Avoiding epic fails…In design

Chris Barclay, Business Development Manager, Motovated Design & Analysis.

Recently I was the incredibly fortunate recipient of a brand spanking new mountain bike. To be fair, I had earned it. It was my 30th birthday and a new bike was well past due.

My wife managed to con my family into contributing towards it and I knew exactly what I wanted. A quick trip to the bike shop in Christchurch and a couple of days later I was in the Port Hills bunny hopping over treacherous terrain. Life was good.

However, I did not take into account the fact that a new bike does not dramatically improve your riding ability, nor does it make you impervious to injury or as some call it, Epic Fails.

Just like mountain biking, epic fails can spell disaster when it comes to engineering design. Some simple truths and common sense can often alleviate a lot of headaches and provide a process that is efficient and reliable. I am not referring to complicated project management software. This stuff is all free!

Talking about collaboration

I am quite a thorough researcher. The process of getting a new mountain bike was not taken lightly. I trawled through MTB forums, magazine reviews and various bike shops. The biggest advantage however; was talking to the end user. In my adventures on local bike trails I talked to dozens of people about the pros and cons of their bikes and all their different geometries and specifications. Every step of the way I was talking to mountain biking mates and sending pictures and links to get their input and feedback.

When considering any product destined for the local or international market, having a collaborative approach should be top of the list. Imagine if Norco Bikes, the company that produced my brilliant steed, decided that the marketing team didn’t need to communicate with the frame design team or the guys in production. Safe to say my new ride would be a bit disappointing.

At Motovated we practise collaborative engineering regularly. Our team will quite often arrange meetings with our clients, their design team, an external manufacturer and numerous other parties. Doing this creates an environment where everyone has the opportunity to add in their opinion and collectively discuss problems and solutions. Not only do you get the benefit of putting all the cards on the table, you also create multiple relationships that can lead to repeat business and referrals.

Right person, right tool
My local bike park in Queenstown is a great place to observe people. More importantly I get the opportunity to check out people’s bikes, their riding gear and different technique’s. It is highly amusing seeing someone incorrectly matched to their bike though.

For example, I saw a rather petite young lady with less stature than Frodo the Hobbit attempting to climb aboard a very large mountain bike. With her feet barely touching the pedals she rode off looking very undignified. I was glad to see several of her friends chase after her shouting advice. Wrong person, wrong tool.

When it comes to design there needs to be some consideration put into who is going to do what. This is where management needs to look carefully at project roles and what tools those people need to succeed. For example, a junior engineer who doesn’t know what FEA stands for is hardly going to be the best person to work with complex analysis software. Extreme example I know, but the basic principle is there.

Each person in a design team has different skillsets and experience with particular software, materials and techniques. An engineer skilled in SolidWorks will also be able to use Inventor but perhaps not Solid Edge ST as efficiently. This in turn creates an opportunity for upskilling and having employees with diverse experience.

With advanced software such as FEA or perhaps CFD, specialised training and experience is required. We often see cases where frustrated engineers can’t get answers from the software or require additional help to get it functioning correctly.

Add the confusion of trying to extrapolate the analysis data to validate other testing results and quite rightly, you have the recipe for an Epic Fail. This process requires time, practical experience, and mentoring from senior analysts who live and breathe the stuff.

A quick and dirty training course is not going to make your pretty FEA picture mean anything. Just like a builder, the tool is only as good as its user. A hair pulling epic fail can be easily diverted when management take the time to assess skills and match it to the right tools for the job. With all our new employees at Motovated we are careful to test capabilities, determine strengths and look at areas for improvement.

Catching the bugs
Mistakes are in human nature. I made the mistake of thinking Asics sneakers were ok to wear on a downhill mountain bike track at Cardrona recently. Queue “Epic Fail” theme music! I ended up in the air with my feet unattached to my bike, the ground rapidly approaching and not much confidence in maintaining my ability to ever have children in the future. Fortunately there was only one family on the chairlift above pointing in horror at my predicament. Lesson learnt.

In product design, mistakes are costly, and the longer it takes to discover a problem, the more costly it becomes. Recently I came across an article written by Dr. David M Anderson.
In it he talks about Design for Manufacturability and what he calls, “The Rule of 10”. Essentially he states that it will cost 10 times more to find and repair a defect at the next stage of assembly, and then it costs an additional 10 times more at each ensuing stage of production. His theory looks something like this below.

It is also possibly that your business will have its own multiplier for this process, such as 5X or anywhere in between. What is more important is the fundamental principle itself.
You could also take this concept and use it at earlier stages during the actual engineering of a product. We all know it is easy to turn a blind eye to something that “wasn’t my fault”.

As time goes on though, those mistakes that should have been resolved at the previous stage are just passing Go and collecting $200 continuously. Eventually they will rear their ugly heads, and screams will be heard around the office. Then there are the mistakes that require tooling changes which can often run into petrifying dollar figures, followed by the CFO paying a quiet visit to your department.

But of course we are human after all. Mistakes do happen. What I want to emphasis is catching the mistakes as early on as possible.
If you haven’t already, bring your fabrication or manufacturing team into the Product Design stage so that concurrent engineering can take place and you will be able to apply the knowledge that they bring to your team. In addition people feel valued when they are included :)

The three points I have just mentioned do not require the IQ of Einstein or a Degree from Harvard. Common sense always prevails and with the careful addition of some maths and physics you can avoid making mistakes. The last thing your business needs is an Epic Fail. Trust me, they are painful.

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