Priorities for working on industrial machinery housing design
If you are a manufacturer of any sort of industrial machinery looking to find someone to work on a good design for your products, there is a high chance you have one of these three concerns:
- The design you will get will be impossible to manufacture.
- The design you will get will be too expensive to manufacture.
- The design team you will be working with won’t understand the product like your engineers already do.
Did any of that stick? I bet it did. I know this because I keep hearing about these three concerns at every trade fair I visit. Be it the UK, Italy, the USA, or Germany, it seems these three challenges are the most universal across the machine manufacturing industry.
I suppose they’re the result of optimization. After all, optimization is the key element of industrial machinery design: you optimize paths, heat, current, volume, weight, etc., and on top of that, you optimize cost. Optimization is key, and whoever is "the best optimizer" wins. But one can only be good at optimizing when you know all the relevant inputs for the equation. Often when outside of the engineering design, companies optimize the only input they know best: cost. And I believe the experience that comes from that decision-making process is the cause of the concerns I mentioned above.
Because optimizing with only one variable is not really optimizing, is it?
I will dive a bit deeper into each of the above concerns and show how our experience in working on industrial machinery housing design and our experience with manufacturing technologies let us address them all. By the end of this article, you should have more variables to work with, and hopefully you will see Mindsailors as a good partner for your next new product development project.
A manufacturable design for industrial machinery housing
One of our clients approached us with the need to design a new look for a line of laser welding machines. They were a bit reluctant, though, as they had approached a third party for design before and burned themselves badly. This caused them to be very cautious when making any design-related decisions.
The story they told us was unique, although we’ve heard many versions of it before. The company decided to design a new line of products with a brand new look. Their engineers were the ones handling exterior design up to that point, but the company decided that in order to break through with the new product line and have their machines truly stand out, they needed design experts on the job.
Not wanting to distract the engineers from their engineering work, which in fact brought the most value to the company, they went searching for a subcontractor. They ended up working with a local university whose students, under the watchful eyes of their professors, would provide designs for the new line of products. It was a win on the costs, a win on the quality (academic oversight), and a win on the direction of the design as students had a fresh approach.
The company was thrilled with the designs they received until they wanted to implement them. It turned out that, as beautiful and cutting-edge as they were, the designs were impossible to manufacture. With impossible steel bends, material mix and connection, and extensive use of 3D printing technology being the main reasons why these designs weren’t applicable in real life.
The whole ordeal maybe wasn’t that expensive, but it took months of work, and suddenly it turned out money wasn’t the problem. Time was. That’s where we came in.
And as I said, I’ve heard this story before. It’s always the same: "We worked with a freelancer, got great designs, but no one could manufacture them for us. Now, after looking at these designs for a year, we don't want anything else, and it's killing us.".
When working with new clients, one of the first things they learn about us, which we try hard to get across, is what kind of an industrial design company we are. Especially if they've had an experience like the one I described above, we need to reassure them, that our goal is to deliver physical products, not visual designs per se. And while great visualizations are a part of the process, they’re not the goal. We design for manufacturing from the very beginning of the process. You can be sure that when we deliver visual concepts, they are thought out by a mechanical engineer and proposed with specific manufacturing technologies in mind. When working with a manufacturing company that has its manufacturing process in-house, we always brief them and, if possible, visit their premises to get to know their manufacturing capabilities, their machines, processes, and the materials they work with. This way, when we design, we are certain that the final product will be easy to manufacture within their resources.
We completed the above project with success. The client went with one of three proposed aesthetics, and the housing was implemented with no issues in manufacturing.
Contact us if you're in a similar situation and in need of a better solution.
Technology awareness is one important aspect of the knowledge and experience our team has built over the years. Another one, equally crucial, is budgeting.
An economically sensible design for industrial machinery housing
Design for Sisma by Mindsailors
It is crucial to understand that designing a housing for an industrial machine is in fact product development. You go from idea to manufacturing.
Working with a person who is a concept designer is out of the question; they know very little about manufacturing technologies, material properties, and manufacturing budgets. Working with a designer who has "some" experience in all steps of product development will generate mistakes in every step of the process as they are experts at none of them. And finally, in accordance with the false authority fallacy, working with a person or a team that is expert in only one or two steps of the process will most certainly lead to them overestimating their skills for the remaining steps, which will have an effect similar to working with a non-expert.
Time, quality, and cost are the three defining characteristics of a project from a business standpoint, and one should always focus on them first. Surprisingly, each of them is easy to underestimate. Every person who has ever run even a moderately complicated project has faced one of these issues:
- swelling costs
- more reviews than expected
- working against deadlines
In our experience, we have found that if the cause for underestimating these aspects is not poor communication or project management, then it is usually a weak link. This might be a person or a department that either overestimates their communication abilities or their skills or underestimates the task at hand.
Design for Sisma by Mindsailors
There are many examples that I have encountered that confirm this assumption. It might be a designer who is very good at concept design but underestimates all the intricacies of design for manufacturing due to a lack of practical experience and high self-confidence. His or her designs turn out to actually be manufacturable, but at a certain volume or deadline, they are simply too expensive to go through with. Sometimes it’s due to materials or components and their price or scarcity; sometimes it’s due to technology and the tooling required; and sometimes it’s due to assembly. On top of each of these reasons is the fact that the sheer amount of responsibilities and tasks in a product development project is too big for one or two people.
On the other hand, you might have an engineer working on the core functionality of the machine in question on a daily basis. The company decides to assign him to do the housing design as well, and after a couple of weeks of bouncing ideas around, the designs are indeed manufacturable and actually not too expensive. The aesthetics, on the other hand, cause everyone to raise their brows, point at a promo material of your competitor and say "So our competition looks like this, and we're going with that?". The supervisors are frustrated because they wasted a lot of time, and the engineer is frustrated because his work isn't appreciated and he's behind on his engineering responsibilities.
It all boils down to the fact that the amount of time spent on delivering the project, measured against a mediocre effect, simply gives a poor result. Not sensible enough to pursue again.
We have taken over projects in both of these cases and many more. Cases where the process of developing a product, such as a housing for an industrial machine, was underestimated. This design process is complex, and no one is an expert at everything. The more things one is expert at, the less expert they actually are, and the easier it is for them to overestimate their skills or underestimate the task.
Design for Sisma by Mindsailors
A product development team should know research, budgeting, planning, design, engineering, construction, manufacturing, material, and assembly. So when you want to have a product developed in good quality, on time, and within a budget that is justified by the gains for your company, you need to make sure that money and your time are spent on an optimal choice.
If you see a need for working with an expert product development team contact us and find out if we may be a good match for your project.
A cooperative workflow for designing industrial machinery housing
The final common pain point for industrial machinery housing design is about trust. It is most prominent with companies that do not look at the design of housing as a product development process but rather as an "artistic detail" in their machines development.
In actuality, it’s both, but when a lead engineer is faced with the necessity of working with "an artist," they often prefer to take the task on themselves in fear of misalignment of communication. An engineer simply finds more common ground with a fellow engineer. But once you make that shift from "an artistic process" to "a technical process with aesthetic elements," you instantly see similarities and a common ground for experts respecting each other's needs and expectations.
We have seen this shift happen before our eyes when working with companies, where an engineer was moved aside from designing the housing and was delegated to work with our company instead. Every time we were in such a situation, it was very professional, but there was also a hint of hostility just barely noticable in our meetings.
Each constructive comment we made was subconsciously read as a personal insult. Each idea we presented was met with a primal defense mechanism that was supposed to show us "this is their turf". I understand that; it’s called being human. But we know how to reach common ground with experts.
The process of earning the respect of a seasoned engineering professional is a very building and rewarding one. And surprisingly quick too, as engineers usually have a good nose for bullshit.
At some point in our product development history, somewhat organically, we developed the Mindsailors’ Product Development Process. It is a process focused on communication and expectation management. So far, it’s the most efficient process we have tested for making the process of connecting various stakeholders and experts as efficient as possible. It works for us because we ourselves have always focused on building an interdisciplinary team of engineers with artistic souls and artists with engineering experience. That allows us to pick the right team for a project, and sometimes even for a specific stage of a project.
In my opinion, out of the three most common concerns in industrial machinery housing design, this one is the most difficult to overcome. Because it concerns trust, and trust is something we need to earn, whether we get a chance to earn it or not is entirely dependent on our clients. So even before we get tested in battle, we need to build trust with our brand, the projects we deliver, our design awards, and our clients' recommendations.
Mindsailors is an industrial design company. Our expertise is delivering products to market. This requires us to have extensive knowledge and experience in business analysis, research, conceptual work, mechanical design, embedded electronics design, manufacturing, tooling, and assembly. If you’re looking for a trusted partner that understands manufacturing and engineering and is adept in design on top of that, we are happy to share our knowledge and experience in product development to help you optimize your next industrial machinery design project.
If you’re interested, just set up a meeting.
Schedule an initial talk and get to know us better! You already have a basic brief? Send it over so we can have a more productive first meeting!