Mechanical design of
consumer products all follow the same basic principles of design. Whether
I am designing a computer case, a telecommunications cabinet, or an engine
I follow a set of parameters to design that particular product. In order
for any design to be successful, it must first be proven, proven through
real world testing in the environment for which the product being designed
Of course we all know that
when we design products for a particular environment, some poor guy will
come along and use the product that we have so faithfully designed with
our years of experience as the product was unintended.
I call this the uh oh
syndrome! Basically it all boils down to over engineering every product
that we design. We have been forced to do this for one reason, product
liability of manufacturers. Never mind that we have placed warning labels
on the product and placed crystal clear instructions in the product
manual, we are STILL liable. Why? Because attorneys know that we suspect,
heck we know that if we design something, sooner or later someone will
come along and use it for an unintended purpose, hence we are liable
simply because we know this to be true.
Throw away all your
engineering equations and factors and begin anew. So, how do we
successfully design any product that will function at its assigned task
and still avoid liability. The answer is that you can't however, you can
protect yourself and your employer by using your common sense.
If I design an office desk
using only sheet metal (20 gage) and I do not allow for the fact that some
really overweight guy or guys is going to sit his rump down on it then,
I'm liable, yes me and my employer. Fortunately, a consumer's attorney is
going to go for the big money and probably leave Joe Engineer alone but we
owe it to our employers to design the best, SAFEST products that we can.
How? Easy as pie! Once you
have finalized your basic design. TEST IT! Not in some controlled lab
environment, that will only serve to push back the time that it will take
your employer to introduce it into the marketplace, I mean test it in the
real world. I know testing takes time but if you are a great designer, you
regularly test your designs. Real world testing will actually reduce your
time to market.
After you have finalized
your basic design, and after you have ordered your prototypes, assemble
the parts and give several to employees so that they can test the products
in the real world. Since the testers are employees, they will have general
product knowledge and know when and if something is about to cause a
problem or fail altogether.
The benefits of employee testing in real
world conditions are evident. Knowledge of employees about new products,
what results they expect to see and what are actually seen will actually
make or break a design.