Faster times for watch design
A virtual design process speeds watch development while also improving product quality and reducing costs
Quality watches, advanced micromechatronics
Seiko Epson began with the development and manufacture of Seiko brand products and today undertakes corporate activities as a digital color imaging company under the Epson brand. Founded more than 60 years ago as a watchmaker, using the key technologies cultivated in watch development as a base, Seiko Epson has become a global corporation at the forefront of technological revolutions in the color imaging field, robotics, precision machinery and electronics. In addition to the well-known Epson line of imaging products, the company continues to create stylish, durable and accurate Seiko watches. The watches are renowned for their quality, which is due in part to Seiko Epson’s tradition of designing and producing all parts internally. The company’s constant focus on precision has enabled it to develop the world’s most advanced micromechatronics capabilities (the synergistic integration of microelectromechanical systems, electronic technologies and precision mechatronics with high added value), such as the spring-driven Credor Spring Drive wristwatch that boasts accuracy to within one second per day, on a par with quartz watches.
Several years ago, management at Seiko Epson saw a need to upgrade its watch development process if the company was to continue to compete effectively in that highly competitive segment of the consumer products market. The process at the time was sequential (industrial design study, design work, technology study, first prototype, design changes, subsequent prototypes etc.) and consequently too slow. Also, management wanted to ensure the highest possible product quality, so they wanted to build more quality assurance into the product development process.
Quick virtual development process (QVDP)
Seiko Epson’s answer to these challenges is called the quick virtual development process (QVDP), which is built on Siemens’ digital product development solution, NX. In QVDP, NX serves as the common language supporting concurrent development. Instead of carrying out the product development of the different watch elements sequentially, Seiko Epson is now able to perform the tasks in parallel. For example, industrial designers, engineers and technicians can see what each other is doing by sharing and viewing each other’s NX models, and because of this are able to perform their work in parallel.
QVDP takes advantage of the visualization capabilities of NX to improve communication across the wider development team as well. As an example, renderings of 3D watch models help communicate planning and design concepts to marketing and purchasing groups. Further, renderings help industrial designers and engineers have a better understanding of the product, and in this way they are helping improve overall product quality. NX data is also used to create rapid prototypes that serve as another means of evaluating quality. The use of NX data in this way is improving the accuracy of first physical prototypes, which is ultimately reducing the number of trial productions needed in the development process. NX data is also sent directly to the shop floor for use in watch production. This is another way the company is improving quality, because it ensures industrial design and engineering intent. It also saves time by getting this information into production sooner.
Improvements across the board
The QVDP at Seiko Epson has improved the efficiency of the watch development process, saving time and money at various stages. In the industrial design process itself, one industrial designer can now perform tasks that previously required several people (2D, 3D, still-imaging, video etc.) With NX, one person can sketch concepts, create CAD geometry, generate renderings and/or rapid prototypes and evaluate the work – steps that were performed relay-style by different people in the past.
Direct cost savings resulting from the QVDP involve prototyping and travel. Because much of the watch development process now uses visualization and less-expensive rapid prototypes instead of machined physical models, prototyping costs are down 50 percent. Travel costs related to development have been reduced by 50 percent as well, thanks to the ability to communicate effectively using IT technologies such as NX models and renderings.
With QVDP, Seiko Epson also achieved its goal of getting watches to market faster. The QVDP has compressed each of the development steps by several days, for an overall 50 percent reduction in timeto- market. These time and cost savings have not come at the expense of Seiko Epson’s reputation for excellence; because quality is built into the QVDP, quality has improved 100 percent. So new watches, although they are developed much faster, still feature the high quality for which Seiko Epson is known and are still highly regarded in the marketplace.