It’s certainly not a new problem in metal fabrication. An engineer is faced with designing a part or product, that in theory, will meet certain needs and specifications. He goes about his job, creating plans for, what he believes, is an optimum design. The machinist on the shop floor, however, after reviewing the drawings, explains the realities of why it simply will not work.
It’s not that the engineer isn’t intelligent or hasn’t put thought into the design. It’s not that the machinist is trying to show off. Both, after all, have a vested interested in ultimately seeing the part or product produced to specs. They also likely want to see it done properly, efficiently and affordably. But there’s just that slight gap between the theory of engineering and the realities of production that can cause cost-creep and delays.
Causes of “The Gap”
So what are the causes of this “gap” between engineering and actual production that can be so problematic and inefficient? We think there are several reasons.
- There’s a difference in skill and knowledge sets. Engineers and machinists approach their jobs from different perspectives. While a fabricator may keep up with the latest techniques and technologies of metal fabrication, that can be challenging for an engineer to keep up with. An engineer may not simply have the latest knowledge of the hands-on machinist. To some degree the opposite is also true.
- Differing work environments. Generally speaking, engineers and an on-floor machinist work in two different worlds. Their goals may be the same but while engineers often work in numbers and theories, machinists are operating in a world of tangible steel, aluminum, and other metals. Fabricators work with limitations of machinery capabilities and capacities.
- The Two are Viewed as Separate Entities. Too often we view engineering design and fabrication as two separate processes or steps. It then becomes four, six, eight or ten or more steps as rounds of testing and re-engineering absorb more time and resources.
The Answer? Design for Manufacturability
“Design for Manufacturability” or Design Fabrication Collaboration closes the gap between design engineering and the shop floor by involving skilled machinist and fabricators in the engineering process earlier.
We can’t expect engineers to know the latest fabrication technology or techniques, but by getting the “hands-on” people involved earlier, engineers can be steered toward designs that can better take advantage of these technologies. At the same time they can avoid production processes that may be limited.
By focusing on design for manufacturability, we can bridge the gap by having engineers have a fuller understanding of the physical capabilities of the shop floor. It may be beneficial to have an engineering “kiosk” or workstation on the floor to better foster a Design for Manufacturability mentality. These are smart people. They will likely have their own ideas on how to improve the design fabrication collaboration between the two entities.
At Wiley Metal, we see the goal as minimizing that gap between engineering theory and production reality. While the gap on most projects can sometimes be small and insignificant, there are times when it is the source of frustration and waste. We believe as we encourage more design collaboration, the reengineering-testing-reengineering-testing cycle can be minimized.
What are your thoughts? We encourage you to share them!