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Rhino : Designing a new Mekamon

We announced MekaMon V2 recently and with it comes a brand new MekaMon colour variant. The grey ‘Rhino’ unit has been kept under wraps by our product design team who have been working hard to design the perfect flagship for a new era of MekaMon. Here, Daniel Stuart-Cross our Lead Industrial Designer of Hardware takes us through the process of designing Rhino. 

The process started about a year in advance from release. The Marketing Department and CEO Silas Adekunle approached asking for a new third colour option for the release of a new generation of MekaMon.

The first step in the design process is to establish timelines, design strategy and design limitations. Our new colour scheme had to work with the existing tan colour legs used on both the black and the white robots. We also had to future-proof the design to work with add-ons later. Having identified our limitations, the next step was to develop a backstory; a purpose for the new colour scheme in the MekaMon Universe. With everything we design at Reach Robotics, no matter how big or small the project, we create a backstory before we put pen to paper. This helps the designers focus the design ethos and develop a coherent style from overall design semantic down to the smallest detail such as a decal. In the existing MekaMon Universe, the white Mekacademy and black Delta units are owned by very different organisations; the elite Mekacademy training school and the Delta military squadron, a highly trained covert black ops team. So, we decided to create an identity for a Japanese private military contract company in the MekaMon universe who would later develop to become the Rhino Clan.

The final limitation was our injection moulding tool groupings. Many of the plastic parts on the MekaMon are moulded together in the same steel tool. As such, groups of certain plastics have to be the same colour. We are not just able to fill a colour in wherever we like.

Having established all of our limitations it was time to start designing! The next step was to generate some image and mood boards of existing colour and graphic schemes we liked; everything from corporate logos and NASCAR colour schemes to District 9-style alien weapons. This allowed the designers to quickly explore and communicate a direction.

Then, using these style boards and a mixture of photoshop and key shot rendering software we began to try out different colour pairings. Like a Mark Rothko painting the key to beauty is in the subtle balance of proportion of colour. Almost any colours can be paired but each has its own weight and dominance. The first output was 10 rendered robots each with a unique colour scheme, we picked 4 of these to develop further. Next, we focused on decals for each design. We developed 4 sets of unique decals to compliment each of the 4 colours, developing the 2D artwork with a mixture of pencil sketches and Adobe Illustrator vector artwork.

Once the artwork was complete, it was time to make a model of each design. The artwork was compiled and sent off to our rub down transfer supplier. While they where being produced we paired our colour choice with a Pantone colour value and mixed up some paint in house. Stripping down existing robots into parts, we repainted them section by section and applied the rub downs, finally sealing them in with a hard coat to protect the fragile decals. We then had 4 new beautiful robots to present to the executive team for review.

Following the review we opted to go for the grey scheme with yellow accents because it it worked best with our existing black and white robots and would allow us to create add-ons to fit all three colour schemes.

Now we had a finalised design it was time to refine for production. Getting the coloured plastics we wanted was relatively simple; we sent off Pantone numbers or colour chips to our pigment supplier and they send back ABS plastic colour chips for approval. Once approved, they sent a technician to our factory who hand mixed powered ABS pigment into our master batch and we test shot all the plastic parts under different conditions until we reached a perfect product.

The decals, however, are a bit more complex and require more experimentation. They are applied through a process called pad printing whereby a steel die captures ink in a recess shaped into the form of the decal. Then, a silicone pad comes and the wet ink sticks to the pad and is transferred to the plastics when pressed on. Due to the flexibility of the pad, artwork can get deformed when applied, so there’s a lot of attention to detail. This process in itself is not that slow, however, like an enamel paint, the ink requires 12hrs before it is fully cured.

In the end when all of this was planned and resolved we had a plan and a production prototype. It was then handed over to Operations and our design role was complete.

This content originally came from our friends at Reach Robotics. Check out some of the other amazing things they do here or their Bristol Calling profile here!