Monday, January 17, 2011

Over Engineered - it's Good, Not Bad

On a recent visit to a customer of ours near Traverse City, Michigan, I came across a phrase I hadn't heard before and honestly didn't really understand, "Over Engineered." I had just read a review on our customer's product where the author had used the term "Over Engineered" to describe the product.  I was trying to figure out what the author was trying to tell us. I began to think of situations that I have come across in my years at FISHER/UNITECH and different products or stories that I could equate to being "Over Engineered." One situation came to mind.

A customer had told me the specifications of a game system that was going to be mounted inside commercial aircraft for passengers to use to entertain themselves in the air. He went on and on about all the testing that needed to be done, which all made logical sense to me, but then he informed me that there were regulations to ensure the device could handle temperature swings from -50 to 200 degrees. I'm sure that is great and all, but you know who isn't going to handle temperature swings of that magnitude? This guy! What good does it do to have the product survive if the passenger does not? So is that what "Over Engineered means?" I don't think so, seems more like over regulated to me.

I thought maybe there is no such thing as "Over Engineered." It's a lot like saying someone is too rich or too nice or too pretty (FYI I am two of three so that is coming from experience.) To quote Alan Jackson's hit single, "Too Much of a Good Thing, is a Good Thing." Sure, if you are, or have, too much of something it could cause some issues. We have all heard the pretty girl complain that men aren't "brave" enough to approach her or the lottery winner complain about the problems caused when every Uncle Joe and Cousin Bob coming looking for their share of the fortune. I think in the same way people equate "Over Engineered" to being a bad thing, either in that it costs too much or delays the "time to market" of a product. Without the correct tools in place this could all be very true, but with SolidWorks CAD software and a Dimension 3D Printer from Stratasys, this is no longer the case.  In fact, "Over Engineered" should become the norm.

Now back to our customer. They are a pharmaceutical device company, designing, manufacturing and selling to drug makers. Most of their products are never seen by anyone outside of a pharmaceutical drug plant. To aid in the design process they purchased a few seats of SolidWorks and shortly after purchased a Dimension Elite 3D Printer. They quickly reaped the benefits of the two products and were able to come up with better designs cheaper and faster which led to getting their products to market faster. Customers like this are becoming the norm; you will be hard pressed to find a consumer good in your home that didn't involve a 3D Printer in it's design; whether it's your car, vacuum or stapler. I would be willing to bet the lid on the cup of coffee you are drinking right now was originally built on a 3D Printer or it's negative was and then material was vacuum formed or blow molded around it to ensure form, fit, and function prior to going into production.

One evening on a cross country flight the owner of this company found he had a problem...his arms were getting tired from holding his iPad while watching a movie. Seems easy enough right? Go purchase a stand for it. Well he looked into it and found that all the stands on the market were made for just one particular device, or were too big, too expensive or too easily broken. Not to mention they were all manufactured overseas. As any inventor would do, he went straight to the drawing board and came up with a simple solution to his problem.  One day and maybe $2 in material cost later, he had a stand. In talking with different people he found that he wasn't the only one having this particular problem and found that there might be a potential market for a product of this type. Over the next few weeks he spent a half hour or so after his regular business activities and started design what is now known as 3feet. Each evening he would design several iterations of the product in SolidWorks, send them to his Dimension Elite 3D Printer, and in the morning he was able to take his parts out of the machine, test them for form, fit , and function and see what changes could and/or should be made. He was also able to quickly alter his design to fit multiple products (i.e., iPhone, iPad, Nook, Kindle) instead of designing various stands for each one.

SolidWorks and the Dimension 3D Printer also helped with marketing. If I learned anything from my first job at a grocery store as a teenager, besides never to put the eggs on the bottom of the bag, it's that packaging is everything. Take the same shampoo, put it in a regular old cylindrical bottle versus putting it in a colorful bottle with a cartoon character's head for the lid, charge an extra buck for it and the cartoon one is going to outsell two to one. With this cheap and easy ability to quickly change a design, companies are able to get several iterations of a product made and in the hands of test groups months faster and at a fraction of the cost as competitors using traditional methods. To the same effect, our customer was able to use the renderings from SolidWorks to produce all of his artwork; his entire website is SolidWorks renderings, right down to the logo itself. Using the renderings he was able to save a ton of time and money on professional photography while maintaining quality. The website and marketing material were developed as the part was first going into production and the product was on the market as soon as the first one was assembled.

So does 3feet need to have three different viewing angles?  Does it need to be able to fold up and fit in my pocket?  Does it need to be able to survive being run over by a car?  Does it need to have silicone traction bands to keep it from sliding around and does it need to be made in the USA? Not really, but I bet most consumers will appreciate those things and each one of those benefits will attract more consumers. 

There is a certain Hockey Hall of Fame inductee who, were it not for the "Over Engineered" curve on the shaft of my goalie stick, would have scored a hat trick against me, so I am sold on the idea of "Over Engineered." So to the guy who wrote the review on 3feet, giving it five out of five stars but stated it is "Over Engineered," I couldn't agree more. To that effect I would venture to say that anyone who is not using SolidWorks in combination with a Dimension 3D Printer is in fact "Under Engineering" their products.

iPad and iPhone are trademark of Apple Inc, Kindle is a trademark of Amazon, 3feet is a trademark of Twin Bay LLC, All rights are reserved.

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