Inventing the American Dream

18 Jun, 2006 By: Michelle Nicolson

With help from ID Group, an inventor goes on television and turns his bicycle concept into reality in just three weeks

It's as American as apple pie and baseball: everyday people inventing new products and demonstrating their entrepreneurial spirit. The concept is the basis for the TV show "American Inventor," which recently concluded its first season on ABC. On the show, contestant Francisco Patino watched as his invention turned into a marketable product in just three-and-a-half weeks, with the help of ID Group, a product design and development studio based in Huntington Beach, California.

Patino's concept was called the Double Traction Bike. It holds an additional seat on the front of the bicycle so a second rider has a place to sit and also power the bike using an extra set of pedals. A 19-year-old immigrant from Colombia, Patino lives in a New York City neighborhood where bicycling children often carry passengers on their handlebars to get around. He developed the Double Traction Bike idea as a safer alternative.

ID Group's task was a difficult one: create a working prototype on a very tight deadline while a television audience waited and watched.

Nearly Impossible
"The deadline to complete this project was almost impossible," says Jeremy Wilkens, ID Group's design manager. "We cannot ever claim that we will get all new products done in such a short time frame, but we did it for this one."

The product development process that ID Group used for developing the Double Traction Bike was typical, except for the extremely short deadline. Design team members familiarized themselves with Patino's concept and researched existing products, the physical properties needed, safety standards required and so on. They also spent the first five days testing the original bike, analyzing ergonomic properties, then stripping down the concept model piece-by-piece. The team even bought a couple of bikes, chopped them up and created a crude prototype for testing ergonomic concepts and theories.

By the eighth day, the team had established the overall visual and physical direction and had already begun to create the more advanced version of the bike in OneSpace Designer Modeling from CoCreate, a 3D software tool based on what the company calls Dynamic Modeling, which has a flexible, history-free architecture that facilitates faster design. The entire bike was created in 3D using the approved hand-sketched designs, computer-drawn 2D graphics and DWG file exports from Adobe Illustrator.

"All the initial concepts are done in 2D, which are then imported into Designer Modeling and modeled in 3D," Wilkens explains, "which is when the detail design work really gets going. This feeds into our creative process, allowing us the freedom to sketch out what we want in 2D and then be able to efficiently visualize and create in 3D."

The ID Group team started development at the rear wheel and worked forward to the front, establishing the entire bike design in 3D within seven days.

"While we used off-the-shelf parts for some elements, such as the pedals, about 90% of the bike was designed from scratch in Designer Modeling. The design data created moved us into having a manufacturable product almost immediately," he says. "Further, the 3D parts could be immediately shown to the inventor, approved and put into prototyping. It was an immensely fast process."

As with any product -- and especially with a fast-moving project such as this one -- changes to the model were made constantly. Wilkens explains that Dynamic Modeling has advantages for rapidly changing designs, as it allows modification of any part of the assembly without retracing the series of steps and commands used to originally create the model.

Process Overlap
To complete the project on time, ID Group was forced to overlap processes. For example, the design process started while research was still under way. Prototyping began before the design was complete.

"We estimated that it would take two-and-a-half weeks to machine the frame, powder coat, paint and test the full prototype. This meant that we were still performing design while machining was under way on various parts. This is far from ideal, and we had to lean heavily on our design team, our engineers and also our 3D technology to make it work. Fortunately they all worked to specification," Wilkens says with a laugh.

But the real sleep deprivation started with the prototyping. "Prototyping is where we go beyond the original concept into reality," Wilkens says. "The all-nighters started when we were cutting the frame on the CNC mills. We also had our rapid prototyping machine in almost constant use."

Jeremy Wilkens, ID Group's design manager, works at the company's rapid prototyping system.

Using the 3D model from Designer Modeling, the team could export the fender and seat designs as STL files and load them directly to the rapid prototyping machine, an Objet Eden 500V. Wilkens admits that the team prototyped some parts several times when it was decided that something looked out of place. For machined parts, the 3D data was run through a CAM system and machined on the in-house Haas CNC machines.

At the end of three-and-a-half weeks, ID Group and Francisco Patino delivered a fully functioning, manufacturable prototype to "American Inventor" -- right on deadline. Patino won his round in the "American Inventor" competition and moved to the finals. He didn't win the overall competition, but the experience was life-changing nonetheless -- and the world got to see Patino's Double Traction Bike.

The fully functioning prototype of the Double Traction Bike by "American Inventor" finalist Francisco Patino and ID Group.

About the Author: Michelle Nicolson

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