Case Study

Canon’s camera development supported by NX


NX industrial design and styling solutions gave Canon time to optimize the design of the hugely popular EOS 20D digital camera

With the EOS 20D, Canon was targeting a demanding segment of the digital photography market (advanced amateurs and professionals) on an accelerated development schedule.

Targeting a demanding niche with an aggressive design

When Canon undertook the redesign of its EOS 10D camera, a digital offering targeted at advanced amateurs and professionals, the company set high expectations for the new product. The goal was to create a camera that delivered both high-image resolution and speed. Typically when resolution goes up, speed goes down. But Canon wanted to give the new camera, the EOS 20D, the ability to capture as many as five high-resolution images per second. This is an example of the company’s “aggressive design” philosophy, which results in more competitive products with higher added value.

Another challenge with the EOS 20D was its shape. As with all cameras, this one had to feel good in the user’s hands. An ergonomic design was critical. But so was aesthetic appeal as the camera would have to stand out on store shelves among competing products. To seize market opportunities in the advanced amateur/professional segment, Canon wanted to develop this camera much faster than previous models. This meant overcoming common obstacles, such as miscommunication between design and manufacturing that led to engineering changes and rework. It also required a design process that would permit fast evaluation of multiple shapes to ensure that the new camera was perfectly suited to the needs of the target market.

Canon, a Siemens customer since 1990, decided to model the entire EOS 20D in 3D in NX™ software, beginning with the initial stages of design. As Noboru Tanaka, director of Canon’s Consumer 1st Design Department, says, “It is difficult to think of an ergonomic design without the use of 3D CAD.” He recalls that Canon began using NX early on because the company recognized the tremendous benefit of using 3D CAD for creating the complex shapes of curved surfaces such as those contained in the camera body.

NX made it possible for designers to review more iterations of the camera than they could in the past. Variations on a design were generated extremely rapidly, often with just a single command, such as a change to a dimension. Highly realistic rendered images could be viewed from all angles by manipulating the 3D model. “The grip of the EOS 20D is about 3.5 mm thinner than the 10D. To ensure a good grip with this body volume, we used the history function of NX numerous times to fine-tune the shape,” says Masakazu Kumakura, chief designer at the Comprehensive Design Center at Canon. “In addition, one of the new features of the EOS 20D is a multi-controller, which quickly selects the focus area. The history function was used to determine the multicontroller’s best location in the camera. A total of 12 to 13 different designs was considered before making it final.”

Rapid prototyping was used in conjunction with the 3D model data for fast evaluation of physical prototypes. In the past, Canon had relied on an outside model manufacturer, which led to significant costs and time. Because the company now uses an in-house rapid prototyping system, it was able to evaluate ease of use with very little cost incurred. Kumakura says that three evaluations using rapid prototypes were conducted to determine the shape of the multicontroller.

Lower costs, faster development, outstanding product

The EOS 20D went from concept to production in half the time it formerly took Canon to develop a new camera. “Without NX, it would have been impossible to finish this design within a very short timeframe,” says Kumakura. One reason for the faster development cycle was smoother communication between the design and manufacturing divisions. “When communicating with the design division previously, we had to redo the mockup a number of times,” says Tanaka. “As a result, the final cost was enormous. Since design information in the form of 3D NX data can now be shared, feedback from the design division can be incorporated easily. With the EOS 20D, we were able to exchange communications much faster than in the past. NX has demonstrated its brilliance as a communication tool.” More efficient communication, combined with inexpensive rapid prototypes, resulted in lower development costs for the EOS 20D compared to other models.

Canon achieved its goal of delivering both high-image resolution and speed in the EOS 20D. The camera incorporates a newly developed large CMOS sensor with approximately 8.2 million effective pixels that functions as the camera’s “eye.” The EOS 20D has a very fast start-up time of about 0.2 seconds and can shoot approximately five frames per second. The new camera went on the market in September, 2004 and was an immediate success. While production was exceptionally high for this class of camera, shortly after the announcement of the EOS 20D there was a flood of orders that created backorders in some areas. By employing NX, Canon simultaneously cut development time and cost, while allowing more prototypes to be made, resulting in a dramatic improvement in the fit and finish of the final design.

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