Mechanisms make objects work. They bring products to life by combining different components towards a common goal.
There are usually many ways to make something work, but it is hard to find the simplest approach, the one that requires the fewest parts and is easy to manufacture. Here’s the approach that’s worked best for us.
1.) Talent isn’t enough, you need talented teams. No question, the most essential step is finding a group of people who are talented in mechanism development and willing to share their ideas. This last part is vital because group dynamics drive success, and team members must be eager to work together.
Our teams start by listing all the possible ways to make a mechanism work. We then vet the list and discuss creative combinations. It would be nearly impossible for one person to create a list of all the possible ways to make something work; everyone has their own preferences and perspectives on how to accomplish certain motions.
Healthy group dynamics bring more options out and allow those options to be discussed and expanded upon until something stands out. Typically, a combination of multiple ideas rises to the top. Sometimes there is no clear winner, because there are obvious faults with all the options. In this case, you might try to develop several or all of them very quickly.
2.) Prove it. At this point, we create breadboards, which is what we call a quick model designed only to demonstrate a mechanism’s function. It typically is not used any further, but simply provides vital information that proves or disproves a mechanism’s function and effectiveness. We apply any lessons to the engineering of the final prototype.
We have several ways of making these breadboard models. Sometimes it is as simple as cutting out cardboard cams and levers like paper dolls, revising them, and pinning them in place until you get the motion for which you are looking. But typically you will need to have a higher level of engineering to figure out the correct motions.
Most of the time, we draw the mechanisms quickly in Solidworks 3D CAD and print out a model on an FDM machine in ABS plastic. This produces an accurate model with tight tolerances. It also makes changes simple and easy. Changing the Solidworks model is relatively easy and FDM-printed models are much more cost effective than building something by hand.
3.) Experiment. The ease of changing a mechanism in Solidworks and printing a new model gives engineers the freedom to experiment, and we take full advantage of this option.
Experimentation often leads to many rewarding - and simpler - ways to get a mechanism to function the way you want. Many mechanisms are variations of well-known mechanical concepts, but most of the best results are the product of subtle changes and nuances to the mechanism.
To sum it up: work together, prove that your ideas work, and keep experimenting until you meet or exceed your client’s criteria.