With considerable experience in developing products for the garden market, industrial designer Shoji Sinclair was a natural choice to work in collaboration with Pope when the company wanted a new design for its Handy Hose Reel and Cart range, for sale in Australian mass merchant outlets.
As with many modern CAD projects, product design for Pope is typically a collaborative process, using multiple teams at different stages and requiring seamless sharing of data across platforms. As the industry standard CAD software package, Solidworks has been designed to optimise such functionality – making it easy for Sinclair to work from his desk at Sinclair Product Design while also collaborating closely with Chris Appleton, Lead Designer at Toro Australia, which owns the Pope brand.
Having converted to Solidworks some 15 years ago, Toro Australia is a long-time Central Innovation customer. “We’ve had relationships with several different Central Innovation team members over that time, and during that journey the communication and service has always been there when we need it,” Appleton confirms.
Appleton and his team have expanded their use of Solidworks over the years, with the development of the Pope Handy Reel and Cart using not only the standard Solidworks package but also Solidworks Plastics for the injection moulding phase of the design and Solidworks Flow Simulation to model fluid flow.
“Solidworks has the capabilities our design teams need, we’re able to source it locally from Central Innovation, and over the years it’s become more refined and user-friendly,” Appleton says. “It’s certainly a very useful tool.”
He adds that Central Innovation has been invaluable in upskilling staff in its use: “When we assign new staffers to Solidworks, we’ll typically send them off to Central Innovation for training so that they’ll be right across the intricacies of the software prior to the pressure being on to do the top-down assembly. Particularly when you’re dealing with Flow Simulation and Plastics, it’s essential to have that knowledge and the team at Central Innovation have the necessary expertise to impart it.”
Customer support has played a key role in the longevity of the relationship. “When we do have an issue, we know that all we have to do is phone up Central Innovation and the person at the other end of the line will always understand what’s going on. I don’t think we have ever had to wait more than a few hours to get a fix that works,” Appleton says.
“The team at Central Innovation are not only highly professional, they’re also very results-oriented and they provide us with efficient and personalised service. With those qualities, they tick all the relevant boxes for us.”
Shoji Sinclair’s relationship with Central Innovation is a more recent one. Thanks to Central innovation’s in-house hardware division, where laptops, PCs and workstations are custom-built and repurposed to optimise software use prior to shipping, Shoji was able to avail himself of a turnkey solution - a high powered mobile workstation preloaded with Solidworks. Since purchasing it three years ago, his business has gone from strength to strength.
“Central Innovation has always been very proactive in terms of providing IT support,” says Sinclair. “Their help desk is able to solve most issues remotely via team viewer which is a great advantage because it saves so much time.”
Sinclair also praises Central Innovation’s regular networking events as a great opportunity to share ideas. “They make you feel part of the Solidworks community – you’re not just using the software in isolation,” he explains.
Now sharing an office with Adelaide entrepreneur Scott Boocock, who shot to fame when he won Shark Tank and has carved out his own niche in the garden market with his innovative Heg’s Peg product, Sinclair is collaborating with Boocock on a number of products still in the conceptual stage.
In the case of the Handy Reel and Cart for Pope, the impetus for the new design was the market-driven imperative of a product refresh. “Pope supplies products across a wide range of categories, and as such there’s an ongoing need to facelift products and find opportunities for a point of difference,” Chris Appleton explains. “Otherwise, there’s a danger of products looking too generic.”
“In this case, we undertook a major category review and decided we needed to change the product presentation of our Pope Handy range – we wanted it to represent our brand more strongly, and based on that thinking we asked a number of designers to come up with concepts which would highlight the Pope ‘leaf’ logo in the products – as brand recognition generates customer engagement.
“That led to us to working with Shoji and we asked him to create seven uniquely different concepts – from there we chose several of them to move forward through our design concepts using all the tools of Solidworks.”
“This was an opportunity to start with a blank slate and create a completely new and unique product that was exclusively and unmistakably Pope,” says Sinclair. “The conceptual stage was done initially with a digital hand sketch, which could easily be used as an underlay within Solidworks to build up the solid CAD data.”
Appleton’s brief to Sinclair encompassed three key elements: to create a family look across the product range; to ensure it would be possible to use the skills and capabilities of Toro’s existing manufacturing partners, while also adding improved value in terms of features; and to design the products to facilitate shipping.
As Sinclair explains: “The gardening market is highly competitive and price driven, so maximising the number of units per pallet was key to the project’s success. Using Solidworks, we could fine tune the design to exactly fit the products within the envelope. The product is designed to be stackable with interlocking base features, which makes it ideal for end of isle display in a hardware store. The crank handle also folds away to further reduce the palletisation footprint.”
“With the prior model we were only able to pack 27 products per pallet,” Appleton adds, “whereas now we can fit 36. Not only does that reduce our shipping costs, it also helps minimise waste material which is an improvement in terms of environmental sustainability.”
Sinclair’s final design incorporated the Pope brand leaf silhouette into the styling of the Handy Reel’s side panels - establishing new visual branding which has since been carried through the entire Pope product range. “I think the brand has gained considerable strength through the robust brand language – we’ve set a benchmark that cannot be easily copied,” Sinclair elaborates.
Once the native files had been rendered, the design review process began. This being a collaborative project, it was important to be able to share data between designers and vendors, and Solidworks made that process easy.
“The same CAD data was used to create initial visual prototypes, produce engineering drawings and cut tools,” says Sinclair. “This helped validate the design, in that each stage of the process was accessible. For example, store buyers who wanted to stock the product were able to see actual prototyped examples of what the finished version would look like, before giving the green light for the detailed design stage to begin.”
Creating the model in Solidworks also made it easy for Sinclair to experiment with alternative colour paths. “Using this method, store buyers could easily decide what colour-ways they wanted before placing orders,” he explains. The detailed manufacturing information - tooling, mould design and mould flow input using Solidworks Plastics and Solidworks Flow Simulation – was input at Toro Australia’s end by Appleton and his team.
The next step was to create a 3D supermodel – “we apply tooling shrinkage if we need to, create the documentation we need – we like to have quality data so we’ll do that on a 2D drawing, pick the key dimensions that have to be described and send out via PDF so our non-tech teams can look at them,” says Appleton.
“We then do instructions and graphics via the marketing team, and the basic Solidworks data goes across and off to printers. We’ll also use the Solidworks model for early marketing material before we get final photography – a fully rendered model so everyone can see what the product looks like. Finally the data gets archived, all the manufacturing data is written up and we send the package off to the quality assurance team so they can manage the quality requirements at the vendor and the warehouse, again all within Solidworks.”
With Solidworks having facilitated the successful collaboration between design, marketing and store buyers, Pope’s Handy Cart and Reel was delivered on time and at the right price point for the market – as evidenced by its domination of its product category over the summer months in 2017/18.
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