Previously we spoke about 3D printers, their promise or lack thereof! I will admit I have been a bit cynical of their reliability, accuracy and actual usefulness. There is absolutely no doubt that 3D printers are here to stay and promise great things for our future. Sadly, for most of us, it still remains in the future. Despite the fact that Adept designs 100’s of parts per month we don’t own a 3D printer and don’t expect to purchase one anytime soon. That’s not to say we don’t utilize rapid manufacturing a great deal. However, by not bringing a single technology in house we are not bound or tempted to fit our process into the single technology we own. Prototyping companies put out a horde of advertising displaying complex assemblies that have been 3D printed in order to entice us towards their machines and services, but beware, (we’ll talk about that a little later). I don’t want to necessarily talk about 3D printers but more about prototyping as a whole. Specifically about when to prototype and when not to prototype, a sort of Shakespearean… “to Prototype or not to Prototype”.
Concurrent Engineering has been a buzz word for decades. I expect that there are dozens of similar terms for all types of development work. They all basically mean the same, relative to foresight and working as a team with the hopes of streamlining the Engineering design process. Within the design Engineering sector the onset of extremely powerful computers and software has made this process enormously easier. Perhaps it is best to look at it as a macro and micro perspective and it all has to happen in a concurrent fashion. From a micro sense, I’m speaking of all the engineering and design factions working as one; conceptualizing, designing and analyzing as one, targeted at producing a virtual prototype (computer simulation/model) that is indicative of the subject product or machine. From a macro sense, during this Engineering design process it is imperative that the Engineers keep in focus; risk, usability, fabrication, cost, marketing, etc.. Whether in a micro or macro sense, it is also important that the governing engineer establishes a level of effort required to satisfy the end objective and organizes and focuses appropriate resources. Knowing what capabilities are within each contributor’s wheelhouse is imperative to operating an effective and efficient team.