Sunday, November 3, 2013

Engineering Value

OK, I'll admit it. Yes. I have started to shop for Christmas gifts. I know it's only the first week of November. Actually, this early shopping is way off the norm for me. I disdain shopping crowds and wasting time in stores. Usually, I know exactly what I plan to purchase and wait until the last possible minute to get it. So, most of my shopping research is done at home on the Internet. Then I make my purchase when I know exactly what I want to buy for that special someone. In my research, I look for the best product and the best price. I want the best value.

I think we all look for the best value, however I don't think we have a common understanding of value. Value ties requirements to cost. The best product could mean a lot of different things. Value is not always the least expensive product. For example, I can buy an echo manual can opener for a whole lot less than a Hamilton Beach automatic electric can opener. Both do a great job, but one requires more work on my part. If I want to minimize my effort, the less expensive echo is not the best value for me.

At KTM Solutions, our company develops the engineering for new products that support a variety of industries. From aircraft structures to manufacturing automation, we support all areas. Value for one industry is defined differently than another simply because each has it's own unique requirements. Since all consumers want value (whether private or corporate), it is important that engineers understand the parameters that drive the value equation. In order to engineer value, proper and complete requirements definition is always the first place to start.

Are you getting the value you expect from your engineering team? If not, let's talk. Perhaps we can help drive value into your products.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Smart Systems - The Internet of Things

Have you heard of the Internet of Things? Although I have heard of similar ideas, this is a new area I've begun to study. Cyber links between machines. Machines"talking" to other machines. For instance, the technology allows machines to self monitor and sends feedback signals to other machines or human interfaces enabling preventative maintenance. Essentially, as the technology grows and machines are designed to self respond, machines will be able to self heal and continue down the path toward artificial intelligence. Does this sound far fetched? Not really. In fact, in some industries the machines have already begun to process diagnostics and perform internal maintenance.

Consider aircraft maintenance. For several years, the data management system has monitored aircraft systems and reported when maintenance was required. Some are beginning to be more proactive and diagnose potential issues. Another example, although less technical, automobiles are informing drivers when the oil needs to be changed and tires need air. Some automotive models also sense when collisions might occur. The latest BMW X5 will parallel park itself and can essentially drive its self on interstate highways.

So, given where this is going, it's not hard to imagine a world where machines are designed to take care of themselves. The machines will "know" when they need maintenance. Suppose the machine "determines" that a bearing needs maintenance. The machine will automatically submit an order for a replacement part and begin to limit the loads it will accept until the maintenance is accomplished. Perhaps the bearing is worn beyond use, so the machine will take itself off line, sends a message to a "partner" machine so that the partner can pick up the increased load. The machine will be notified when the replacement part arrives and either call for another machine to perform the repair or call the service technician. The Internet of Things - the technology is already here.

At KTM Solutions, this is a new area where we hope to play. As we continue to build our machine automation business, we want to include the benefits of the Internet of Things. We welcome your thoughts and would love to have you join with us.