Detroit — Some 25-45% of consumer goods eventually fail in the marketplace and 95% of new products miss their sales and performance goals, according to data cited by Seth GaleWyrick, senior mechanical engineer and sustainable design specialist at Bresslergroup, a product design and development firm in Philadelphia.
To curb the high risk of product failure, GaleWyrick, who spoke at the 7 Nov Design in Plastics conference, debated the "tried-and-true" methods used by designers and engineers, offering up some organic alternatives to familiar approaches.
Instead of asking, "Has someone else done this before?" he suggested asking, "Has something else done this before?" And by "something," GaleWyrick is talking about nature and the concept of biomimicry.
"Biomimicry is fundamentally about learning from biology and applying it to our own human design challenges," he said.
"What if in the 3.8 billion years between that first organism and when [humans] show up, maybe living things have got a few things figured out," he added. "Maybe there are some things that we can learn from them."
GaleWyrick drew connections between a number of modern product designs and their biological inspirations.
A hypodermic needle, for example, features multiple facets that offer convenient sharpening and, in theory, make it less painful as it slides into your skin.
"The question is: Does something else do this? And who should we ask?" GaleWyrick said. "If you went up and asked an entomologist, they could point toward structures in nature, organisms whose entire evolutionary selection is based on the ability to pierce your skin … without you noticing."
If you haven't guessed already, he's talking about the pesky mosquito, whose needlelike blood-sucking structure looks more like a reciprocating sawblade upon closer inspection.
"But that geometry as it slides through your skin actually triggers far fewer individual nerve endings," GaleWyrick said. "And so, despite what it looks like, when a mosquito bites you, you don't notice it at first."
The technology, he added, is actively being emulated and researched in the microneedle sector.
From sycamore tree seed pods and fan blades to shark skin and a synthetic surface that can inhibit bacterial growth, biomimicry also has a leading role in the prevention of concussions in athletes and military personnel.
Borrowed from the birds
Why don't woodpeckers get concussions? That was the underlying question that led to the invention of the Q-Collar concept by David Smith, a visiting research scientist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
The Q-Collar is a wearable neck device that applies slight pressure to the neck — specifically, the internal jugular vein — which increases blood volume in the brain, creating a "cushion" that reduces brain movement inside the skull during an impact. The collar borrows its technology from the woodpecker.