Deconstruct to Instruct: Designing Products that are easy to Assemble


When I was ten years old, my dad gave me a small boat engine and asked me to take it apart and put it back together again. It was his way of teaching me to read instructions. Although the engine was “efficiently” reconstructed (as in, parts were left over), it didn’t start. Next time, I read the directions.

Fast-forward 30 years and toy maker K’Nex uses the same idea to deconstruct a model to make instructions. But unlike my childhood, they use modern CAD tools for efficiency. K’Nex is like TinkerToys on steroids and you and your kids can work together to build some awesome stuff – like the K’Nex Atomic Roller Coaster complete with motorized lift. At four feet high, this toy comes with over 1200 pieces and 37 feet of track. The fun is in building this large sucker.

But since no one wants to spend hours constructing a toy only for it to be defective, initial development requires solid engineering and good instructions.

With 20 years of experience in creating construction sets, K’Nex has the kinks worked out in their designs. They also have their engineering tools in place. By using PTC Creo and in-house 3D printing, they can quickly model and prototype all of the pieces used to construct their atomic roller coaster and make sure everything fits together properly. They also used PTC Creo to create perfectly detailed instructions.

When you look at the modern engineering tools used to design and build architectural toys, it’s obvious why four-foot, 1200-piece motorized roller coasters didn’t exist for kids to build in the 80’s. That’s why we got boat engines… with archaic instructions.

In this clip, Vince and Allison speak with designers at K’Nex and learn more about how they design products that will be assembled by kids in the field.

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