Engineering Ideas into Reality. It's the process of taking and idea and turning it into a marketable product. Everyone takes a slightly different path and the complexity of the process depends greatly on the type of product that you are developing. A product that is a variation of existing technology will generally take less effort than when you are trying to develop something that has never been done before. Regardless of the complexity though you still have to go through certain phases of the product development process. You start with a concept phase where you brainstorm all of the possible variations that would solve the given problem. You move in to a design phase where you start to give form to the concept you choose and address the mechanical solutions. You proceed to product engineering to make the product manufacturable and then on to production to make a finished product. Sounds easy right? It's not. The exciting part about all of this though is that you don't know what's in front of you. There will be discoveries, obstacles, challenges and surprises that you will have to overcome. If you are successful the rewards are certainly worth it all.
Brainstorming all of the possible solutions to a problem is one of the most fun phases of the process. If you have a dynamic team that can really feed off each other it can be very invigorating. Remember there are no bad ideas only unfunded ones. Avoid being dismissive of ideas. Even the craziest of thoughts can spark something and start a chain reaction that will take you someplace else. We typically meet as a group and discuss ideas bounce them around and develop the ideas as more and more come out. We often fix a time for this exercise so that it doesn't drag on unproductively. Sometimes you need to have a quick session so people can get a feel for the project and then go away and mull it over themselves before coming back as a group and seeing what comes out. Sometimes you have to repeat that process a few times before you get the desired results but we typically come up with at least a few good directions from each session.
When we move on from the brainstorming session and move in to the design phase we usually have at least one idea that we are starting to give shape to. This usually starts by drawing the concept in Solidworks but sometimes the project calls for a quick "Breadboard Model" which is a rough model that is made strictly to prove function. If we have multiple valid ideas coming out of the Brainstorming session we might make multiple rough breadboards just so we can get some knowledge about what doesn't work. It seems funny to make something that you know is not going to work but sometimes that is the best way to learn what will. As the design phase progresses the product becomes more refined in Solidworks and more and better prototypes are made. Every iteration solves a different problem and the desired end result comes closer and closer into view. At the end of this phase you should have the design intent well defined. The product should function as you intended and the physical look should be what you want. Now it is time to engineer the product for production.
A good engineer is great at compromise. The trick of engineering for production is striking a balance between the design intent, the mold making process and the manufacturing and assembly. You have to be able to compromise with all of these concerns as you tackle each problem and part. Your job is to maintain the design intent so you need to fully understand how the product is being used and what the areas of greatest concern are. You need to avoid making a change that makes tooling easier but winds up destroying the look or function of the product. Even minor changes you make can make the product much easier to manufacture or add undo complication to the tool, which could result in delays. You also have to be thinking about how the product will be assembled on the production line and try to make the assembly as easy and as foolproof as possible.
If the work has been done well in the proceeding phases the manufacturing of the product will be much easier than if not. This phase starts with getting the tools to run correctly and optimally. Once you have good quality parts you need to assemble them and test them. A well-engineered product will have easy access for testing and repairs. The assembly should be designed for expediency. You need to examine every operation and process with an eye for reducing time to lower costs. Following this path will certainly not come without some trying times but in the end, when you hold that finished product in your hands you will see it certainly comes with many rewards as well.