Make it Better

26 Dec, 2014 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

Editor's Window: Good design improves all our lives, in ways that range from subtle to spectacular.

One of the greatest benefits of my job as Cadalyst editor in chief is having a front-row seat to the parade of ideas that CAD brings to life. I admire their vision, ambition, and ingenuity. And I'm always entertained by the variety; they're subtle and splashy, bold and conservative, practical and whimsical. The ideas I find most affecting, however, have something in common: They seek to improve the lives of the world's most vulnerable inhabitants.

Whether they're meant to help one person or many, these ideas are often staggering in their potential impact. For example, what if we could craft a new cranium, and with it save a young woman's vision, her motor function, and her very life? (See "Bespoke Medical Devices Suit Patients Perfectly.")

And what if we could prevent hundreds of thousands of infant deaths from pneumonia, the single largest killer of young children worldwide? To intervene, healthcare providers must be able to quickly identify newborns that need oxygen therapy, and perform periodic spot checks to evaluate its efficacy. The nonprofit Design that Matters (DTM) is developing a device that can do just that: the Pelican pulse oximeter.

Kelly Murphy, associate director of strategic partnerships, explained that DTM starts with technologies that are well established in the First World, and adapts them for use in developing countries. Current pulse oximeters, for example, are expensive, disposable, and difficult to use on babies, said Will Harris, a designer on the Pelican project. The DTM team is designing the Pelican, in contrast, to be inexpensive, durable, reusable, and infant-specific.

The Pelican design concepts eschew potential failure points and parts that will need replacement, such as springs. SolidWorks surfacing tools, said Harris, help him model smooth components that are easy to clean. With 3D printing, the team can prepare prototypes and test them in a hospital setting the same day, winnowing design options quickly.

The goals of simplicity, durability, low cost, and easy maintenance also guide David Hutton, inventor of the Flexipump. "There are no replacement parts that need to be shop-bought … everything is very easy to take apart, no tools are required," he said. Designed with Solid Edge, the hand-operated irrigation pump can move 1,600 liters of water per hour to thirsty crops. It would take five times as long to haul that much water using a bucket.

Hutton noted that there are 500 million small farmers worldwide, who support 2 billion people. As these farmers become more efficient and their farms more productive, he explained, they can spend more on education, health care, and other life-changing expenses.

I'm thrilled and inspired by these projects and their kin; I root for their success. But I don't want to overlook the fact that even the simplest, most prosaic designs can serve the greater good as well. Thoughtful design yields products that are increasingly affordable, effective, and beautiful. It makes structures and transportation safer, more efficient, and more comfortable. It conserves raw materials, energy, and time.

When designers and engineers toil at their workstations, they are earning their wages. But they are also pouring their knowledge, effort, and skill into improving the human experience — in ways both large and small.

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