Sloppy Engineering… on Raising the Bar

Since I moved from New England I have worked with several of the largest NW companies. My job with these companies have mostly centered around the development and manufacture of their products. With all of these companies I have witnessed a general lack of engineering discipline being applied to their development efforts. Indeed, I would suggest that often the processes applied resemble the old adage of a thousand monkeys with typewriters. Engineers of these companies would cry out “we follow a PDP! I would contend that this is mostly lip service. Yes, most of these companies have a PDP but few follow it with proper rigor. (See my earlier post on this subject). The Management of these companies often do not understand hardware development. Most seem to come from software backgrounds often devoid of proper engineering learnings, sorry but bits don’t use physics. This leaves the companies without a deep understanding of how to truly develop high quality hardware products. One solution they substitute is the tossing of money at the wall with the hope something will stick, the monkeys at work. I wonder if the stock holders truly knew how much time and money waste there was if they would be very pleased.

While the above statement may appear harsh (as meant), it is my intent simply to be frank (the Yankee in me). I have voiced this before, the level of product development and engineering has not met a high bar. I have nearly four decades of experience delivering on demanding products such as weapons systems, medical devices and surgical instruments. Over this time, I have grown to understand what a quality product development program consists of. If there is a desire to raise the bar to meet such standards then changes in processes and methods, more, in fundamental expectations needs to be made. The creation of and adherence to a rigorous PDP with supporting structures, such as proper design reviews, is a primary requirement. I believe that much can be accomplished with the application of concept generation meetings, brain storming for those less schooled in the craft. I’ll write more about this in my next post.

The following sheet metal corrosion issue is recent example of a miss that occurred. In this example, the PPAP (Design Review) process if practiced would have challenged the completeness of the engineering by highlighting missing or incomplete analysis or the completeness of the manufacturing processes.

A Sheet metal corrosion; there was no understanding that the use of zinc would be problematic with salt spray, that the equipment used to fabricate the components, either laser cutting or the raised burr from punching and the lack of high-end deburr equipment owned by the vendors, would compromise the powder coat process. This demonstrated a lack of depth concerning that zinc would fail in such an environment and that barrier protection was the only method to save the zinc. However, this was further exacerbated by a lack of understanding that powder coats are not impervious to moisture and therefore zinc would fail within a salt spray environment. Yes, they were well schooled but simply, the engineering team was too inexperienced, i.e. young, to know this (See the LEGOS post)

With all of these companies and within their engineering teams there, more often than not, a lack of documentation, including tolerance studies, assembly drawings, analysis, manufacturing documentation, line layouts, detailed production process plans, etc., simply incomplete or just missing. This lack of discipline in the craft exemplifies how casual much of the development process is actually done. I challenge the reader to be truly honest concerning this. I may be provocative but I am also truthful. If the desire is to be world class, then more than a written process needs to be in place.  




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The Pursuit of Engineering Excellence

Personnel is fluid, that staff comes and goes is a natural order, the lose of knowledge that is not captured by process common. This is a critical issue and should not be under estimated, the loss of tribal knowledge has been the death of programs and companies. While personnel are the critical component to inventiveness, leaving knowledge trapped in the individual is wrought with potential failures. People dependency is a bad business decision that needs to be managed. These conditions deprive companies of what they have invested in, the knowledge they paid for, earned by employment. Toyota recognized this very early on and, as they developed their Toyota Production System, made the development of processes a foundation to their program. They recognized that people need to stand on a firm and supportive foundation. Other methods, Motorola’s six-sigma refined by GE and others, also build upon this idea. The American automotive industry, Boeing and other stalwarts of industry also have recognized this. The Production Part Approval Process, PPAP, is a cornerstone for the capture of knowledge. The development of formalized Product Development Processes, PDP, starting in the 1940’s, gaining order under NASA in the 1960’s and reaching the form of Stage-Gate as defined by Robert Cooper in 1984, adapt tasks to the PPAP documentation. Many companies have adopted variants of Stage-Gate processes. Microsoft, HP, Amazon Lab126 all have developed their own versions of PDP. However, many of these companies fail to follow their own processes resulting in a less than rigorous  capture of their learnings.

A solution with PPAP

The capture of knowledge by adherence to a PDP process that utilizes the PPAP components has proven to be a  robust method to reduce or eliminate tribal knowledge within an organization. However, the adoption of the terminology and a superficial application of the process in itself does not meet the need. To actually benefit from the process, deep and thorough dives into the engineering work must be done. The use of design reviews, from concept reviews through manufacturing reviews, is what make this process work. When performed with proper rigor these reviews sort out missing knowledge, confirm decisions and clarify risks. The PDP process reduces schedule and improves quality.

The Engineering process does not end at product development stage, the engineering team owns the entire process from conception through manufacture and, in some cases, end of life disposition. This is important because the engineering team has the most intimate understanding of the design intent. This knowledge is key to the success of the product as it enters the marketplace. As the product moves from one stage to another, the burden of stewardship is transferred from the engineering team to another area expert team. The engineering team has two responsibilities at each hand-off, first is a detailed transfer of knowledge to the next team and second, is the oversight of this new team’s processes used to continue the product journey. As example the transfer from development to manufacture, here the engineering team needs to impart onto the manufacturing team all the knowledge of intent. From this the manufacturing team builds the production line including fabrication methods and assembly fixtures and tools. The engineering team should completely understand this and review all aspects to ensure that these processes meet the design intent requirements. The engineering team should never be ignorant nor apathetic towards the products journey once it has left initial ownership.

The Personality Conundrum

There is often a personal issue with rigorous design reviews. Engineers often feel what they do is complete and are often blind or not welcoming to the idea that other options may exist or other opinions more bear juicier fruit. This can feel as a personal attack on their abilities as an engineer. Getting past the ego is a major challenge with the implementation of an engineering excellence program. Good implementation should instill a sense of working to a best in industry metric along with a recognition that the value of the individual is recognized.

Tribal knowledge
The existence of tribal knowledge within an organization is an indication that knowledge capture and transfer has not taken place. While this concept does not discount, nor discourage the existence of personnel who can provide high quality creative skills it does reflect a lack of completeness within an engineering organization. A key method to overcome this weakness is the application of a rigorous but reasonable process such as the Production Part Approval Process or PPAP as prescribed by the Advanced Product Quality Planning, APQP. This process contains 18 elements’ covering the entire construct of the product. Each of these have their own details and sub-processes. This together help fulfill a Lean method (TPS) to complete a full capture of knowledge.
Best Engineering Practices

The purpose of the engineering excellence process is to reduce costly mistakes such as slipped schedules, cost of product, and defects encountered when a structured process is not followed. This method teaches not only the engineering teams but the entire organization how to apply the appropriate level of process and how to follow the TPS methods. Most importantly it gets the engineers into “engineer think” that results in improvement in the quality of the work produced.

Design Review Rigor

At each stage of the product journey there is the need to hold a deep and rigorous design review. On the most part these reviews should follow a set format that reviews and reinforces the work done. These reviews should embed the pertinent DfX and failure analysis processes. It is often necessary to break the design reviews down to even more discrete reviews to capture details that would otherwise be missed. The goal of the design review is to challenge the design decisions made, not in a negative way but to bolster each decision as sound and prudent, the good decision, and that as complete as practical has been captured. Successful products are “Engineered not Designed”. The lack of engineering will often lead to negative discoveries and the revelation of inadequate decisions. Good and structured design reviews reduce this.

While the above treatise is not inclusive of all the elements for engineering excellence I feel it is a beginning. Artisan-Visum llc is capable to provide training and mentoring with each and all if the elements. Please contact us for more information.

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it’s like a box of Legos

I feel that over the last few years there has been a trend to over value schooling as a substitute for real life experience. I may be noticing this simply because I am nearly four decades in the craft. Perhaps this has made me more observant of the apparent lack of skill but not of ego of many of the younger crowd.

Let’s say school is like getting a bunch of Legos, each may be a decent piece by itself, well made, but you have no idea how to use it, either alone or combined with other pieces.
No school,  no matter how “awesome”, is capable of teaching you to be an actual designer, engineer or artist. It is capable of teaching you parts of a greater whole but not the craft itself.

It is through real and valid experience that you learn how to combine and recombine all the blocks into amazing answers. Quality experience allows you the ability to build fantastical things and become skilled in the craft.

Another point of issue, why is it that there is a belief that only the young have somehow a monopoly on innovation? Where the heck does this come from? I chuckle when I listen to the younger gen x’s and the millennial age groups banter about this. The games they play, the books they read, the products they use. Game of thrones, written by an old guy, movies they watch, produced, directed, written… by old guys, products they buy and use… yup mostly old guys. I remember when I was making toys at Hasbro nearly some thirty years ago when I found that often the most fun ideas were coming from some older guys. This all ties into the whole experience aspect.

I suggest to all those wishing to actually create or have created something great that you look to those who have the experience and have not lost the youthfulness of their attitudes. We do exist.



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Head Trauma and social trends

A recent article in MDT ( discussed findings concerning head trauma. While these findings are medically good, I am concerned with the larger social\ethical issues; Are we headed to a point where the games we play are so vilified that we lose this important aspect of our humanity? Many like myself who played hard and physical sports, who most likely suffered any number of head trauma, would do so again. Physical challenges and the aspect of competitive combat has many benefits to our growth as people. As an ME I don’t see technology eliminating the affect of impact play anytime soon. This is a risk we need to accept an continue with. I am not saying that we don’t strive to improve this situation, however I am saying that we need to “man up” and accept that activities bring risk, Our society is already suffering from the trend to play virtual football instead of the real sort. The leadership and character grown on the field of play is very important to our national health. Learn to take a hit, learn to deal with the pain and grow your character.

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Design vs Engineering in regards to Injection Molding

Don’t get caught up in the misuse of the term engineering when discussing tool and molding. I often see this term used when truly what is done is design. There is a complete disconnect between the tools and the molding process with this approach. Tools that are not engineered but designed are often done as an island without real regard to the overall process. To clarify, a tool is a component of the process and for best results must be integrated for peak performance. Even simple tools are complex in their flow and thermal behaviors. A tool with poor thermal capability will, at least, limit the process by not allowing for a full window to be met. Poor flow characteristics will keep parts from meeting spec and even improper structural properties can interfere with mold performance. In the end guessing at sizes, i.e. design, will never produce the quality of tool that doing the numbers, i.e. engineering, will produce.

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What is it with junior professionals claiming to know so much?

I have been in the design and engineering profession for over thirty years. Most recently there has been a trend where those with little experience are boasting how bad-ass they are or expressing opinions well beyond their pay-grade. I think a lot of this trend started in the early dot-com days when so many young people thought that their short time spent developing an app somehow entitled them to greatness. This trend mostly infected the US, other countries such as Europe and Asia were less enamored with the arrogance of their youth. This problem and it is a problem, can be seen in the awarding of titles to those who certainly have not produced a body of work to justify them. Take a person with five years of Industrial Design experience being labeled a “senior” designer. How can this be possible? How much can you possibly know in five years? Oh, some say it is because they hold an advanced degree. I say, really, that does not pass the test. Earning a degree does two basic things, first it may teach very basic skills in a profession and second, most importantly, it teaches a person how to think, to reason. Neither of these can hold against a person with deep experiential knowledge gained from years of being a practitioner of their trade.

If the trend is not reigned in fairly soon then the US will certainly lose a lot of its competitiveness. I hope the humility enters again into the ranks of our creative industry. Humility is the tempering of arrogance, the character quality that helps turn the young novices into older masters.

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