The Electrical Engineer: A Piece in the Project Jigsaw (Part 4)
After having looked at how electrical engineers can impact the product development process by working with sales, systems engineering, testing and manufacturing, now I’m going to move onto collaborating with mechanical engineers and summarize with some conclusions.
This may be a little strange at first, how can you the electrical engineer influence the mechanical engineer and vice versa?
In any project, the product will almost certainly be placed inside some sort of enclosure; this could be big, in the case of a train or ship, or small in the case of a missile, or an engine bay.
In either case, mechanical constraints can affect the electrical design. If a harness is too big to go through a bulkhead or web, then the harness will have to re-design to make the overall diameter smaller, or an inline connector may be required to pass through the bulkhead – we can all do without these scenarios. And I’ve had enough of them in my time.
Perhaps the harness is so large that the bend radius is not small enough to go around an object? But by working together it can be really easy to overcome these problems by using modelling. With data from the mechanical engineer, such as an exact length of a harness, you as the electrical engineer can make volt drop and current calculations – the net result bring about reductions in cross sectional areas, and therefore minimising the mass of a harness.
The goals of any project would be manufacturability, testability, reliability and maintainability, from the outset – if it is to be a technical and commercial success.
One lasting point that I haven’t mentioned very clearly is the need for continual evaluation in the project’s progress. Yes, we all talk about it, but doing it can be another matter. But if you’re strict about this you really can make a difference.
Generally it ensures that the project remains on track and is able to achieve the projects goals. As a direct result of the planning stage and your involvement in all aspects of the design, a set of recommendations can be created that can help ongoing and future projects to:-
- Identify problems earlier
- Clarify performance, cost, and time relationships
- Improve project performance
- Locate opportunities for future technological advances.
- Evaluate the quality of project planning and ultimately project management
- Reduce cost
- Speed-up the achievement of results
- Identify mistakes, remedy them, and avoid them in the future
- Provide information to the client
- Reconfirm the organization’s commitment to the project.
The ‘weak link’ in the process is the lack of involvement of the project members themselves. For example, a project planner and project manager may be unsure how long a product will take to design, or how long components within that design may take to procure. The plan has only a start and end date, by which the project tasks have to be put within. Task times are then guessed at, and a critical path for these tasks created.
‘Strengthen that link’ – get detailed input from the individuals within the project team to take the guesswork out of many activities.
The inclusion of project members in the process can also provide those involved with information on the direction that a project is taking and ensures that each person knows their responsibilities throughout the project lifecycle. By direct involvement, individuals can feel valued as part of the project team, and their part in the project jigsaw fits!
That’s all from me for now; I hope you enjoyed this series of posts.