August 28, 2023
Making great products is a team effort. It annoys me when the host of a certain house remodeling show claims credit for how wonderful her project turned out, as if the crew that actually did the work had never gotten their hands dirty. Some portions of a project may need a “solo,” but like a wonderful symphony, the best performance requires a full orchestra. As mentioned in the last post, vendors were once staffed to dispatch a few “session musicians” to help with the more difficult passages. Modern market conditions no longer fund such extravagance and, instead, you are told that proprietary software will transform your rough notes into a wonderful melody. I suppose that somewhere, someone is using a “Band in a Box” program to write a future classic, but the creator will probably deny the high-tech assist in their Grammy acceptance speech. Our trade is much more “derivative” than the performing arts and, I would argue, this puts a higher value on teamwork. When designing new gearboxes, it is extremely important to get input from others inside and outside of your team. The “side men” lent to us by vendors back in the day introduced us to worries we did not know we had. Concepts like “bearing slope” and “optimum pre-load” changed the analysis and kept us from going down some dangerous paths. Changes in the manufacturing process because of new machine tools revised the working envelope and better cutting tools allowed us to make more accurate parts. Sub-contractors want you to succeed; giving them a “sneak preview” of your latest masterpiece can keep you from expensive mistakes. I always considered our purchasing department to be a “force multiplier,” because if they did not know “the guy” we needed, they found him. Go visit those vendors when you can; the really good ones are too busy to waste time taking you to lunch. And don’t forget the assembly department. Ours saved us from many potential disasters by pointing out access and “wrench clearance” issues. That is a great reminder of an important skill for all designers: do a complete process plan for your device in your head. When imagining any component, picture it moving from raw material through your shop and into the final assembly. If you cannot do that without envisioning a problem, you need to go back a step or two and start over.