“With great power comes great responsibility.” I’ve always expected a bit more from this quote. If Peter Parker is who claims it, so be it. Don’t get me wrong, I love Spiderman movies. What’s not to like about a good guy winning and getting the girl. Unfortunately, in the world of engineering, we are not always fortunate to have the same fate. We are given great power and responsibility, but without the girl (or guy, let’s stay on theme…Spiderman and all). The power to engineer and develop in the virtual world is fantastic and has granted us unimaginable vision and responsibility.
I remember when, here we go again, we worked with ink pens, eraser shields and imagination. The days of ink pens and eraser shields are gone; however, our imaginations are alive, well and running wild. In the late eighties, I recall discussing and arguing how much time (aka, money) 3D CAD was going to save. After all, if the exorbitant amount of money on hardware, software and support were to be justified, then there must be a tangible metric to substantiate the risk. That was the challenge. How do you calculate the reduced risk of greater insight with a bigger and better toolbox? I wasn’t the most popular guy in the room in those days because while everyone insisted that there would be time savings, I suggested the
The image above is an automated wake board towrope retriever prototype.
exact opposite. Looking back on that time, if I was armed with my last 25 years of experience and the hindsight that comes along with it, I would’ve made a much better argument. In effect, the time savings (and money) does not come from any one discipline. It is generated throughout the entire process, “from art to part”. I loved this phrase, “from art to part.” Like everything else in marketing and sales, I’m sure it will make its’ comeback. The reason I love this phrase is because it emphasizes the fact that engineers are artists.
As we look at the whole process, from a clean sheet of paper (or computer screen) to a virtual prototype and on to the physical prototype, the engineer has a quiver of tools at their disposal. Or, do they? We’re all familiar with the cliché, “the right tool for the job.” Like most clichés, they tend to point out the obvious. The fact of the matter is we don’t always have or can afford the right tool. And, there lies the quagmire, an extremely important decision of when and how to use these tools. The term tool is a very broad and involved topic for engineers. Not only are there an enormous number of tools, the methods in which we use them expand our capabilities, exponentially.
The image above is a Boeing 737 PSU Reading Light design utilizing the latest in LED technology.
Working for companies like Boeing, Sikorsky or NASA, these decisions are much simpler, (Friends, please don’t shoot me and hear me out). Not only are your company pockets deep, you also possess the responsibility of engineering systems for which human life is reliant, therefore giving you, the engineer, a tremendous amount of clout. However, for the other 90% of the engineering community (don’t quote me on that), we don’t have such clout, yet the responsibility is still very real and present. We work within much more modest budgets and ridiculously rapid schedules to create something from nothing, requiring creativity not only in our designs but in our engineering methods in which we bring them to fruition.
Creating something from nothing is what engineering is all about. Generating the physical prototype from virtual concept is both our friend and our foe. To create or not to create that is the question! Sorry had to do it… This brings me back to the process, the process of creating with powerful tools. These tools enhance our ability to create in a virtual world that is quite wonderful, yet empty. In the end, an engineer creates the physical prototype. This is the question I look to discuss and answer…When and how do you take a virtual concept to physical prototype? How do you resist the lures of remaining virtual or going physical? More to come soon!