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When Masuri Helmet’s approached Visitech’s Alan Meeks to redesign the cricket helmet it was a project that called upon all the skills he had developed over 40 years as a designer. Cadtek Systems recently met up with Alan to find what brought him from being an illustrator in the 1970’s to running his own successful design consultancy and how CAD design has evolved over those years.

Alan’s career has covered many industries and has recently brought him to the world of sport when he was asked to design the next generation of cricket helmets. The need for additional protection in cricket helmets was made clear after the tragic death of Phillip Hughes, who suffered a blow to back of the head from a cricket ball in 2014. Designed in SOLIDWORKS by Alan, Masuri have released their latest product, the Stem Guard. It adds extra protection to back of the neck and is the first in the world to offer this kind of protection.


Alan Meeks of Visitech Design

Alan Meeks of Visitech Design

The Early Years – 1970’s

Before being an established Design Consultant Alan, a fresh faced graduate, started looking for a career in Graphics or Art rather than Engineering Design having studied the subject at Basingstoke Technical College (now BCoT – College of Technology). But it wasn’t long before he put his product design skills to use.

“In 1975 I got my first job was as illustrator for a plastics moulding company (ITW Fastex Ltd). However, after a few months they ran out of illustration work so they put me in the design department. I stayed there for 9 years designing and developing products, mostly for the automotive industry.”

At that time, long before 3D CAD, Alan used pen and ink on polyester film to draw up designs and soon became a very proficient draftsman and designer.

“I worked very closely with customers and also worked in tool design, tool making and was closely involved with the moulding process itself. The skills and knowledge I gained at this time gave me a very solid grounding in product design and manufacturing.”

Basingstoke Technical College

Basingstoke College of Technology today (Source: www.bcot.ac.uk/)

Racing Years

During his period working at ITW Alan’s focus changed from a career path to dreams of one in motorcycle racing.

“Working at ITW worked out well because the company and in particular the tool room manager, Tim Combes, allowed me the full use of their tool room and model shop facilities to keep my bike in working order.”

However, after nine years of competitive racing, motorcycle championships remained a dream. “I realised I wasn’t going to be the next world champion, I had a mortgage, a girlfriend and increasing commitments, so I looked for a better job.”

Mars Electronics – 1980’s

To get a better job Alan needed to upskill and the emergence of 2D CAD was the obvious route. It wasn’t long before an opportunity at Mars Electronics came along with almost double Alan’s existing salary as a project manager.

“Mars (Electronics) were investing heavily in CAD at the time and eventually, after a false start, installed several seats of Hewlett Packard’s ME10/ME30. I loved it and found it a very powerful design tool for its time.”

DraftSight 2D CAD

Above: DraftSight – A free 2D CAD tool from SOLIDWORKS

“Mars (Electronics) was a great company to work for but their core product was becoming dated and in the four years I worked for them, the industry they were supplying to was changing very quickly.”

“The first half of 1980’s saw a boom for Mars ultimately, employing nearly 1000 members of staff, but rapidly growing competition in Europe and the Far East meant that their massive share of a steady world market started to diminish.”

Because of this, inevitable cutbacks were required towards the end of the 1980s. Alan was left with a decision to stay or take voluntary redundancy and start up his own business.

Birth of Visitech – 1990’s

“All throughout my employment I had been doing a little work on the side with small design jobs but also with a lot of graphic design projects. I still thought I wanted a career in Graphic Design, so I enquired about the redundancy package. Mars told me what they would give me if it went through, so I was determined to go for it. The package wasn’t particularly generous but more than enough to start a Graphic Design business… so, I set the wheels in motion.”

With a company name Visitech, a play on visual and technical design. Alan put together a business plan and set up a Barclays business account and even started trading.  But like any business venture, it is never plain sailing.

“Typically Mars said, ‘we don’t want to lose you, so we can’t give you the redundancy package’. A few weeks later in July 1989, after re-mortgaging, I handed in my notice and Visitech Design was born.”

The dream of being a graphic designer didn’t last long though. Soon Alan realised there was more work and more money in product design.

“I literally went back to the drawing board and offered mechanical design services using pen and paper. I took on a lot of work for Mars (Electronics) and there was growing pressure from them and other customers to buy a CAD system.”

Enter Cadtek Systems

“I investigated the whole CAD market, but because I had learnt how to use it and because of the help that Cadtek gave me, I bought/rented one seat of ME10/ME30.” (ME10: A software Cadtek use to support in the early 1990’s which became Solid Designer, a Co-Create product. No longer supported)

Contractors were brought in to help with peaks in workload so another seat of ME10/ME30 was added. Visitech was on the move.

Moving to SOLIDWORKS – 1998

Renting two seats of SolidDesigner (now a PTC product) was proving costly. “It was horrendously expensive and with a general depression in UK manufacturing during the late ‘90s I needed to rethink my whole business.”

Alan said goodbye to the contractors, stopped his support contract for Solid Designer and went back to working from home. But by this time there was a new kid on the block, SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD, which offered professional grade 3D modelling and it wasn’t long before Alan and Mars Electronics joined Cadtek in moving to SOLIDWORKS. (SOLIDWORKS was released in 1995)

Screen shot showing SOLIDWORKS '97

“Mars Electronics must have been thinking the similar things and they moved from SolidDesigner to SOLIDWORKS in or around 1998. MEI (as they were then known) asked if I would do a short contract with them developing a brand new product for the cash handling industry. This meant I had to work on site at Winnersh and I had to learn how to use SOLIDWORKS 98. That was my cue to ditch Solid Designer and move to SOLIDWORKS. It’s been SOLIDWORKS ever since.”

Designing Through the ‘Naughties’ – 2000’s

Since adopting SOLIDWORKS with Cadtek Systems Alan has worked on a variety of products in numerous industries including the automotive, aerospace, white goods and leisure industry.

This experience in sheet metal, castings, composites and glass allows Alan to work on some quite unique projects for both large corporations and one-off products for private individuals. Renowned inventor Dr John Taylor enlisted Visitech’s services to help with the creation of the now famous Corpus Clock with its time eating Chronophage.

The Corpus Clock is the invention of Dr John Taylor and was created with the help of a number of engineers and artists including Alan Meeks. The Graticule or Measuring Dish for the Corpus Clock was designed and created by Visitech using SOLIDWORKS and CNC machined in aluminium and silver before gold and rhodium plating. It was unveiled at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge on 19th September 2008 by Prof Stephen Hawking.

You have actually most probably seen some of Alan’s work on the big screen recently.

Brushing shoulders with Hollywood Alan has “experience in the film industry, supporting costume departments for Warner and Disney. Including several of the Star Wars films. In contrast I also have experience in jig and tool design, in special purpose machinery, complex mechanisms and engine design”. There’s nothing like bringing you back to earth than designing a crankshaft, connecting rod and sump!

Inventor Dr John C Taylor OBE

Inventor Dr John C Taylor OBE

Corpus Clock

Proffessor Stephen Hawking & Dr Taylor at the 2008 Corpus Clock unveiling in Cambridge.
(Credit: http://www.johnctaylor.com/)

Changing the Sporting World for the Better – 2010’s

Recent times have brought together Visitech, B M Injection (also a Cadtek customer) and Masuri, a supplier of Sports safety equipment. Masuri are involved in the sport of cricket all the way from the governing bodies, the professional players to the enthusiastic weekend player.

Masuri recognising the growing demands of the sport and with Managing Director Sam Miller on board, relocated to Twyford, Hampshire in 2011 and set about switching manufacturing to the UK. Having the design, development and manufacture sourced locally in the UK gives Masuri better control over quality, costs and the production time.

They approached B M Injection, based in Whitchurch Hampshire (also a Cadtek customer) owned by Tim Combes, someone Alan has worked with in the past.

BMI Injection

Hampshire based BMI Injection
(credit – www.bminjection.co.uk/)

“The original Masuri helmets were handmade from foam filled, thin fibre glass shells. There was a need for something safer and easier to produce in large numbers. B M Injection were more than capable of producing them but there wasn’t yet a design of helmet to do just that.” Tim Combes’ recommendation was to approach Alan Meeks at Visitech.

“Tim and I have had a long history and have worked together on many projects, so to get together with Masuri and thrash out what was required was a fairly straightforward process. Masuri knew what they wanted, something that looked better but in-keeping with their traditional helmet design and that met all the new safety standards.”

Designing the Vision & Legacy series

The design of the visor, how it’s mounted and the design of the peak are all critical. Masuri have recently launched a “Legacy” helmet range. It is a cost reduced product for a larger market but must still meets the safety standards. With the “Vision” and other top of the range Masuri Helmets the design exceeds the requirements of the safety standards. They are made to the highest quality standards with optimum materials, finishes and player visibility. However they come at a higher cost.

“The Legacy range had to be more economical to produce” and consequently the design had to be optimised for cost vs strength vs visibility, but still meet the standards.

For Alan there were two key areas. Firstly the shell assembly had to absorb the impact of a ball travelling over 80mph to prevent possible concussion and any form of injury to the scalp. The second and most challenging requirement was to create a helmet and visor design that prevented the ball from reaching the players face but didn’t impede the player’s vision. This is where SOLIDWORKS Simulation proved its worth.

“It would be easy to make a visor that closed up all the gaps where a ball could get through, but if the player couldn’t see properly through it, he wouldn’t wear it. Using SOLIDWORKS Simulation to explore the strengths and weakness of the helmet structure, I was able to get the best out of the mouldings with the minimum amount of metal and plastic.”

Masuri has been so impressed with all the products from the Vision Series to the Legacy range and the service they get from B M Injection, that the relationship and the business partnership has grown from strength to strength.

World mourns death of Phillip Hughes

When Phil Hughes was tragically killed in November 2014 by being hit by a ball on the neck, Masuri responded very quickly to support Cricket Australia and immediately got involved in the investigations into the causes of Hughes’ death.

Twenty-20 cricket provides a more interesting way of playing cricket but the combination of quicker attacking bowlers and the need to make every ball count has led to a game that has become faster and more aggressive. The ball is being bowled faster and higher and the batsmen are taking more risks. Phil Hughes miss-hit a “bouncer” and the ball was deflected straight at his head. He leaned back and turned his head away from the ball leaving his neck exposed. Cricketers are aware of the dangers of a ball bowled short known as a “bouncer” and the rules do attempt to limit the way these are used.

“Design is so often a compromise between function and ergonomics and the Vision series was developed as a good balance between player protection and player usability. The shape of the helmet behind the visor was lowered slightly to improve protection without restricting the player’s movement or vision. However no one could have predicted the severity of what happened to Phil Hughes.”

cricket bouncer example
Phillip Hughes

Top: A typical cricket bouncer delivery. Bottom: Phillip Hughes who died in 2014 from a brain haemorrhage after being hit on the neck  following a ‘bouncer’.

Experts have confirmed that the clinical cause of death was “vertebral artery dissection”, very rare with only 100 cases ever being reported and only one from a cricket ball impact. Alan highlights that “the helmet Phil Hughes was wearing was an old design but there was no cricket helmet nor has there ever been that would have helped”.

The Stem Guard

This incident highlighted the need to constantly be looking to improve safety equipment. Following the tragedy Visitech, B M Injection and Masuri worked very closely and quickly together to produce the “Stem Guard” which is a clip-on addition to the Masuri helmet range that protects the vulnerable part of the player’s neck on either side behind the visor.

“The hard shell of the helmet cannot be extended into the area where Phil Hughes was hit because the player would be unable to move his head around freely and face the ball in normal play. The solution was, therefore, to design a flexible add-on system that would cover the vulnerable area of the neck as the player faced the bowler but had enough “give” to allow the player unrestricted movement of his head.”

masuri stem guard

The Masuri Stem Guard as designed by Visitech design.

“If it was too stiff, it could irritate the player and distract him during play. If was too flexible it may get out of position when it was needed. The secret was to find an ideal shape to maximise the protection but still allow maximum freedom for any shape and size of player.”

Visitech design with SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD
Visitech design with SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD
Visitech design with SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD

Alan, BM injection and Masuri continue to work closely to raise the safety standards in Cricket and other sports. The Stem Guard itself is available now and currently being used by professional cricketers across the world. For more information on this or any of the topics raised please feel free to get in touch with one of our representatives using the links at the bottom.