Are you a design engineer looking to add some new tricks to your toolbelt? Welcome (or welcome back) to our Metal Enclosure Design Tips series. This time, we’re focusing on you, the engineer!
If you’d like to catch up on the previous blogs, check out October’s blog on metal finishing techniques, including painting, blasting and plating.
Engineers have a big undertaking. When it comes to new products or the next generation of a product line, they are tasked with solving challenges and ensuring that the design can be manufactured, while meeting cost and spec requirements. This process can be complicated, which is why our engineers suggest going back to basics with the engineering design process.
We also rallied together our engineers and picked their brains for tips and tricks to consider during the design process. Let’s first review the engineering design process.
As mentioned above, engineers are responsible for navigating product challenges. When it comes to enclosures, it could be engineering the enclosure to make it easier to scale or reducing the number of fasteners used in the manufacturing process. The engineering design process organizes all the work that goes into creating product solutions. Although it's represented as a sequential process, engineering design steps can be repeated numerous times before moving to the next step. Going back to the engineering design process can help optimize and move the project forward more quickly for the toughest design challenges
Define the Problem – This is the most important step. Ask your team and customers the basics about their problem or need. The who, what, and why questions are good places to start. Many of our customers come to us with a defined problem such as, “my cabinet needs to meet a NEMA 3R rating, but our seams aren’t holding.” By understanding the problem, they are trying to solve, we also align our goals around the project, including target price per piece, lead time and more. A University of Florida journal describes this step as critical and says to include, “objectives and goals (musts, must nots; wants, don't wants), constraints, [and] criteria used to evaluate the design”.
Collect Information – Once you have a clear understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve, it’s time to collect information. Researching end-users, customers, the market and finding existing solutions are part of this step. Understanding market trends is a key component to this step, which is many times overlooked. But how can I understand the market? Some places to start collecting information include past products, user reviews, textbooks and trade journals, company websites and catalogs, company personnel and patents.
Brainstorm & Analyze Ideas – At this point in the process, you probably have several ideas on how to solve the specific problem. Record your thoughts and how you plan to use materials available, meet budgetary and time restraints, follow specifications and more. Our engineers typically include sketches, visit the manufacturing floor, meet with our supply chain team and hold product review sessions.
Develop and Prototype a Solution – Now you have a working concept, the next step is to refine the solution by adjusting the product to meet specs and improve manufacturability. Build a prototype of the solution. Some fabrication shops, like ours, have areas dedicated to new product development. Areas dedicated to new product development enable you to test a solution as if it were in a production environment. Your prototype might not look exactly like the end-product. Depending on your customers’ preference, it may be made of a different material or not painted the way the product would be. Prototyping allows you to best test the areas where there may be issues and see if it will meet the user’s needs entering production.
Test the Solution – Now it’s time to test your solution. This step determines if you move forward in the engineering design process or if it’s back to the drawing board. Testing can include environmental testing or installing the product at a point of use. It’s not unusual to find issues that will require some rework and design changes.
Communicate Results – When you’ve decided on a final solution, present your solution to key stakeholders on your team, the plant manager and other cross-functional team members to ensure that the design translates to the shop floor and no surprises come up during production. Going back to the engineering design process can help you organize your problem-solving process and help you reach a solution faster. Now, let’s dive into tips to use during the engineering design process.
Tip 1: Lead with Engineering
This tip may seem obvious when referring to the engineering design process. When you do not use an engineering first mentality it can lead to inconsistencies in the project. When you lead each project with an engineering approach, you’re able to optimize the design for optimal manufacturing processes, reduce total product cost and meet lead times. Engineers must ensure that the design translates from computer to prototype and then from prototype to the manufacturing floor to shipping to the customer and installation. One way of putting engineering first is to follow design for manufacturing (DFM) principles, which brings us to our next tip.
Tip 2: Utilize Design for Manufacturing (DFM) Principles One of the top tips that our engineers live by is to always employ design for manufacturing (DFM) techniques. DFM techniques create the best possible product and meet cost targets. In an earlier blog, we shared that DFM, “optimizes a product’s design for efficiency, repeated production at the lowest cost while also meeting the product needs of the end-user. In real-world scenarios, DFM enables a manufacturer to scale up production with minimal challenges and without costly redesign.” One real-world example of using DFM for metal enclosure design is to reduce the number of fastener hardware in the design. Using features in the metal, such as forming the threads into the part, can cut costs and the labor required to install hardware manually. One of our recent vlogs also covers DFM best practices using real world examples.
Tip 3: Collaboration and Communication are Key Whether your engineering team works with engineers outside of your organization or other team members and departments in your company, effective communication is key throughout every step of the engineering design process. 2020 has made this especially challenging because many companies are not allowing face to face meetings. To maintain a collaborative partnership, our engineers recommend leveraging the tools at your disposal to show models or screenshots, along with phone or video calls. Encourage conversations and questions.
Tip 4: Get out on the Shop Floor Understanding your shop’s capabilities and taking your design concepts to the shop floor can go a long way towards helping you draft the most efficient design. Equipment capability and capacity are key to ensuring the enclosure moves quickly and smoothly through the facility.
Tip 5: Continue to Learn Same with any industry, keeping up with modern technology and software is vital. For engineers, continual learning can mean staying up to date with coding languages like SQL or design programs. Also, requirements can change or differ, so be sure your up to date or learn more about common enclosure requirements such as UL listings or NEMA ratings.
In this blog, we discussed the engineering design process and tips for engineers using the process.
In our previous blogs in this series, we covered metal joining, metal finishing and metal thickness. To learn more about these topics, check out the three previous blogs in this series below:
Metal Enclosure Design Tips: Metal Finishing
Metal Enclosure Design Tips: Metal Joining
Metal Enclosure Design Tips: Metal Thickness/Gauges
If you’re looking for a fabrication partner for your metal enclosures, talk to our team today: https://www.maysteel.com/contact/.
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