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How to Accelerate Your Engineering Builds (and Ensure You Get Parts That Fit)
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Here at Fictiv, we’re all about speed and quality. We want you, the engineer, to get your parts on time—and to get the parts you need and were expecting. Fictiv provides more options and fewer constraints and gives you a system-level view of your design that offers a broad enough sense of how it will work that it can help you make decisions. Let’s talk about how you can identify your project’s most important requirements to fast-track your parts.
In my experience manufacturing prototype parts, there have been two extremes: tortoise and hare. When you use online rapid prototyping services, you get speed, but at tolerancing that requires some custom work with a dremel, drill press, and the ole’ sandpaper. Or, you have the other side of the equation, where you can get what you want—if you don’t mind waiting a while.
All I can say is, “Haaave you met Fictiv?” The aforementioned conundrum has existed for the mechanical engineer for some time, but no worries—that’s exactly what Fictiv solves for.
Here at Fictiv, it’s the year of the tor-are (I won’t be offended if this neologism doesn’t take off). We want you to have “PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWERS” without confining your ingenuity to “itty-bitty living space.”
In designing attributes for Fictiv’s platform, our team used the human centered design method (interviewing extreme users). The point of this method is to aim high for the hard-to-please customers/industry, such that if you solve their problems, you automatically solve for the other customers and/or industries. In other words, Fictiv purposely set the bar high and gave you lots of levers, but you still need to know what lever to pull when.
Fictiv makes it easy to max out capabilities with tight tolerances, multiple finishes, etc., but it’s up to you to decide which of those capabilities you want to choose for your project, based on how fast you need your parts. It’s all about balance. Fictiv’s list of expanded capabilities comes with responsibility: You, the engineer, need to utilize your skills to get down to what is vital. So how do you do that?
“But it’s all important!” you say. Yeah, yeah, I hear ya. You are neither wrong nor right.
Deciding what requirements are the most important to your project all depends on risk. What risks are you as a design team and design engineer willing to carry?
As a design engineer, your biggest risks to schedule are your unknowns. What did you miss? What estimate or assumption did you make that was loosely based on physics, but to be honest, was an ole’ “Yeah, this feels right” kind of back-of-napkin math?
That’s where prototyping comes in and where Design to Value (DTV) plays an important role. Below, I’m going to explain a couple of concepts that you should always be thinking about, if you’re going to be able to identify your vital requirements.
Design to Value has many meanings, but ultimately, it’s simple: Am I making something or doing something to the design, part, or product that customers are willing to pay for? Unless you are making this for yourself, the end goal for any engineer is to make something that someone else wants to buy.
For example, if you need paint, is it serving a purpose (longevity, environmental protection from the elements, etc.)? It’s easy and low-risk to change a part’s color down the road, so if using a certain color expedites the process, go for it.
If you find yourself in many animated debates about this, you are not alone. One important thing to remember: As an engineer, you’re really good at visualizing things in your head, and when you build the options, to help show trade-offs, capabilities, etc., that helps the rest of your team see where things are going.
You, your team, and your boss are always trying to balance requirements (“What must I do ?”), risks (“What should I do?”), and necessity (“What doesn’t actually matter, at all or right now?”). To make engineering decisions, you have to rely on data and safety. Most organizations are trying to solve different risks, and Fictiv helps you look at your design and make critical decisions before you move to the next phase of the development cycle.
How do I make progress and show it’s going to work (math and prototypes)—and ultimately deliver?
This comes down to how you as an engineer make choices. The only people truly allowed to say “because I said so” remain your parents and grandparents. Everyone else in the engineering community: You should have a reason for why you did A vs. B.
Design engineers are responsible for making the product work and sell, and they have to balance Getting Stuff Done (GSD), Good Darn Engineering (GDE), and Design to Value (DTV).
As the engineer, you are constantly in the middle of the chaos of new product development. With your unknown/unknowns, you are always trying to turn over rocks and see what’s under them. If you are not doing this, your project will fail.
It all comes back to Good Darn Engineering: What is the engineering reason for why a press fit is breaking, why something is binding, or why your spring calculation is 25% off? Prototyping is trying to tease these things out and fail fast. If it’s not working, you need to know.
How can you do this? Utilize your manufacturing methods to get what you need (3DP, CNC, IM, etc.). One method is to figure out how many ways you can reduce risk and Get Stuff Done by breaking your problems down, or combining your problems. Another method is bread-boarding.
Bread-boarding is very common in electrical engineering and Arduino kit style but can also be done on mechanical subsystems. How many subsystems can your problems be broken down into? Which problems are low-hanging fruit that can be solved right now? Can I remove features and get my part faster, to reduce risk A? (When I say “remove features,” I mean things like finish, tolerance, inspection, and then actual portions of the part.)
Are you making an engineering prototype, but industrial design wants a nice, barrel-shaped outside contour that requires a 5 axis, $$$, and time, or could you make it a cylinder, no finish, and focus just on fits and assembly steps? Does the anodization or alodine impact your assembly (yes, it likely does), so maybe it’s worth adding that but forgoing the powder coat?
Or, maybe you want to add anodization, because you are a good engineer and know it increases the life expectancy of the part, but this happens to be prototype only and is only going to be used for the next 6 months in the lab, not exposed to environmental elements. You might make a Design To Value choice not to do that finish, in order to get the part two days faster and cheaper.
If you break your problem down into “What am I trying to solve?” and “If I do this, what risk do I bring into the project?”, you’ll be able to decide what is vital to your project. If you arrive at the fork in the road and have options, sometimes you parallel path, and sometimes you just spend the money and time to cover your bases.
Looping it all back to Fictiv, you can see that we’ve consolidated access to top machine shops all over the world. We’ve made it easy to get Design for Manufacturability (DFM) feedback on 3D printing and CNC machining capabilities (“Can this be made?” is step 1, right?) and then added the ability for you to add a drawing, which can include loads of engineering requirements that could be pivotal to the success of your project.
We then went beyond those capabilities and, knowing engineers need finishes on parts all the time to reduce risk, added that option. We’ve added software features like “move-to”, so you can rearrange quotes, move parts around to different quotes to unblock some parts, and move other parts forward.
Why? Because Fictiv is a platform by mechanical engineers for mechanical engineers. At Fictiv, we want you to chase your design, not chase parts. We are striving to give engineers as many knobs, dials, buttons, bells, and whistles as possible.
Just because you have a piano, that doesn’t make you a pianist. That burden falls on you, but we’re here to help you GSD in the way that works best for you and your team.