1 Politecnico di Milano, Design Deparment (ITALY)
2 Politecnico di Milano, Department of Chemistry, Materials and Chemical Engineering “G. Natta” (ITALY)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2020 Proceedings
Publication year: 2020
Pages: 6407-6415
ISBN: 978-84-09-17939-8
ISSN: 2340-1079
doi: 10.21125/inted.2020.1720
Conference name: 14th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 2-4 March, 2020
Location: Valencia, Spain
Technological epiphanies constitute an innovation strategy in which radical innovation given by the design intersects with a radical technological innovation. To create a technological epiphany two aspects are needed: a new technology and the attribution of a new meaning. In the context of technology epiphanies, product design plays a key role, acquiring the role of differentiator and enabler of innovation. Companies are increasingly looking for technology epiphany, thus investigating how a new technology enables the creation of new products and services that are more meaningful for the people, even if these meanings do not fit with existing needs.

In this perspective, the laboratorial activity “SMA-tech Epiphanies” focused on the application of Shape Memory Alloys (SMAs) in product design. The activity has been conducted in collaboration between a leading company in the SMA industry and dedicated to students of the MSc Integrated Product Design course at the School of Design of Politecnico di Milano. The objective of the activity is to make specific qualities of SMA materials visible by finding new applications and functions in the B2C market. The "meaning" of the "value proposition" linked to the development of a specific product application has been consistent part of the exercise.

SMAs are stimuli-responsive materials: they use heat as an input to change their shape. More in depth, they are able to return to a pre-set shape when heated above a transition temperature. SMAs show different qualities as actuators, such as: carrying out a significant action; being temperature sensors, operating silently, and being light and hidden. For these reason they can establish new user-product relationships, generate surprise and amazement, enable more sustainable, light, silent, and intelligent systems.

The proposed activity has been structured into five main steps, following the alternation of a divergent phase and a convergent one. In the first step the class was asked to reflect on several dichotomies linked to existing actions that mechanisms usually may perform: open/close, wrap/unwrap, push/pull, and so on. In the second step, a reflection on possible fields of application of the presented technology was required to students and in the third step the class had to fill a matching matrix. This allowed concepts generation by mixing every dichotomy with the enlightened application sectors, closing in this way the divergent phase. For the convergent phase, an increasing amount of technical information about the technology has been provided to the students, so that they were able to identify and analyse product requirements and constraints (fourth step). Constraints identification necessarily pushes toward a selection of concept proposals (fifth step) and then through the concept development (sixth step).

The active participation of the company had a double value: on the one hand the students got in touch with a complex technological reality, while on the other the company was able to experiment innovation strategies based on technological epiphany to reach a B2C market. The product development activity has also filled the gap between technology and design, making both innovation drivers. This paper presents also an experiment of multidisciplinary teaching: one of the two teaching units has a strong technical-scientific know-how on functional materials, while the other on Strategic Design and Design Management for technological innovation.
Technological epiphanies, smart material design, dichotomies, shape memoty alloys, academia-company collaboration.