Put the Damn Thing Out!

Put the Damn Thing Out!

Could you imagine what would happen if, when firefighters got to a scene, they just knocked down the flames and left? How many times would they be rushing back to same fire over and over? But, they don’t. You see, firefighters know that you must take the time to know whether the fire is truly out before leaving. Otherwise, they would spend so much time putting out the same fires that as new ones arose and added to the burden, they would be overwhelmed.

Unfortunately, many in the business world have not learned this lesson. I have seen managers struggling with the same fires over and over in an attempt to hide them. They were trying to maintain the facade that they had everything in control, while looking to the next promotion. The problem is, it eventually catches up with them when sufficient time and resources aren’t present to cover the issues up. The end result is usually a catastrophe. I have seen managers and engineers that felt they didn’t “have the time” and would rush to a conclusion and move on. Amazingly, they did not understand how much of their time was being consumed by putting out the same fires over again. I’ve seen lazy managers and engineers that would do as little as was required to get past an issue. They failed to understand how much more work they were creating for themselves having to put out the same fires over and over. Then there are the “deer in the headlights”, feeling overwhelmed by issues and not knowing what to do. They will just keep grabbing at straws until something seems to work and then move on, hoping the problem is fixed. But it rarely is.

To make matters worse, many companies will put metrics in place to combat this, making the closing of issues part of the semi-annual or annual evaluation process. They judge things like: number of issues, average time to close issues, number of issues by severity, etc. Unfortunately, the end result is not what is intended and leads to either issues being hidden or a rush to a conclusion, perpetuating the cycle. While there may be some benefit to monitoring issues and solutions, that can be a slippery slope. Many times, this leads to more ways to measure performance which, in turn, gets more cumbersome, requiring more time and exacerbating the problem.

So, do we throw our hands up and just give up? No! I have been on both sides of this fence and, though uncomfortable, there are ways to combat this way of thinking. No matter what your position is, it starts with a true evaluation of where you stand and a plan to battle this mindset. As an engineer or anyone else on the front line, make the decision that you’re going to do what it takes to put the fires out for good. Any new fires have to be extinguished completely. Since you still have to deal with management and whatever policies and metrics are in place, look for the biggest bang that will require the least amount of time and resources. Put it out. Then the next and the next. It will be a real struggle at first, but, eventually, you will gain momentum and the time saved can be used to fight the harder issues. Don’t wait for the company or others to get on board. You have the power to make your own situation better.

If you are a department manager, the situation is pretty much the same, although you will want to protect the people that are being successful at putting permanent solutions in place, even if it hurts your department metrics. It will hurt at first, until you gain some traction. But after the initial pain, you will likely be setting the standard.

For upper management, the same approach to prioritize the issues will work well. But, understand that you are dealing with people. The carrot and stick only work if there is guidance and direction. Be involved in the process enough to know when policies and metrics are becoming obstacles and remove or revise them. Instead of only looking at the metric, take time to understand why the numbers are what they are and if there is good reason to have missed “the mark”, if it happens. Put a human side on the fight and encourage those who are successful based on what they faced and overcame rather than an arbitrary set of numbers.

No matter where you fit within an organization, you can be the difference. Just put the damn thing out!

MADE IN THE USA?

MADE IN THE USA?

I remember listening to a popular radio personality with a call-in show one night. He was asked by the caller for advise on developing an idea they had for market. They had taken it to a few companies for help with the design and sourcing and they were pushed to go offshore for the manufacturing. They were asking if there were any US companies they could work with or if he thought they should go offshore (basically to China). He went on to explain that with the cost of labor being so low in China, that they were probably best to follow the advice they had received.

I hear this story a lot, it seems many people in our industry are simply farming everything out to China or worse yet India. In one case I even had someone come to us that had hired a Chicago firm for the 3D design of their product. The company in Chicago even farmed out the design work. The final design had come back so bad they were desperate for someone to fix it.

While China, India, and other third world countries may have cheap labor, they may not be the most cost effective place to source products. In fact, unless the product is very labor intensive to make, making it in the USA is probably your best solution. Shipping costs and quality issue can easily drive the cost up higher than the increased labor cost involved with making it domestically. Many times some simple design changes can greatly reduce the labor to make a product.

On top of all this, there is a language barrier that can easily lead to misunderstandings. There are often both a lack of accountability and common deceptive practices to navigate as well.  And, there is nothing worse than getting a shipment of defective products and then realizing that getting them replaced will not only take the time to manufacture them but 6 weeks on the water to ship them as well. My advice is keep it here in the states if at all possible.

WHEN TO REDESIGN?

WHEN TO REDESIGN?

A question for the ages. There are really a lot of reasons to redesign like modernizing the product, adding features, etcetera. But there are couple not so obvious reason I want to talk about here.

Many times as a product is developed, initial volumes are low and the focus is getting a working product to market. The methods and materials used to produce it are based on low volume and are geared to keep the initial startup costs low. After all, if it is truly new, how can you be sure if it will actually sell? And, it’s not unusual for a company to just keep producing it that way if it is successful.

So the first reason would be part cost reduction.

Case in point. I worked for a company a number of years ago that had developed a product that used two aluminum parts. They were machined from 1’ thick aluminum material into two half circle parts and each one had 6 holes machined into them. One set cost $40.00. even after the product had become successful they just kept making them the same way for years. Eventually we redesigned the product and were able to create the half circle shape as an aluminum extrusion with the holes included in the profile. The extrusion was then sliced into 1” lengths to give us the finished shape. The new part did not have to be solid so we were able to substantially lower the weight and cost. The cost of a set with the new design was only $5.00. We actually wound up with a better product and a huge savings.

The second reason I want to discuss here is to reduce assembly cost.

Case in point. We were manufacturing a stand from an aluminum

extrusion. The feet for the stand where also fabricated from the same extrusion. Holes were drilled for mounting them to the uprights, for mounting the wheels and for attaching the cross-bracing. End caps were cut from aluminum strapping, drilled and fastened to each end of the extrusion feet. It took 30 minutes per stand to fabricate the feet. By redesigning the feet as a plastic injection molded part the need for the bracing was eliminated, the wheels were just snapped in and two self-taping screws held each [foot] to the uprights. The total assembly time for the feet was reduced to 3 minutes. Besides the obvious labor savings this had a huge impact on the backlog in the department that made them. So we had a better looking and higher quality solution that improved customer service and reduced cost.

If you have a part or product that is difficult or time consuming to produce, why not give DREaM a call and put our 30+ years of experience to work for you.

Design Smart, Design Right!

SO YOU HAVE AN IDEA, NOW WHAT?

SO YOU HAVE AN IDEA, NOW WHAT?

This is the question that has stopped many a good idea. There are websites and TV commercials that claim they will get your idea patented and “published to industry”. Usually they will just mail your design to a bunch of random companies or worse yet, provide a list for you to do it. They know full well you are probably wasting your money, but they’re more than happy to take it from you.

The truth is the best idea in the world is likely useless unless you can sell it. Fortunately, we live in a time when the internet makes things a little easier… mind you I said a little easier. With sites like Amazon, EBay and the like, you can get your product out there with a little hard work.

Often the first step in the process of launching a product is design and 3D modeling. What’s more, without a comprehensive understanding of manufacturing processes and materials, most “design” companies haven’t a clue of how to Design for Manufacture (DFM). Our services range from initial design all the way through prototype, sourcing, and manufacturing. Find us on the web to learn more about DFM or better yet give us a call today to setup your initial consultations, which is always free. Let us help you find the most cost effective way to get your product made and ready to go to market.

Design Smart, Design Right!

IS THAT ONE SIZE FITS ALL SOLUTION ACTUALLY “THE SOLUTION”?

IS THAT ONE SIZE FITS ALL SOLUTION ACTUALLY “THE SOLUTION”?

Occasionally, yes, usually kind of sort of, other times not at all. The problem with one size fits all is that in order to fit all, trade offs need to be made. Typically, they are designed with the average in mind.So how can a one size fits all, fit all well? The answer is it can’t. There are many possible short comings; only meets some of your needs, difficult to adjust to meet your needs, you have to make compromises, or you sacrifice quality, to name a few. But, I think the short coming most people don’t think about is features you don’t need. Typically, machines are designed to appeal to as many people or applications as possible. Adjustability and features cost money and it is entirely possible that all the adjustment and features drive the cost up beyond what it would cost for a right sized machine.

Case in point. Many years ago I was involved in a project to

replace a stacker for a blanking press. The stacker in use was built in the 50’s. At that time sheet thicknesses used in most products were considerably thicker. When stacking the thinner sheet thickness used today it was a struggle to get the stacker setup in a way that would not damage the sheets in the process of stacking them. The sheets were pushed out onto a series of rollers on each side of the stacker. When the sheet was all the way into the stacker the rollers would flip out of the way allowing the sheet to drop unto a pallet. It was difficult to get the stacker setup so the sheet would fall flat without damage.

The more modern stackers used air to float the sheet out into the stacker. When the sheet was all the way in the stacker it was no longer able to stay afloat and the air cushion that floated the sheet to start with also cushioned it as it fell. Commercial air stacker cost around 125K which was well outside our budget. But, the truth is they are also built to handle large variety of sheet sizes and material thicknesses. By designing a stacker to fit our needs we were able to build a custom stacker for 25K. So we had a custom solution, that better fit our needs, for considerably less than the cost of a prebuilt machine.

But be beware, custom can also be one size fits all as many designers will try to fit your needs and requirements into what they have done in the past. For more information about our unique approach, check out our post on “What is “Micro-Iterative Collaboration””.

Dan R.

Design Right Engineering and Manufacturing