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Turning a 'light-bulb' moment into a novel product

08 September 2015

Solidworks reseller, NT CADCAM likes to follow the fortunes of its customers as they move a simple idea from a concept sketch into a commercially viable product. One such product that it recently helped bring to fruition is the Caselace.

Developed by three partners, Fabian Redpath, Ed Towndrow and Phil Champ, the Caselace is a new mobile phone case that lets you wrap your headphone securely round your phone, while still allowing you to text and make calls. It's one of those simple 'why-didn't-I-think-of-that' sort of ideas, which has been brought to life using the latest CAD software and 3D printing technologies.

The idea for the Caselace was borne out of Fabian's frustration at wasting what he calculated amounted to four hours of his life every year, untangling knotty headphone wires. He approached his friend and product designer Phil Champ, of Champ Industrial Design, to come up a simple and elegant way of storing headphones so they don't get tangled. Using Solidworks, Phil started working on the solid geometry that would eventually produce their first prototype case for the iPhone 5.

"I used Solidworks as a conceptual tool and for modelling," he says. "Refining the design process to get the idea to its simplest form was harder than it looks. I used Draft Analysis a lot to check draft angles, examine angle changes within a face as well as finalising parting lines, injection and ejection surface."

Design challenges
Getting the correct diameter of the wibbles, or ruts, which run down the side of the case to hold the wires proved a particular challenge. The top three wibbles are actually slightly smaller than the rest to allow for when the headphone cable splits into two single wires.

Another issue was making sure the rubber is not too close to the phone so that it was still possible to feel and press the power and volume keys. Introducing a 'brace' at the bottom of the case also proved essential, in order that the speaker jack and power cables weren't held in one big, loose slot.

After a few tweaks, three flexible prototypes were made by design and prototyping company, Solve3D, then a rigid SLA prototype was produced to get a hand-finished model that they could use to vacuum cast 'proper' prototypes.

For the injection moulding, Phil Champ approached a Chinese manufacturer via one of his contacts in Korea, who used thermoplastic urethane to create an initial batch. The first order of 10,000 units was duly delivered by mid-February of this year. The Caselace is currently available for the iPhone 5 and comes in seven different colours; plans for new models include cases for MP3 players and the iPhone 6, iPod Touch 4 and Samsung Galaxy S5.

Phil Champ says getting the Caselace to market depended on having a network of good professionals around him and that included his Solidworks reseller, NT CADCAM and Solve3D.

“I first started using Solidworks in 1998 and have never looked back,” he says. “When I started Champ Industrial Design, I bought my own seat through NT CADCAM and being a one-man outfit, their support desk and customer service has been invaluable. Rather than waste two hours trying to solve something, the support team will talk me through the process quickly so that I am learning and saving time.

“With Solidworks I can worry more about what I am designing rather than how I will get the software to do what I want it to do. It means the focus is always on the design and that's why we have achieved something simple, elegant and durable with the Caselace."

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