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RP project aims for better onsite safety

08 February 2010

Securing materials during an onsite cutting process is usually done with the foot or other inadequate retaining method, posing a real hazard to the operator. Tom Fripp explains how his company developed a new device to overcome this problem using rapid prototyping (RP) techniques

Workers on construction sites often encounter problems when trying to cut materials accurately and safely. How do you secure the materials without compromising safety? Many operators will use their foot to hold an object while cutting it with a power saw - clearly a hazardous practice and one which could potentially lead to serious injury, not to mention a prosecution of the employer for breach of Health & Safety procedures.

Sheffield based Fripp Design and Research was approached by its client, Site Tools to design and develop a special vice that could be used on a construction site to secure the power saw during cutting operations. Fripp based its initial design on the inventor's wooden mock up, aiming not only to meet the day to day practical requirements of the construction industry, but also taking into account the essential safety requirements of the application.

An original concept for the vice was produced for presentation as a licensing opportunity, which meant it was designed for visual impact rather than for its ultimate function and manufacturability. However, things moved on apace following interest expressed by two of the UK's major construction companies and the pressure was on to produce fully functioning prototypes as quickly as possible.

Because production volumes were essentially low at this stage of the project, only rapid prototyping methods were deemed feasible. Fripp consequently produced a form-fit model of the device for rapid prototyping only, without taking into account any mass manufacturing issues. The model only needed to be fitted together as a series of functioning components in order to identify and establish the working constraints and any potential functional problems.

Some 30 components were initially produced for the concept model via Fripp's in-house 3D colour printer to assess assembly efficiency. Outside suppliers were contracted to produce components that needed to take more significant loads, such as the spring housing inside the vice. A second prototype model was subsequently constructed using a combination of CNC machined steel components, 3D printed components and sintered nylon components. This enabled a full assessment of the functioning aspects of the design, which were ultimately incorporated by the design team into the third stage functioning prototype.

Using rapid prototyping techniques, Fripp managed to develop the critical aspects of the design, taking no account of mass manufacturing, which would otherwise have required significant investment in terms of time and money. Interestingly, now that the rapid prototyping has been completed Fripp is using a 'half way house' between low volume, low strength, but fast manufacturing and high strength, high investment, high volume production. The new version will be CNC machined from plastic and aluminium block, and will take all the known principles of the previous models into account. At the time of writing, field trials were planned to take place with the two construction companies in attendance.

The benefits of using rapid prototyping on this project meant that a fully functional product design could be produced extremely quickly and without the huge time constraints and investment needed for mass manufacturing. It is hoped that the new vice will represent a significant advance in construction site safety when it finally goes into production.

Tom Fripp is design director at Fripp Design and Research

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