woman doing research

Behind the Scenes: Comau and the Rise of Beautiful Machines

Nov. 10, 2015
Comau's futuristic new concept in machine design looks like nothing else on the factory floor today. And that's the point.

Comau's futuristic new concept in machine design looks like nothing else on the factory floor today. And that's the point.

In Italy last month, amid the massive, raucous onslaught of new machine tool releases and world premieres at Emo Milano 2015, Comau unveiled a new, futuristic concept in machine design that stood far out from the competition.

Pulling in the talents of CNH Industrial’s design team, the robot and manufacturing systems maker revealed two new SmartDrive concepts that seemed pulled straight out of science fiction.

The systems were clothed in illuminated, glowing glass, swirled with slick decals and custom designs, while inside its streamlined robots and machining centers twirled about in their engine manufacturing processes.

The effect is beautiful. It’s futuristic, clean, and disruptive. Almost startling. It looks like nothing else on the factory floor today.

At the show, we met up with David Wilkie—CNH Industrial’s design director—to learn a little more about the concept and why Comau has taken such an artistic leap into the future.

Q: First, the obvious question: Why make machine tools so beautiful?

A: Well, first of all, there was a need to build this product and clothe it in some way. When you do that, you can do it well, or you can do it not so well; you can do it with care, or you can do it just as a way of covering the technological parts.

We decided to do it well and with care.

I feel that it is important that these products be beautiful. I believe that if you are going to have to work with them day in and day out, they should be nice to work with.

You wouldn’t buy an ugly car, so why would you buy an ugly machine? Why work in a dirty, ugly factory?


Q: What you have here is very stylized—a lot of decorations, decals and lights. Are these customizable?

A: Yes, we’re showing a lot of light and transparency here, but these machines will not always be white. These machines can be put into factories where the customers need to customize them. You don’t need to paint them as a traditional machine would have been painted; you can customize it with graphics and light.

Q: So these style elements can be functional as well?

A: Absolutely, yes. For example, if there is an error, you can program the whole machine to flash red and go into flashing mode. When it’s all running smooth, it can run in green.


Q: Looking at all of the new products at the show, most of them seem to be taking aesthetics into consideration much more than in the past. What do you think is driving this?

A: I think it is becoming more and more important to product things that become a showcase for the things they produce. The idea for us is that now there is no reason why a factory can’t be a place where you really want to take people and show them the products being built. I think it reflects in the end products.

If people spend all of their money on the mechanical and the electronic side and then just try to cover it up quickly, people can get the wrong impression about the quality of the product. I think that’s where style or design actually becomes more important than some people believe.

Plus, it’s fun.