technical documentation_19

This article is a transcription of the #19 episode of IDology - the industrial design podcast by Mindsailors. You can watch the entire episode on YouTube or listen to the audio version on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

In this episode, our company’s COO, Voytek Holysz, met with the co-founder of industrial design company Mindsailors and senior designer himself, Rafal Pilat and Piotr Dalewski, a mechanical design engineer to cover the topic of how important technical documentation in product development is. They explore its role as a universal language among designers, manufacturers, and quality control, emphasizing its significance in ensuring product quality, meeting manufacturing standards, and avoiding costly errors in the production process.

Voytek Holysz: Okay, guys, so maybe let’s start with the basics. What is technical documentation and why was it developed at some point?

Piotr Dalewski: I think if you want to start with basics, I think we should start with a historical background of just to give an overview for our listeners, sketches and drawings were used in product development since ancient time. But the need to develop such precise components started in the late 1800s for mascot production.

Voytek: So, it was like, when the needs for mass production came in, it needed to sort of evolve into a more complex documentation type.

Piotr: When these firearms required quite precision for its time parts. So for example, if a part of a mascot was worn up, and it was much easier to replace one part instead of creating a whole new mascot. So that’s how it was done.

Voytek: So as usual, war pushes us forward.

Piotr: Yes, indeed, the need to create precise objects started. So that’s why it’s influenced the whole manufacturing process, because after the parts were made, it was required to measure and test if they fulfill some kind of expectations.

Voytek: But you are talking about mascots. So that was before the Industrial Revolution, before mass manufacturing, or was it about the same time?

Piotr: I would say, it was like the first Industrial Revolution, mechanizations, and they will have developed mechanics, you need precise parts. And to have precise parts, you needed some kind of documentation to follow during the manufacturing.

Voytek: Yeah, so, like different stages could better sort of communicate with each other?

Piotr: Yes, that’s what I like to think about technical documentation - that this is a unique language between the designer, manufacturer and also quality control. So just like the software engineers have their programming languages, mathematicians and physicians have their formulas. Mechanical designers have technical drawing, the rules of this language are defined in international technical standards.

Voytek: Okay, so like you said, with the mascots, no matter who is going to manufacture a part, they all understand the same technical language sort of, and they are able to make the part back then probably more or less exactly the same. Nowadays, it’s probably way more precise.

Piotr: I would say that these parts, even though they were manufactured by different companies, have to fulfill the same requirements. So they might deviate from each other. But they fulfill some kind of standard.

Voytek: Yeah, like tolerances. I only imagined that with mascots, those tolerances or details weren’t as precise as we have them today’s technology.

Piotr: Yeah, that was just the example but those work, those standards come from, although today we use 3D modeling software, there are many features we are not able to show only via geometric outside, it’s the kind of material we using for the manufacture, maybe some special steel grate or special alloy, the hardness of the material. So, it might require some heat treatment or special coating, the finish of the surface for example, roughness. So, there are many things we should take into account. And we are not able to just show them on a 3D model.

Voytek: I understand that this is sort of a language of precision of communication, sort of so that no one misinterprets any directions given to manufacture an object but still no two objects are totally identical or perfectly shaped, even though they have technical documentation. So how does that work?

Piotr: We must be aware that there’s no such thing as a perfect dimension in the real world. We have got them only on drawings, and these are called nominal dimensions. But we need to be aware that each part deviates from the nominal dimensions, no matter if it’s 1/10 of a millimeter or 1/100. But there’s always a slight difference. And it depends on which devices we are gonna use, which methods to measure them, because there’s always going to be some kind of difference, maybe even 10 nanometers.

Voytek: Okay, so it’s like, these nominal dimensions, they are sort of like the perfect state that we aspire to achieve. But it’s always a bit imperfect in a way?

Piotr: Yes, that’s why we use geometric dimensioning and tolerancing. So for each important feature, we have to define how different it can be from the nominal. And these features, after the part is manufactured, should be measured and then tested, if it fits the tolerance.

Voytek: Okay. So achieving, like perfect quality is not about achieving perfect dimensions according to the documentation?

Piotr: Yes, that’s actually quite funny, because everyone has a different definition of quality.

Voytek: Yeah, that’s true.

Piotr: So, according to the books, the quality is an inherent feature of the object device or maybe some kind of service, that shows how much it fulfills the requirements of the customer. So those requirements should be specified somehow for the quality assurance to test them. So that’s why we describe how different the object can be from the nominal dimensions placed on the model. But we need to be aware that in real life, they are not the same.

Voytek: But what is a good quality for you in real life?

Rafał: I guess, you could say that quality is subjective, because it’s always a matter of how much time and money you want to spend on perfecting something. And of course, there are technologies which have simply limitations to the quality of dimensions that you can achieve using this specific technology. Obviously, if you are going to use CNC for machining some parts, you can achieve excellent results in terms of tolerances. But that would require a large amount of time and precise measurement devices to simply verify and to achieve such quality. And obviously, it’s not always needed. Depending on actual use of the device that we are designing or even the parts, sometimes it’s not even required for a part or area of a part to be super perfect in terms of keeping dimensions. So I guess, the quality as it sounds, it's a very unspecified notion, we have to somehow reference the quality as an offset, as Piotr said, depending on the usage, depending on the technology that we are using, and depending on the actual time and money we want to spend on making of this part.

Voytek: So the technical documentation sort of doesn’t guarantee the quality of an object but more the quality of the manufacturing process itself. Because like you both said, actually that quality is subjective. So sometimes, if the thing is simply heavier, sometimes we just feel, “That must be worth more or have greater quality just because of the weight.” But not necessarily we check the seams between every material to make sure that, yes, this is indeed of high quality.

Piotr: We can say these words are quite similar, but there’s a difference between quality and precision. Sometimes for our designs to fulfill some requirements, we need precision, but if we make an object too precise like you said, using very precise end mills for CNC machining or maybe EDM process to manufacture the part, we can have too precise part for our requirements, and it will multiply the manufacturing cost. So achieving good quality isn’t the same as achieving a very, very precise object. So if we over-engineer them, we can increase manufacturing costs.

Rafał: Likely so, right.

Voytek: You have mentioned before that technical documentation, you see it as a language between designers and manufacturers and quality control, yeah. But from what you are saying, it seems to me like still technical documentation is very focused on the manufacturing process. So, for a designer, where in the design process should they start preparing or thinking about preparing the technical documentation?

Piotr: We also often call it manufacturing documentation. So, I would say, it should be done before the manufacturing process. But it depends, if we are designing objects and manufacturing in one company, we are able to speak with the machine operators. And usually they are used to manufacturing similar objects. So in some cases, we can avoid it. But in cases when we are talking with many people, it often happens that these parts are manufactured somewhere in another country, maybe in China, and we don’t have the ability to talk with operators. So we have to prepare this document of requirements. But usually, I would say, it’s even better to prepare documentation a bit earlier, when we are quoting. Because the better documentation that we give to our manufacturing companies, the better they can assess the costs, they can adjust the process, and they can adjust their machines that are going to be used.

Rafał: Or they can simply say that they cannot meet the criteria that we want. And this is any information for us that we need to look for a different manufacturer, because perhaps they might not have a machine that can handle such precision as we require.

Piotr: I would like to say that the better documentation we deliver, the more accurate offers we get.

Voytek: Okay, I remember, Rafał, you once told me that it happens, I don’t know how often that you get a 3D file from a client that says, “Hey, we have the designs ready. Here they are, we are ready to go manufacture the thing.” And it’s a 3D model - can it be considered as technical documentation?

Rafał: So I guess there is no good answer to this question. Because it all depends on your need, you may require just one part to be manufactured. And then you can use, well, any prototyping technology, even 3D printing. And you can use 3D printing for serial production as well. So I guess this is, to answer your question, I guess it’s more related to actual need, rather than technology.

Piotr: Yes. But for the large volume production, we always prepare such documentation. And there are also other kinds of documentation we need to take into account. For example, declarations of conformity or some kind of international standards or risk management and risk analysis documents. But those documents are obliged by law when releasing the new product into the market. So these kinds of documents we can prepare, when we have the first working prototype, or MVP. Manufacturing is always connected with a large investment, no matter if we order the injection molds or even small batch of 3D prints, but if we deliver documentations, the manufacturer is obliged to test them, to check if the features we are looking for, the features that are important to us, that those requirements must be fulfilled. And if we want to specify them, they won’t be aware of them. So there’s a high probability that we are gonna order flawed parts.

Rafał: Right. And even if we receive parts that are flawed, and, if you want to claim some kind of reimbursement or force the manufacturer to redo the parts, he or she might say that, “Sorry, we did it according to our best standards. And you did not define the precision or the dimensions that you require. And we did it as best as we could.”

Voytek: So, not only it’s the language, the technical documentation is language between stakeholders, but also it’s like a point of reference for times of trouble.

Rafał: Yes, that’s exactly what it is because this is your, let’s say, reference for the standard that you are requesting.

Voytek: Okay. I understand. That’s why sometimes a 3D model is simply not enough… And maybe in some simple cases, it’s okay. But probably the more complex an object is, and those connections between parts are so important, the better technical documentation must describe those connections, sort of?

Rafał: Yes, I would say, that’s exactly how it is.

Piotr: Sometimes we also have to prepare the documentation for the assembling process, because some objects are so complicated that they require some kind of precise sealing or precise torque or fastening. And if we can have the most perfect, high quality part that fulfills our requirements but if we want to assemble them in a specified way, we can damage those parts. So that’s also another thing worth taking into account.

Rafał: Not every product consists of two or three parts, sometimes quite the opposite. We had just disassembled an exercise machine, which I guess we could safely say, has more than a few thousands of parts. And I can’t imagine anyone assembling it just from memory and his knowledge from the 3D model, obviously, different people model this device and different people will assemble this device during the manufacturing process. So assembly documentation is also part of the documentation.

Piotr: I just wanted to add that, in my opinion, a person responsible for manufacturing documentation should be the person who designed those parts. Because we faced many problems during our development process, we delivered just the first samples, first prototype, and customers were very happy with them. So they decided to stop the process. And they felt that it’s enough to start full volume manufacturing. And some other designer, let’s say, from their company, or some freelancer prepared the documentation for them. But he wasn’t aware of the standards that we have to fulfill. So the consequence of that was that those parts weren’t manufactured in the way they should be.

Rafał: Yeah, I guess this is absolutely right. And I imagine a situation where you handle a part which is a 3D model to someone who will just prepare the 2D documentation or 2D drawing for this part and if he’s not aware of, for instance, nominal dimensions of the part or how the part will be used in the full assembly, I think that this person won’t be able to prepare a valid 2D documentation for this part, because this is part of the knowledge, how to prepare documentation is also knowing what this part does and how it’s going to be used and as Piotr said, what’s the technology that will be used to manufacture this specific part. So this is a critical thing, the designer and the person who is going to prepare the documentation, it can be either the same person or those people need to be well communicated to simply deliver a good quality documentation.

Voytek: I can only imagine that if a client would decide to do what you guys describe to stop the process and take it from there, it can only happen with inexperienced clients who probably, I don’t know, are searching for budget savings or something like that, because what you described sounds highly irresponsible and risky for a business. Is it difficult trying to explain or educate the client why preparing the technical documentation by the designers or the design company should do it? Is it just a matter of—?

Rafał: I guess, it’s a matter of time and money. Because it might be—I imagine that someone who doesn’t know what the actual aim of the documentation is, they might think that this is unnecessary expenditure during the design process: “We have a 3D model, it’s good enough. We don’t need any kind of 2D drawing documentation or manufacturing documentation.

Voytek: But you explain it to them why it’s necessary?

Rafał: Yes, of course. But sometimes, an explanation is just not enough. I guess, if you have false beliefs that you can manufacture something without 2D documentation, unless you are a manufacturer who’s able to make the adjustment, etc., I guess there are some cases that you can live without any kind of documentation. If the person who is manufacturing is aware of the process does know what the specific parts do. But in other cases, when we have a complex project or when there is a risk simply of failure in terms of, quality of the parts that are going to be delivered. So I guess, you need to treat the documentation as a reference point that you can go back and check for something how it actually needs to be, what are the criteria for the specific part?

Piotr: I would also like to say that our customers have different backgrounds. And working with a company that produces some kinds of devices is easier than working with, I would say, for example, a software startup. And in software development, the prototype is just an iteration of a code, we can test and it’s not connected that much with an investment, we are able to do some changes, and then try new iteration, new prototypes. And during the physical product development, we need to prepare those changes and we need to communicate them with a manufacturer. So I think when such clients see the working prototype, they are happy, they are excited - they think, “We are almost there, we get a working device”. But in our industry, there’s a large amount of money, time and effort in scaling the full volume mass production. So I think they might not be that aware of the difference because they are just not familiar with it. So basically, that’s why we are doing this episode.

Voytek: Well, in another episode, we talk about educating our environment, involving clients also, so I hope this will help someone. Okay, let’s try to sum it up a bit. So I think it’s obvious, but just let’s reiterate, why is technical documentation crucial, if not mandatory, to be prepared with every design?

Rafał: I think that the strongest point for me is trying to persuade a person that technical documentation is security against unreliable manufacturers. So this is a reference point to which you can relate, to which you can go back to and have it checked, if the parts that you are going to manufacture are made according to the standard that you are expecting them to be made.

Piotr: We need to be aware that manufacturing can be very, very expensive. In order to communicate in a proper way, with a manufacturing team, with a quality control team, we need to speak the same language even though we can be in other countries, and we can even not see each other. So that’s why we need to communicate the best way and the most precise way we can; and the technical documentation is the least of those requirements to accomplish the project.

Rafał: It’s a language of communications for engineers.

Voytek: Okay, guys, I think you summed it up pretty well. So let’s just leave the viewers with the notion that technical documentation is basically something that might be crucial to their business if they want to not burn too much money or waste too much time.



Piotr Dalewski, a mechanical design engineer at Mindsailors, places emphasis on manufacturability, design for assembly, and product optimization within the value engineering approach throughout the R&D process.








Rafal Piłat is an entrepreneur and co-founder of Mindsailors, an awarded industrial design company, with over 18 years of experience as a designer himself.








Voytek Holysz is the COO of Mindsailors with 16 years of experience in running a business in creative B2B services, marketing, sales and video production.




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