Bringing a successful product to market is way more complicated than most people realize. There’s a wonderful illustration of this concept in a timeless essay by Leonard Read entitled iPencil. Read describes the importance of distributed knowledge, capital accumulation, and the function of prices as a mechanism to communicate disparate information between producers of different material goods and cognitive skillsets. Think about it for a second: could you produce something as simple as a pencil if you had to do it from scratch? The answer is a resounding “no.” How so? Consider the process the materials that compose a pencil go through in order to arrive at their final state. Logs are felled in northern California or Oregon, shipped south to a mill, the mill kiln dries the logs and cuts them into ¼” slats, oh by the way, don’t forget the antecedents at the mill (transportation infrastructure to get the logs there in the first place, heavy machinery to dry and cut the timber, each aspect of which has its own complicated history, etc.) And that’s only the beginning. You still need to paint the wood, insert graphite, tack on a rubber eraser with a metal brace before you have a final product worthy of being called a simple “pencil.” Of course the graphite must be mined from ore, the rubber felled and processed from trees that grew thousands of miles away and so forth. The amazing conclusion is that a four part pencil (wood, graphite, metal, and rubber) is entirely way too complicated for any one person to create.
Bringing a novel product to market today (typically much more complex and challenging than a simple pencil) - even taking the baseline machinery and technology as a given - is still an incredibly complex adventure. Trying to do it from scratch on your own is like running against the wind in a category five hurricane - or like trying to build a pencil from scratch entirely on your own. That is where the expertise at Creative Mechanisms comes in. Our company, and more than half of the employees on our team have been working in the product production world for 35 years. We have specialized knowledge and a proven process for bringing your ideas to life. One of the most important things we add to your project is our collective problem solving expertise and technical savvy.
Complicated mechanisms are challenging to design in the first place, they typically produce a myriad of surprises once the prototyping process begins, and they’re subject to large risks if you don’t get everything exactly right by the time you move to manufacturing. Over the years we have learned a few things that help us routinely succeed when asked to solve novel challenges for our clients. Here are three lessons we have internalized after years of iteration:
Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
We learned a long time ago that a single engineer working in isolation is inferior to a decentralized group of coordinated engineers working in parallel. For this reason we start off all of our complex problems with a group discussion and brainstorming session before we break up to allow for individual design generation. Individual design initiatives allow us to generate a diverse set of initial ideas by placing pressure on individuals to develop functional concepts according to their unique perspective. Once our individual team members have their concepts sketched out in Solidworks or on paper, we bring them together again for iteration. Original ideas are broken down, shared, incorporated and discarded as appropriate and the process is allowed to repeat itself. After 1-2 group iterations we typically have a good consensus and a meaningful direction going forward. We’re then able to assign an individual engineer the role of project manager while the rest of the team is available in an advisory role. Another small thing we do that makes a big difference is the layout of our office space. If interested, you can read more about that here.
Direct Engineer to Client Interaction Drastically Improves Results and Decreases Cycle Time
One of the advantages of having roughly a ten person team is that our engineers are able to communicate directly with our client. There’s no bureaucracy to wade through in order to push an idea forward or to iterate on a concept. If you’ve got something good, everybody involved knows about it in 30 seconds. This is much more effective for us than having a project manager pass information between relevant parties. We have found that direct interaction hugely benefits our engineers, the client, and the project as a whole.
Technical Know-How Is Indispensable
At the end of the day, you have to be competent engineers and creative designers with the technical skills on both the software and machinery you’re going to use. Creative Mechanisms is fluent in Solidworks CAD, has a state-of-the-art FDM machine for rapid prototyping, proprietary knowledge on our industrial CNC machine, expertise in plastics, and a wealth of connections and experience in the injection molding world. If you have a complicated project that isn’t being solved by your current firm, we can help. We thrive in situations where other firms haven’t been able to generate a solution. Here’s an example: