Recently on the show, we hosted Megan Verch - a senior product development engineer at Belmont Industries out of Lincoln, Nebraska. She is working on cellular structures and integration of cellular radio equipment into infrastructure like poles and utility structures.
She visited to talk to Tony Rogers, president of Creative Mechanisms - a leading product design and engineering firm. They discussed developments of innovative engineering practices in the world of 3D printing and CAD design.
Accelerating Product Development and Innovation
Tony: “So Megan, in your industry, companies are always looking to accelerate product development, increase innovation, and improve the hand-off from design to manufacturing. Tell me your thoughts.”
Megan: “Right now there's a big push with pushing the limits of technology so you're seeing a lot of 3D printing evolving.
I think 10 years ago when I started in product development and consumer products, there was a lot of SLS and more manual prototyping processes. Now, with CAD systems and prototyping, there's a lot of rapid development to get concepts communicated and mocked up. All so you can be faster with manufacturing.
Still, I am seeing a lag with organizational response to that.
There's an opportunity when it comes to trying to understand those advancements. It’s especially critical when you need to get your organization in position to accommodate the advancements or to get more expedient in your process.”
How Do You Get Organizational Traction with Engineering Innovations?
Tony: “I’ve noticed something across the board with a variety of businesses I’ve worked with over the years. I've seen a lot of examples of pivoting being challenging. They might have started doing something consistently like a new product or process.
Now they want to entertain it more broadly but don’t know how to start going about it. As a result, there’s often some missteps in trying to get everyone on board directly.”
Megan: “I don't know if you've heard of the book Leading Change by Kotter, but it's probably a standard business MBA book that you would read while you're in school.
It talks about the eight steps you go through when you do a pivot like establishing urgency all the way down to anchoring those new approaches in the culture.
It really speaks to a kind of mirror with product development. It’s taking that approach and trying to understand what it is you're going after. Understanding that sweat equity has to go at every single level.
Organizations Skipping Important Design Steps
I think people or organizations tend to minimize some of those steps thinking they're being expedient. Let's say I have Creo as a software. That's going to help me get my CAD output quicker, but teams are not always understanding the logic in how to build that CAD.
As a result, they're going to have some shortcuts that are built in. Or it might be misunderstandings on timing that can lead to some missteps on the backend.
You end up with a product that has some issues and you likely stumble through a launch or hopefully pivot again. Hopefully, you figure that out on the front end on the next one, based on those lessons learned.
What I see is more opportunity on the front end to sit down and put in that work upfront. At the very least, we can do better than trying to figure it out as you go – using technology as a band-aid to try to get you there in the meantime.
What’s the Craziest Thing You’ve Seen in Product Development?
Megan: Right now, there's been a lot of examples, but I would say this is the craziest project I was on... I was a business liaison with Harley Davidson, and I was working on behalf of a supplier for them.
Back in 2018, they had relaunched their Dyna Softail platforms. They came out with seven or eight new models in that year, and that's pretty ambitious given that it was a two to three-year development cycle.
They went all in with trying to figure out what processes need to be in place to get this across the gate with this ambitious platform of product development. The problem?
There were definitely some broad based actions that got hung up. Because of that, there was a lot more front end work on either the engineer side or the supplier side to try to close those gaps. We’re talking about problems like mismatches with assemblies or mismatches at part expectations.
It sounds like an obvious thing - if you really want to get into something new, you have to do your homework upfront and be flexible as you go through that process. Otherwise you will get those delays and you will get those issues on the backend. They may be surmountable but still end up as a loss. Then you have to have a huge decompressive stage on what to do better next time.”
Tony: “That is really ambitious to do that much new product development in one year. That's incredible. I can't imagine pulling that off, but it sounds like it was exciting.”
Megan: “They did. They got the bikes out and it was crazy, but just the scope of work on it, just with our supplier alone, we were working on 130 different parts and they were tied down. You can imagine the tree of suppliers involved just to get those 130 finished IDs to the manufacturer. It was insane.
Tony: “Wow… That’s incredible. Thank you so much for being on the show. I appreciate it!”