Ever torn something apart or broken something down piece by piece to see what’s inside?
In the process did you discover something new, like how it was made?
I know that I have. Recently, I took apart one of my son’s remote-controlled toys and what I found was that it was surprisingly complex. It was full of small gears, circuit boards, and each piece was well placed inside its designated area. It gave me a bunch of new ideas for our products and was a successful practice in reverse engineering. Except the part where my son wanted me to put it back together to play with.
Reverse engineering is a commonly used practice and one we use a ton around the office at Catania. Because we work on such a large spectrum of products, reverse engineering has become a valuable process. As much as we like to believe we are experts at everything, we are not. Reverse engineering is an educational tool that saves time and money by allowing us to take something that has already been engineered and fabricated, and learn from it. This helps us to better design products that we can specifically tailor to our client’s needs. It’s so critical to our internal processes that we decided to write out the steps and share how it’s done.
How do we reverse engineer a product?
Let’s use one of our recent projects, the AbSculpt, as an example. For this product, the customer wanted to build a first of its kind bi-directional resistance ab roller with a wheel that offers more stability and size for the athlete.
In designing the wheel, we had multiple challenges. How do we create the tire? What size of tire should we use? What materials would be right for the tire and product and how do we mold the rubber of the tire to the rim? It was not easy.
We followed these 4 steps.
Step 1: We Looked for a Similar Product
First, we designed a concept and created a prototype for the project, so we knew what the wheel needed to look like. We were able to find a similar product at a local supply company. But it’s more common for us to search the web.
We try to find something that fits into the design, taking into account the size and shape, but just as importantly, the cost. This tells us that if someone else can make it within our budget, we should be able to make a comparable product at a similar cost, and in this case, that’s exactly what happened.
Step 2: Disassemble and Analyze
Before dissecting the tire, or anything else for that matter, we look to see what we can learn from the outside.
With the tire, we looked for what process was used to manufacture the rim (injection molding, casting, etc). In this case, both the tire and the rim were made with injection molding.
Next, we looked at where the parting lines for the tooling were placed. This helped with the design for manufacturing aspects of the shape.
To learn how the wheel and tire were mated together, we cut the assembly in half. This was necessary because we needed to see whether the tire was overmolded onto the rim, or if it was a second part that was assembled later.
Step 3: Implementation
We took what we learned from Step 2 and came up with a design for a product we felt confident would work.
Then we took what we had to the manufacturers and asked for additional feedback. This allowed us to make the final changes to optimize the design for their particular manufacturing processes.
Step 4: Review
This is a product that will be mass produced and sold commercially. Cost, durability, functionality, and style were all variables that we fine tuned to make a product that will be successful. In order to change one of these variables, we must understand how it will affect the others. This is the delicate balance that is required for success.
With a working prototype in hand, we examined every step from design to manufacturing to make sure we solved the problem in the best way possible.
At Catania, we don’t reinvent the wheel. We just make it better.