When it comes to senior design, there are many tasks one has to constantly be aware of and be able to overcome. Deadlines, design reports, sponsorship packets, executive summaries and advisement presentations — on top of actually designing the product you were set out to create in the first place.
With such a full plate of work to do, it is very simple to forget some details that are crucial to a successful outcome of the project. One of the largest and most overlooked details in the mechanical senior design projects has to be manufacturing intent, and as a team, if you don’t ever stop to consider it, it will create major delays in the creation of your design.
So, what is manufacturing intent and why on earth is it so important? It’s the process of designing a part or product while keeping in mind the extent of the abilities the tools and machines have at your disposal in order to manufacture these parts.
If this was a multi-million dollar company with a larger production budget and hundreds of different types of machines in order to create parts, it would be more of an option to be able to design parts that are really complex to make. But as a senior design project in a tech school with one machine shop, there is only so much that can physically be accomplished.
By all means, Florida Tech’s machine shop is very well equipped for the scale of projects that get accomplished there. And since the shop has slowly acquired new management and tools, there are many possibilities and various options of how to machine the part you have to design. There are mills, lathes, drill presses, band saws, grinders, sanders, CNC machines (Computer Numeric Controlled machines that automate the machining process) and more.
But this being said, manufacturing intent still has to be a huge consideration when creating parts of your project. In my weeks of begging to manufacture our robotic arm for our mars rover senior design project, I have often seen people create really complex parts that can only be made in the CNC, which with a couple of simple modifications, could easily be machined by hand.
Now, having a part being made in the CNC machine is not bad. If anything, a CNC machine can give you really great precision that otherwise you might not get if created by hand. The problem is that with the large number of senior design projects in all departments (mechanical, aerospace, ocean and biomedical engineering),the CNC machine is constantly under very high demand.
So if you’re trying to meet tight deadlines and stay on schedule, using the CNC should be highly considered, and possibly done ahead of time in order to accommodate the delay.
Another crucial design consideration is designing parts that are physically possible. Sure, you might be able to model a hollow sphere in CAD software, but that does not change the fact that you can’t make it out of a solid block of metal without cutting it in half. That is why knowing the abilities and limitations of the manufacturing machines is very important.
This wisdom comes through trial and error. I would have loved having someone tell me all of this at the beginning of the design process for our senior design progress, not more than half way through it. There would certainly have been less sleepless nights and a smoother design-to-manufacturing process.
That being said, all of this has been a really great learning experience that I believe has molded me into a much better and wiser mechanical engineer. If you’re interested in engineering tips, keep reading for more crazy updates about my senior design project, Florida Tech Mars Rover!