The revolutionary HVAC diagnostics system

Imperial® iManifold™

Market Disruption

The Imperial® iManifold™, a 2014 AHR EXPO Innovation Award winner, is the first iOS and Android compatible manifold with remote monitoring and rich data reporting. This revolutionary product's features include: air conditioning/refrigeration equipment profiling, geo-tagging, trending, data logging and real-time equipment performance with true smart diagnostic capabilities.

The Imperial® iManifold™ wirelessly displays the system's actual pressures, temperatures, superheat and subcooling while simultaneously calculating performance targets. The color display provides a visual indication of distance from target measurement, eliminating guesswork.

Accolades & Awards

The iManifold received instant notoriety within and beyond the HVAC community, winning practically every industry award and multiple design awards for innovation and intuitive design. Our design and engineering teams are proud of our collaboration with our client Imperial, and the team at Logisync to develop this product from idea to launch.

Opportunity & Strategy

How was the iManifold conceived? By realizing an opportunity and a need. By 2018, about 67% of the HVAC workforce will be retiring. This erosion of technical knowledge and impending shortage of skilled labor for residential, commercial and industrial customers presented an opportunity. Understanding the need, Imperial Tools, SmartShape and Logisync developed strategies to leverage existing technologies enabling an entry-level technician to be as productive as a highly skilled technician in a very short time.

Ethnographic Research

We study users in their natural environment to better understand the relationship and the influence each has on one another. Understanding behaviors in context to the environment provides true insights which will drive innovation and success. Observing HVAC techs doing their work in various environments allowed us to better understand behaviors and important design legacies. Along with insights from field interviews and trend research, this knowledge was vital in driving the design as we moved forward.

Competitive Benchmarking

Analyzing the competition's product offerings allowed us to better understand how to position the iManifold regarding features, ergonomics, appearance and overall brand experience. This research clearly illustrated an opportunity in the market which the soon-to-be-realized iManifold could capitalize on. Rather than incremental improvement, we stepped back and discovered opportunities for real innovation. Now the entire industry is reevaluating its product offerings rethinking the way HVAC installation and maintenance work is done.

Innovative Concept Exploration

Our design process began with exploring a broad range of possibilities. Should it have on-board display? Connect with smartphones and tablets? What features can we think of to address the needs of the users? The initial concepts illustrated insights discovered in the research phase of the program with key features clearly identified for consideration, along with the visual design and brand language for the new iManifold product line.

Ergonomic Mockups

When developing ergonomics, there is no substitute for actual hands-on evaluation and development. Our in-house model shop allows us quickly and efficiently sculpt and construct mockups for ergonomic analysis, volume studies or explore conceptual mechanical configurations. For the iManifold, we fabricated numerous models throughout development which led to discoveries for improvement of the design. This hands-on discovery and evaluation is an essential part of our process when developing hand-held devices.

Design Development

We develop the design of the iManifold through an iterative approach, quickly working from low fidelity sketches to high fidelity 3D CAD models. As the concept progressed and became more defined, we developed models in 3D CAD. Our design team is expert at surface modeling with the manufacturing knowledge necessary to prepare files for seamless integration into engineering development. Industrial design considerations for the user and engineering considerations for manufacturing and performance are interdependent and developed seamlessly.

Design for Manufacturing

Design optimization for users and design for manufacturability are interdependent. As an end-to-end development firm, we consider manufacturing methods early in our holistic development process to avoid future stumbling blocks. Our engineering team was engaged early in development of the iManifold to facilitate mechanical construction and lend manufacturing expertise. The result was a seamless transition from design into engineering development.

3D Computer-Aided Design

Working in 3D CAD (Computer-Aided Design) allows us to develop and refine the form in fine detail and ensure that we will accommodate all of the componentry and assembly features. With completed external surfacing, we were able to create photorealistic renderings and 3D CAD data allows us to create high-fidelity prototypes by CNC and 3D-printing for ergonomic testing, user evaluation and early marketing purposes. This 3D CAD data becomes the basis for detailed engineering development.

Appearance Prototype

In addition to all of the 3D printing methods, we have the capability to machine prototypes in a variety of materials including the plastics and metals that will be used in production. Clients rave about our perfectly realistic CNC prototypes. Have a marketing photo shoot or tradeshow coming up? Our paint and finish services make prototypes appear exactly like real products. This allows us to touch and feel and evaluate a realistic product and find opportunities to make it even better.

Engineering CAD Development

3D CAD (Computer-Aided Design) allows us to develop complex designs rapidly and with excellent accuracy. Internal structures including button captures, component alignment and housing assembly were all areas for detailed consideration. Plastic and cast metal components were prepared for final testing prior to manufacturing. Our design and engineering teams use the latest and best CAD software systems available, including deep expertise in Solidworks, PTC Pro/E, and CREO.

Electromechanical Design

We specialize in the design of all types of electromechanical devices in a wide range of industries. By integrating motors, PCB’s, displays, electrical assemblies, and other electronics into products, we can seamlessly manage the entire design and manufacturing of your electromechanical device. Electronic component development for the iManifold progressed concurrently with physical product development. We manage this process to seamlessly integrate components into a final product eliminating potential obstacles and delays.

Engineering Prototyping

3D CAD data allows us to produce precision prototypes by all the best methods such as 3D printing and CNC. We use the very best 3D printing technologies for precision and accuracy. And we use precision CNC machining to make prototypes of the specific plastic and metal materials that would be used in production. This type of engineering prototype allows us to test the product performance with prototypes that are very close to as-manufactured products.

Structural Performance Testing

The efficiency and safety of a product may be ensured through engineering testing. HVAC and refrigeration equipment are exposed to the elements and physical demanding use. Through testing, product concerns were addressed early in the design. As our engineering staff iteratively tested the iManifold's design for durability and strength. The structural design of the iManifold was enhanced throughout the development process to meet and exceed user expectations.

UI Design

The depth of information the iManifold would soon process and deliver to the HVAC technician would be powerful. The industry’s long established legacy with their tools needed consideration for incorporation into a full digital interface. Combining industry legacy with clear and consistent delivery of mass information would be key for the iManifold's interface success. We began by understanding the users’ needs and wants through observation which led to actionable insights that guided development of user work flows.

UI Wireframe

Wireframes formed the blueprint for the visual design to follow. Interactions, buttons, and typography locations were defined within wireframes, establishing information hierarchy, element relationships and navigation within the layout. With the amount of information being presented, a rock solid foundation was needed before proceeding in development of the iManifold’s interface. To ensure that we created an intuitive user experience, we used prototyping and user testing early and often to validate our designs.

UI Visual Design

The app's visual design incorporated legacy elements from the HVAC industry into the design building familiarity with current technicians. The dynamic nature of the interface also allowed for real time information to be displayed in relationship to other values within the system giving the technician a clear picture of HVAC system's status. With wireframes validated through usability testing, we blend functionality with intuitive visual design to create a unique branded experience for the users.

Injection Mold Tooling

For seamless transition to manufactured products, SmartShape provided the molds for all plastic and metal parts. Injection mold tooling and die casting are areas of our expertise. Our engineers at SmartShape’s partner firm, SmartMerit, specialize in molding and injection mold tooling. SmartShape works closely with SmartMerit to create production-ready tooling that is high quality and cost-effective. This allows for a seamless experience in obtaining a market-ready product.

Die Casting & Injection Molding

SmartShape, with its manufacturing partner SmartMerit, designs and manufactures hundreds of parts and configurations each year for customers like Steris, GE, ABB, and Honeywell. This capability is helpful for customers like Imperial. Two facilities can accommodate part molding from 50 ton up to 1500 ton injection mold presses. SmartMerit can accommodate our customers with prototype quantities upwards of hundreds of thousands of parts per year.

Deliver

SmartShape’s team of industrial designers and mechanical engineers develop production-ready products from concept to completion. Working as a cohesive team, SmartShape engineers are in collaboration with our manufacturing partner, SmartMerit, to ensure products are optimized for manufacturing and increasing speed to market. Our manufacturing expertise and capabilities are a necessity for smaller clients and a major convenience for larger clients.