new applications for these innovative materials. Recurring topics of today’s exhibition are related to 3D printing and biomimicry; the latter is why I was most interested in attending, especially due to seminars by David Oakey and Michael Pawlyn.

It is interesting to hear first-hand experiences regarding successful large scale commercial implementations of biomimicry influenced products. Michael Pawlyn’s seminar was particularly inspiring: he has a hands-on approach to support the paradigm shift to move from an industrial society to an ecological based one. And that approach is quite refreshing to see in action: while there is a consensus that we need to be more sustainable, all means seem to focus on reducing severity of the problem (downcycling) rather than addressing the real issue (enabling cradle-to-cradle).

Pawlyn’s seminar addressed three crucial changes that we need to bring about the paradigm shift described above. These three vital transformations are, firstly, radical increases in resource efficiency. Shifting from a linear, and wasteful or polluting way of using resources, towards a completely closed-loop model is the next. The third, and perhaps the most challenging, is moving from a fossil fuel economy to a solar economy. Illustrated with a number of recent projects he shared his view on how biomimicry can be used to develop ideas that go beyond standard approaches to sustainability. Of course we still have a long way to go towards creating a sustainable society, but every step taken is one step closer to that ambition.

Due to an unfortunate simultaneous laptop and external hard drive malfunction I will not be able to add any photos of the event for the time being, but I will do so as soon as my data is recovered.

Introspection

The end of the year is ideal for introspection, with a fresh new year in sight carrying the promise of new opportunities. Time to stop and try to conceptualise the totality of our actions, to reflect on what we’re doing and where it is headed.

Personally I’ve always struggled with finding a sense of purpose, to find meaning in everyday life beyond what is biologically dictated and to act as morally good as possible. Most people seem to live in the moment and make choices based on the prospect of personal gain. The latter is something I still cannot fully wrap my mind around, and it never ceases to surprise me how prevalent this selfish mindset is.

While I acknowledge true altruism does not exist, I do not know how we can consider ourselves civilised when all we truly care about is determined by an innate sense of survival. And just look at what we value as a society: we celebrate superficial pop stars and football players, and look up to materialistic lavishness. We pay taxes to fund wars and rely mostly on philanthropy to eradicate global poverty and diseases. We flaunt our popularity and individuality on social media such as Facebook and yes, blogs, as we ever worry about appearance. It is indicative of the nature of our average conversation, as we spend it discussing people and events rather than ideas.

Yet ironically, trying to find a sense of purpose is possibly the most egocentric mindset of all: the idea that it would be sad if reality does not focus on the individual borders on megalomania. So where does that leave us, besides coming to terms with our insignificance, accompanied by an overwhelming feeling of Weltschmerz? To be honest I am not sure; it’s something that will continue to keep me awake at night as I write this unintentionally cynical blog entry while staring at the ceiling.

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My blog describes events from my life related to design and engineering. Hopefully it will give you more insight into my work processes and personal interests.

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