Engineers and designers frequently seek simplicity as a measure of merit in products and machine designs. Simplicity has many virtues. Simplicity often means high reliability. Simplicity can translate to long life-expectancy. Simplicity can often embody elegance in design or some insight that translates to a better user experience.
So when planning products and machinery designs, several basic criteria should be considered at the outset. How many hours a day does the system need to operate? There’s a big difference between designing for a few hours day intermittent usage, and 24/7. Producing a million of something per day, beer in bottles, toothbrushes, or whatever, requires a different design perspective because the of the mission-critical nature that one million parts requires.
When a machines or project requires complexity, don’t let it slow you down. While complex projects can be daunting challenges, there are a few key ways to approach complexity that will insure success.
The first strategy to insure that a complex project or product design will be successful is to slice it into its major parts. Evaluate each section according to two separate dimensions, the unique criteria of that section and how that section will interact with the rest of the project. The first element allows focus on the “best in class” solution for each section recognizing that the requirements will be different for the various sections. An easy pitfall would be to try and have all the sections designed to common criteria which usually leads to less than ideal results.
The second aspect of the selection strategy is to consider how the technology will interface to the rest of the system. There is a difference between coding for a hardware “handshake” in the I/O structure versus implementing and EtherCat interface between systems. Evaluating this aspect separately is very important because in today’s controls world, the more complex solution may be the right solution in the long run. This too is a situation that is easy to overlook.
Sometimes the mix of technology requires integration of components that are not typical for a given company’s skill set. There are a couple of ways to work with new technology. Decide at the outset that the new “tech” is part of the organization’s future and get trained. Go through the learning curve so that the company can ‘own’ it from an operations and maintenance standpoint.
Otherwise, hire an engineering firm to fill in the pieces that are missing. Working with the right firm can minimize delays and other potential threats to the new development.
Either way, complexity is here to stay.