Engineering Prototypes and Clear Communication

Engineering Prototypes and Clear Communication

When in the development stage of a new product you are going to want to make some prototypes to ensure form, fit and function are what was expected. You are also going to want to ensure cost targets are met.

What you do not want to do is inflate the costs because of artificial design constraints. For example, I’m aware of one program where an electronics box was given certain size constraints and the engineers told to “fit” all of the electronics inside this envelope. That’s fine so far, this happens all the time.

Unfortunately, the very short height of this box meant a non-standard electrical part needed to be fabricated and used and so a custom part was purchased for this application. Driving the part cost from about a dollar for a standard part to over $50 for the custom part. Which turned out to be about one-fourth of the target cost of the entire unit. But instead of engineering raising a red flag that the budget was now way overblown, they continued on with the design.

Had they informed the Project Manager they would have found out that the height restriction was just a “goal” and not a “hard and fast” requirement. In this case the height difference was less than one-quarter of an inch, and increasing the box height would have easily been approved.

What was missing here was clear communication, actually “any” communication, between departments other than talk of ‘schedule”. While schedule is the driving force behind many new product introductions, it should not be the only constraint. And ‘all” of the people in the company, in every department, need to be empowered to make suggestions and let their voices be heard without fear of being hammered down.

What was missing here was a lack of leadership and personal empowerment to ensure clear communication was established and that everyone was working as a “team” toward the same goal. Each of the different disciplines operating in “silos” is a recipe for disaster.

Have you had any similar experiences? Let’s hear about them.


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