Design for new technologies

21st December 2012

Design for new technologies

Since 2005 OXIS Energy (OXIS) has been at the forefront of building the next generation of new technologies for batteries. Its cutting-edge technology, based on Polymer Lithium Sulfur, is not only rechargeable, but significantly lighter than conventional batteries, inherently safe and recyclable.

The potential uses for this new lithium battery technology are very exciting. As the technology is transitioning to production, OXIS is involved with various industry sectors to establish applications, including the defense industry, light-weight electric vehicles and solar storage.

Of course, being able to demonstrate the technology is essential to its business development, and in 2012 OXIS developed its first proof of concept, an electric bike battery. Dr Mark Crittenden, Business Development Manager, OXIS Energy explains why it chose to apply the technology to a bike battery, “We wanted to generate interest in our batteries and to prove to different markets that it’s a viable and scalable technology. A bike is a perfect application because it is portable enough to take to shows and demonstrations.”

The problem with OXIS’ first prototype was, although it demonstrated that the technology worked, it did not showcase the revolutionary technology particularly well. Mark comments, “Designing an attractive product is not our forte. The first battery was an engineering proof-of-concept and the enclosure was essentially an ugly, grey, heavy looking metal box. We sought a top-class design consultancy to help us redesign the bike battery to make it look lightweight, reflect our branding and showcase our technology to the best of its ability.”

Having consulted with a number of design agencies, OXIS awarded the project to Oxfordshire based Crucible Industrial Design. Mark adds, “We were impressed by Crucible’s portfolio and experience. We felt confident that their design strengths were suited to showcasing OXIS as a leading, innovative technology.”

The brief

Crucible’s brief was to design an eye-catching enclosure for the bike battery components with particular focus on the lightweight nature of the technology. OXIS was keen to take its new technology to market and wanted the prototype for a trade show, which meant the project’s timescales were extremely tight.

Taking the lead and the pain away

As Mark explains, extracting the brief from OXIS was Crucible’s first challenge, “Crucible’s experience and guidance was essential to the entire process. They were very professional and hand-held us every step of the way to ensure there was a clear brief and that we met our deadline.”

Crucible produced various design concepts, which were then presented to OXIS. Taking the brief one step further, Crucible added different features to each of the concepts, including an in-built light, a handle and a bungee cord that could be used to secure items on top of the battery. OXIS’ team was able to ‘pick and mix’ the design concepts and features that it liked and these were then refined into a single design.

Mark comments, “Crucible tested our preconceived ideas and really pushed the limits of the brief. As a result they came up with some very clever additional features for the battery. The end result is innovative, reflects our branding brilliantly, is robust and stylish, and yet looks lightweight.”

From design brief to prototype parts

Crucible commissioned Plunkett Associates, a knowingly reliable prototype parts bureau that it works with regularly, to produce the prototype parts.  As a result the first working prototype was delivered in time for OXIS’ trade show.  

Crucible’s project management expertise was clearly invaluable to the OXIS team, “Every day wasted on this project would have had an impact, but we could completely rely on Crucible to own, manage and deliver at every step. We never had to chase them, which allowed us to focus on our area of expertise which is developing the technology and the markets.”

Mark concludes,

“The quality of the design and the prototype presents us as an organisation that our customers can have confidence in. It has helped to transition OXIS from an R&D organisation to a revenue generating, commercial company. I would definitely recommend Crucible and we will certainly be working with them again in the future.”

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Crucible Design Ltd, 16 East Lockinge, Wantage, Oxfordshire. OX12 8QG