QUESTIONS EVERY ENGINEER SHOULD ASK
SEVEN QUESTIONS EVERY ENGINEER SHOULD ASK THEMSELVES
No matter where you are while reading this article, a quick look around will put you face to face with the fruits of an engineering genius. From the chair you’re sitting on, to the device you’re reading with and these products are only a tip of the iceberg of the brilliant feats of engineering. But what actually separates great products from good ones? Or in other words what should every engineer know to be successful? Here are 7 must knows based on our own in-house experience…
1: What are the requirements?
Before tackling any engineering project, it is important to understand the “why” of the product. Why are we making this product, what are we improving and what are the requirements we should keep in mind? That’s why it is so important to prioritise before diving in. Clearly state what problems you should tackle first, and research the technical as well as the legal requirements. You’ll soon notice that technical requirements can be so controlling that it determines the shape of the product. Therefore, a great tip is to let engineers join designers for brainstorms at the beginning of projects. This way you’ll create a product based on key user insights and avoid the most common downfall for a product, insufficient value to command end-user attention. Afterall, the designer might envision the model, but it’s an engineer’s job to make it operable without ruining the aesthetics.
2: How can I make it in a way that it works?
Whichever field you work in, it is important to maintain basic interdisciplinary knowledge. You’ll quickly notice that you will never stop learning and a broad point of view always comes in handy. It is very likely projects will require learning new skills or disciplines. This could range from having to learn new software such as arduino to prototype connected electronics, or using the latest shape optimizer tools to let the CAD software determine the most efficient shape. Older engineers will probably laugh while reading this, but engineering is definitely not what it used to be a few years back. Although a big part of engineering is still experience, gut feel, prototyping and testing. We can now rely on tools like a FEM analyses to cross-check typical areas of interest such as a structural analysis, mass transport and electromagnetic potential. Cause afterall, you want to make sure all the mechanics and electronics match, especially for products you entrust your life to.
3: How can I reduce the carbon footprint?
This question should be top of mind when tackling any project. Unfortunately, it has still not become a standard point of thinking in our industry since it is a step that too many engineers still skip while it can have a huge impact. We’re not saying it is easy, but sustainable optimal thinking shouldn’t be underestimated. This is proven by the fact that even CAD programmes are developing more and more tools that assess sustainability during the early stages of product development. We personally believe sustainability can be approached from multiple angles, such as using as much recycled material as possible, instead of virgin material. However, if this means new molds or machinery alterations should be made, clients or investors are likely to say no to the idea. That’s when it is time to remind them it is a marathon not a sprint. It is perfectly possible to become more sustainable by taking small steps that use current production processes.
Don’t believe us? To improve the packaging of a shampoo bottle, we proposed to mix more recycled material. Unfortunately the use of virgin material turned out a lot cheaper, since the change would have required heavy investments in the production process. Nonetheless, we were determined to find a solution and after thoroughly reviewing the current bottle, we discovered the same result could be achieved with less material. This might seem silly at first, but you’d be shocked of the positive effect this ‘small’ change will have overtime.
4: What material is best suited for this application?
Although you should have picked up the base principals during your years of university, every project will still require lots and lots of research. From doing desktop sampling to visiting trade shows and fairs, it’s key you stay up to date with constantly emerging new materials. Often the requirements and production volume will determine which materials can be used. That’s why it is such a big challenge for producers to introduce new materials that can work on existing molds and production methods, since changing these will call for high investment costs. The material characteristics will make it possible to make it on the list but it is experience that will teach you the positives and negatives of using a specific material.
5: How can we produce it?
The first question to ask when looking at production techniques is what tooling is required? While your choice of materials will dictate the production method, it is the series-size that will determine the feasible possibilities. Luckily, new materials are constantly being adapted to be used in Additive Manufacturing, and process parameters for the machines are constantly being improved. As a result, it is becoming more affordable to produce small sequences. A great example is ‘ABS’, depending on the product and sequence you can now work with costly injection molds or choose to print in 3D. Nonetheless, you also need to keep in mind that using different techniques will also change the stress-strain relationship.
Another big factor in the how can we produce it, is where it will be produced. Although outsourcing to developing countries might seem cheaper at first glance, experience will teach you that it also comes with a higher risk of wrong deliveries and unasked product changes which will consume a lot of time and energy. Therefore, the more complicated the product, the more likely you would want to get it produced closer to home to avoid costly miscommunications.
6: What is the most economical and efficient way to produce it?
As previously mentioned, a good engineer has an understanding of different disciplines, this also covers having an idea how business and the market work. You can design and engineer great products but if the production is unaffordable they will never reach the market. That’s why it is crucial to have a sense of existing as well as future production & logistic processes, investment costs and point of sale. It is clear that materials, production technique and series size will greatly influence the needed budget, all of which are things that engineers look at when tackling a project. CAD programs already have some functionalities that keep account of this, but so far these tools are not at the necessary level yet. So you will still need to compare quotations to get a realistic reference price. Some great advice is to have an extra look at it. At the end of a project our engineers always do a double check to try to make the production as affordable as possible. This could be quite simply by using a minimum variety of material or by merging components and trying to put more functionalities in them.
7: Murphy’s law — everything that can go wrong will go wrong, how do I cope with that?
Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” and it couldn’t be more true. We’ve all been there, on paper everything seems perfect but in reality you just wanted to scream because it doesn’t seem to work. Remind yourself of the old saying “fall seven times stand up eight.”. Contagious optimism is definitely an essential asset engineers must have if they want to get things done. After all, there isn’t much you can do but to cry it out and start over. However, a great tip: Next time you’re ready to light your product on fire before it even sees the light, remind yourself there has never been a better time to be an engineer. If there is one thing we learned is that you should never be afraid to try different things and that you can identify great opportunities in uncertainty. So, ready to give it a go, and leave a positive mark on the world?