Turbo Boosting Product Design: Advice from K’NEXperts


Product innovation and design starts for many future engineers at a very early age.  Sarah is what PTC’s customer K’NEX® calls a “K’NEXpert.” She uses K’NEX construction blocks, rods, and connectors to build whatever she sets her mind to. Sarah says she’s been perfecting her full-size chair model (with matching laptop) for more than a year now, and it’s paid off—Sarah is one of this year’s winners of 2013’s K’NEX search for “the coolest, craziest, most ambitious K’NEX builders.”

Meet Sarah – K’NEXpert Winner 2013

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Future engineer!

 Many parents and design engineers might agree that K’NEX Brands is considered the world’s most innovative construction toy company.  It was established to make and sell what has become one of the world’s leading integrated construction systems for children, and is thought of by educators as America’s STEM building solution.  Some of their best known toys include the K’NEX Atomic Coaster and Lincoln Logs® (Licensed by Hasbro®).

 Children as young as the age of 5 years start building with basic K’NEX blocks. Over the years, they add rods and connectors. And by the time they’re 7 or 8, they’re building amazing things, says the team at K’NEX.

“We’re always surprised when we see what these kids build,” says Matt Doepner, engineer at K’NEX. “We’ve seen a New York City skyline, a robot sturdy enough to sit in, and even a bridge spanning a swimming pool that you could stand on.”

“Be patient, don’t give up, and believe in yourself.” –Charlie, 8

It probably wouldn’t surprise K’NEXpert Charlie to know that most of the people who created his favorite toys have been at the company since long before he was born. We recently talked to Doepner and the team about design challenges, patience, and not giving up.  That led us to explore the design process, including how they use PTC Creo.

K’NEX upgraded from Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 4.0 to PTC Creo 2.0 to reduce product design time and increase productivity. “With PTC Creo we can rapidly model and prototype pieces that were critical to constructing the K’NEX Atomic Coaster.  Functions that took 6 hours now take 3 hours. PTC Creo Flexible Modeling Extension (FMX) allows engineers to easily select and edit a range of geometry and features” stated Michael Klitsch, Senior Designer at K’NEX.   For example, Klitsch goes on to say “PTC Creo features made creating instructions for the 1000+ piece K’NEX Atomic Coaster a snap.”

That’s vital when your readers may or may not read English. In fact, they may not read at all!

“If something doesn’t work, try it again a different way.” –Patrick, 11

K’NEXpert Patrick’s approach isn’t entirely different from that of the K’NEX team. With the upgrade to PTC Creo, the K’NEX designers have also used the Freestyle capabilities in PTC Creo Parametric . The team was open to exploring new ways to get products to market faster and they were able to accomplish this objective with PTC Creo.

With the Freestyle capabilities, designers can intuitively create simple or complex freeform shapes with high-quality surfaces.  This capability has been useful on projects like their recent Mario Kart® line.

Licensing characters like Mario® from popular games, movies, and TV add to a product’s appeal. But it also adds a level of complexity to product development. That’s because we need the surfaces to look like the characters and licensing adds a layer of approval to the cycle.

“A review cycle can take up to 2 weeks,” says Cory Mindler, CAD Supervisor for K’NEX. “If we can cut the number of design iterations, we can make a big cut in product development time.”

“I like to start with an idea. I work on my projects for a few days. Each day I make improvements until I am happy.” –Seth, 8

Like K’NEXpert Seth, the team at K’NEX works on an engineering problem until they are happy, too. The good news is with PTC Creo, the team got a “turbo boost” on the project, completing it a month faster than it would have been done using their older version of Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 4.0.

Doepner says that’s because when a licensing company asks for a change to a part, he can easily move a point and get just the right look and feel the first time around.

“Previously, that wasn’t available. In the past, we might have remade the part completely from scratch.” And, the licensing company might have said it still wasn’t quite right. It could have led to more time-consuming iterations.

In the end, a project that once took 6 or 7 months, now takes 5 or 6 for K’NEX due to the power of PTC Creo.

 “Keep building and imagining.” –Patrick, 11

Mario and Mario Kart are registered trademarks of Nintendo

K’NEX® is a registered trademark of K’NEX Limited Partnership Group

Lincoln Logs is a registered trademark of Hasbro

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