Bring those bright ideas out of the closet

Let’s get the No 8 Kiwi Wire ingenuity to work.

 Why? Because the economy is improving, and designers and engineers are still hungry for work. You may just scrape in before they are too busy to spend quality time developing your idea. Good ideas and well developed equipment design takes time, and are done better when there is no other pressing work demands.

We have all PIC

Aaldert Verplanke, mechanical design engineer

aaldert@slingshot.co.nz

Accountants and bankers may also give you some compelling reasons why it is a good time to invest in productivity improvements and new products now the economy is coming out of a low growth period.

As I am not an economist, but a mechanical design engineer, I leave it up to them to convince you.

Let’s get the No 8 Kiwi Wire ingenuity to work.

 

 

We are a nation of inventers

For the younger readers I will explain why. In the early days, we were living in isolation so we started finding ways to make machines and products ourselves. As we had few resources, things had to be simple. Import restrictions also contributed to the drive to make it ourselves. We often copied ideas or products from overseas and gave them a Kiwi twist as our requirements were often different from those in Europe or the UK.

In the beginning of the 1900’s NZ was one of the most mechanised agricultural economies as the new emigrants were bringing new machines in, but these machines had to be maintained of course and spare parts were difficult to obtain or not possible at all. Thus we made them ourselves. Now, we have about five generations of ‘tinkerers’, and this still shows in the ‘can do’ attitude and the skills that are passed on from trades man to apprentice.

LetÕs get back the economies of making new products and machines ourselves.

First of all we now can create a product or machine using 3D virtual reality. We can simulate the movement, and analyse the stresses in a relatively simple manner. More specialised analysis is also possible such as air and liquid flow in and around products.

Thus the chance that the real product may actually work satisfactorily is increased. What also is possible is to refine and re-analyse it to the point where the new design is the best and the most economical option to make.

All very well, but who is going to do the design? Most of you will have some sort of affiliation with an engineering company, but are they the best option? Whatever the product or equipment is that you have in mind, you want someone that specialises in this field or knows who to enlist to take your idea from just a concept to a successful end result.

You have to decide how much you are able to spend, and the risk of losing the investment if the idea does not work. This is for you and your accountant to decide.

One of the more difficult issues is how much control you want to have over the project development. Are you only interested in the return on investment, or do you also have specific quality requirements. Can you break the development up in stages?

Typical stages would be: Design brief, concept development, detailed design and approval, fabrication, testing, modifications and final commissioning.

The design brief must have, clearly written objectives, parameters and relevant information given to the designer. This is the most important part of the project. You have to think through all objectives and the options on how to get there.

Misunderstanding at this stage can be very expensive, and a debate may arise over who is responsible for what.

It is often helpful to have a concept design stage that has a defined time limit or dollar value. This is also a stage where you can assess if the working relationship is viable or not, or needs to be redefined.

It is important to have a sign off on the concept design; this is the point where both parties are able to see the idea coming to life.

In my work as a mechanical design engineer I have had customers who were only interested in the end result, a rough idea of what it would cost and a possible delivery date. In these cases I had to form a relationship that enabled them to understand the problems and the cost.

I had to ensure that the customer was informed about progress and costs. I also had to teach them what input they needed to have. The issues of cost and time estimation are then easier to resolve.

The detailed design and fabrication of the product or equipment is a matter of solving technical problems. If the designers are working in their field of specialisation then this can be reasonably straight-forward, at this point close estimation of the project cost can usually be established.

Now we have come to the testing stage

If we are extremely lucky or know what we are doing, all should be well. At the testing stage adjustments often need to be made or we have to learn how to use the product or equipment.

Time spend on this can vary from 5% to 100% (and more) of time spent on the project so far. This depends entirely on the complexity of the project, but budget on 25%. It is at this stage that problems can arise about who pays for what. How is the performance measured and how close to 100% perfect does it need to be? Getting the last 2% performance improvement can cost 20% 0f the budget.

When I have designed for myself or clients, getting experienced people on board who know the development process and know their limitations is as important as finding the specialists

 

 

 

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