The design engineering process requires a comprehensive approach to problem solving—or stated another way, capability enabling or expanding. When clients ask us to help them fix an existing problem or design a solution that will extend capabilities—perhaps allowing them to scale up systems so they can manufacture a new product, connect communication and control systems between existing technologies, or implement IoT solutions that opens them up to new industries or markets—we apply a proven process and principles that guide us and our clients to creative, cost-effective and efficient solutions for products, processes, platforms, systems, and techniques. The comprehensive discussion below offers insight into what you can expect when working with Enginasion. Follow the entire discussion or jump to any section that interests you.
- Discovery Phase
- Design Engineering—Inspired by Nature
- How to Brainstorm Design Ideas
- Design Engineering Basics
- The Politics of Innovation
- Principles of Interface Design
- The Key to Design Engineering
- Hardware/Software Controls
- Test Equipment and Technical Instrument Design
- Why Enginasion
With any new project, or for any re-design initiatives, we start with a discovery phase. We meet with your team and discuss the root problem that needs solving. Together, we list possible solutions and create the fastest, least expensive test to determine which technologies can combine to create a solution. We call this “the fastest path to failure.” We want to eliminate solution candidates as quickly as possible so the most time is spent on the best-fit solutions.
In practice, we want to create a path for the development of the device, but the initial goal is to find the cheapest, fastest product, and best overall solution that we can test out quickly. That way, we’ll know if a path doesn’t pan out that we haven’t spent too much time or money on it. Indeed, we want this to fail as quickly as possible, so if it won’t work, we will know in a timely manner and can move on to more viable options—ultimately creating your unique solution.
A principle we use for inspiration comes from the natural world; this is called biomimicry. Experience tells us that truly elegant solutions are simple and already found in nature. We all know the source of Velcro, the burrs that stick to our clothes as we walk through the woods in the fall. Nature self-selects, adapts, and sustains itself (when we aren’t working against it)—and has been doing so for eons. In the design phase, we ask what solutions might already exist that that could apply to the application at hand. In this vein, we incorporate a “preventative health model” to our designs to avoid complications that can come with not maintaining good systems and upkeep—which also helps accommodate scaling operations.
A pharmaceutical client needed to qualify defective or miscounted tablets. The solution on the table was to use a very high-resolution camera at a long focal length with a big computer to process all this data. Camera lenses take in a wide field of view, amounting to a lot of wasted data to be processed. That’s the traditional solution.
In the discovery phase for this project, Enginasion and the client team came up with a different approach. We followed the model of a fly, which has thousands of eyes, each looking at a small area. Only 16 pixels per inch were needed to analyze the line accurately. Enginasion created a system using 40 low-resolution cameras in the tablet qualification line. Each camera being responsible for only one inch of view. This solution of identical, networked, small cameras allowed for a less powerful processor, built in redundancy, and minimal down time.
Getting to solutions like the one above requires a thoughtful approach. Though, it’s really less about what you assume to know, and more about what you imagine could be possible. Here’s something we’ve learned: what you “think” you have in front of you as options can be hampered precisely by what you think. You may find out, after uncovering these variables, that the problem you think you have isn’t really the problem. To get there, you do need to ask some basic brainstorming questions:
- Is there a real need?
- What is the physical nature of it?
- What does it really have to do? And not do?
- Is it—the existing problem or possible solution—safe?
- Is it worth the investment if the solution already exists; when status quo is simple enough, viable, and available?
- Are there size and weight constraints?
- Are there requirements and/or constraints it must meet for its ability to function to spec?
- What are the constraints holding you back, such that it hasn’t been done before? Drill down on these constraints—get specific.
Most engineers know how to solve the kind of problems they are trained to solve, and involve three basic engineering variables when addressing concerns:
- The persons involved/affected
- Their environment
- The task at hand
If you are staffed for typical electrical problems, you probably have very capable electrical engineers. If your production problems are typically mechanical, you are probably staffed with very competent mechanical engineers—all of whom know how to address problems with traditional, sound engineering approaches.
When your problem falls outside of the norm or in between functions, Enginasion is your solution. We are experts in the “impossible.” We also look beyond the basics to uncover what may really be going on in an organization and the people involved in the decision making and end-use applications. There are other elements involved with any successful design discovery phase that speak more to the “soft” skills involved when encouraging innovation. All of these variables and considerations are directly related to the interpersonal nature of group dynamics—something as keenly essential to innovation as any engineering credential anyone might bring to the table. We call this the “politics of innovation,” which we discuss at length in a related blog.
We consider the following politics of innovation in the discovery phase of design engineering:
- People naturally want to solve the problems they know how to solve. Seek outside the status quo, because what has already been done, and the thought process that governs it, may be exactly why it isn’t working anymore.
- As we’ve mentioned above, truly elegant solutions are simple and already found in nature.
- Respect the fact that every person communicates differently; embrace different communication styles so everyone is free to teach and learn from each other.
- Failure is for learning; take what needs to be learned from it and move on.
- There’s nothing like a good mission to spark energy into a team.
- If a “bully” in the room wins, the team loses. A bully, in this scenario, has preconceived notions that rule out the possibilities of multiple solutions.
- Know who you’re selling to. Talk to the end user. Be the end user. Design it like your livelihood depends on it.
- Invention is an art form. Remove preconceived notions of what success needs to look like.
- Lead the technology; catching up is just re-inventing what’s been discarded.
- Don’t fix symptoms, fix problems.
- It’s all about the people. Perhaps this should be number 1 on the list, because innovation is driven by people.
By creating an atmosphere that encourages expansive thinking and open discourse, limitation is, well, limited. Finding creative solutions requires opening up to new—think limitless—possibilities.
The soft skills above cover the “people” aspects of design, but what are the nuts and bolts required of design engineering when working on technical projects, such as embedded systems, industrial controls, and medical device technology? Interestingly, they aren’t as technical sounding as you might thing for the specific end-use duty they are applied towards.
The truly easy solutions should feel like you’ve done—or have to do—nothing to arrive at them. For end-users of a product or service, that is how a good solution should be experienced. The reality for the people creating that ultimate user experience (UX) is anything but simple and easy.
There are a number of principles that design engineers use in the process of designing user interfaces that create elegant, seamless solutions for people—when applied correctly. As always, the ease of function for the end-user is the focus. The list of principles includes a number of elements (which we discuss in more detail in this blog), and guide us as we design the functionality and usability of your application.
- Clarity. This provides predictability for people and guides them on what their next steps should be.
- Flexibility. You need to balance your product’s ability to meet the intent and perform well in all situations.
- Familiarity. We are drawn to and feel secure with what we know; even feel smart knowing something without trying. Design should engender this.
- Conserve attention. Uninterrupted attention is a reigning principle in interface design and it can directly affect usability if not done well.
- Control. Keep the user in control by keeping the pathways clear and interactions predictable—and repeatable. Don’t worry about stating the obvious … the obvious almost never is.
- Efficiency. Figure out the basics of the users’ routine, then design those functions in the most logical, streamlined sequence.
- Consistency. Elements such as hierarchy, basic navigation sequences, color schemes, and grid alignment all contribute to overall consistency for visual and functional appeal.
The key to design for Enginasion is in exploring and creating unique solutions to actual problems. Many of the problems that we help people with are singular to their business. Manufacturing companies look to Enginasion because they need something out of the ordinary. Many engineering groups in various industries rely on us for solutions to challenges that are outside their normal scope.
We generally work with companies when they are facing unusual circumstances. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
- You’ve invested money and resources implementing a new system just prior to another technology launch that can increase its efficiency and output, but it is not as integrative as it should or could be.
- You need to replace a new technology, but don’t have the resources—or budget—to start from scratch.
- You need communication support for two merged divisions—think inventory control systems and production lines transferring real-time data to each other.
The solutions are usually applications with combined technologies. They can include:
- Embedded software
- Acquiring data in a unique way for a database
Through the application of our software and electrical engineering expertise, we determine the optimum balance of hardware and software based on efficiency and cost to develop the instrument. Sometimes really fast software can replace hardware, and vice versa.
When exploring the situation in front of us, we track the existing steps of the current process. This helps us discover the challenges and opportunities associated with it—many times exposing possibilities that were there all along. This was the case with a solution we provided for the technology associated with a periodontal device.
To begin the design discovery process, we talked with the oral surgeons and found out what their current protocols were, uncovering the existing deficits in their technology. We also asked them what they hoped to achieve with their next technological platform and learned that the existing platform did not provide them with a visual of which tooth they were targeting. This was vital, not only for the obvious reasons, but because it could have a direct safety impact on the gums of the patients.
Providing surgeons with a visual check on their work seemed like an obvious fix—and among other improvements, we incorporated this into the new medical device technology. Speaking with the end-user, in this case the surgeons, was instrumental in providing us the most natural path to follow for our plan of action. Applying the technology to bring it together was what made it a reality. Our graphic artist optimized the surgeons’ experience. She developed the interface form, logistics, and color palettes, paying attention to the surgeon’s comfort while alternating attention between the patient and the laser controls. Click here to download the case study.
Before and After of an Android User Interface
Enginasion designs and manufactures test equipment and technical instruments. At the heart of this equipment is a unique combination electronics and software—the control system. The control system pilots the action within the system, guiding the mechanics, fluidics, metrology, and data gathering. Think of a car. The equipment is the car. The engine is comprised of hardware and software. The control system is the safety and system management; and the control system determines how the engine is going to make the car work.
Enginasion technologists are well versed in many technologies used in diverse industries, such as biopharma and life sciences, medical devices, defense, and industrial. We’re here to help you solve your difficult technical problems. Let’s face your challenges together and create a new, cost-effective, efficient outcome. Bring us your process, product, technique, or vision—we’ll explore the possibilities and design a new solution for you. Contact us now to discover what new vision might be closer to reality than you thought possible.