The Creative Inventor: Question Everything

Way back in the last century, when I was in high school in the early 1960s, I had an English teacher who presented our class with this statement: "Believe nothing, question everything". Upon hearing this, I was astounded and vehemently angry. I had been raised to believe in optimism, honesty, trust, and all of the other positive attributes of life. Who was this man who dared to question my faith?

On demanding an explanation from my teacher on just what he meant by his statement, he responded by saying, "Believe nothing that you hear from others or what you read in print. Instead, question everything to which you are exposed, and search for the truth yourself."

It's amazing, but 47 years later, I realize that this has been my life's goal. Understanding the true meaning of his statement put me on a lifelong task of educating myself on virtually every subject. When I questioned my faith, I undertook to believe nothing that I had been taught, until I proved to myself that it was fact. Doing so not only confirmed that faith, but expanded it.

But this article is not about faith, or lack of it, for that is a personal thing. This article is about questioning everything that we do in manufacturing today. Manufacturing has been king in the US for more than 150 years. Much of what we still do dates back nearly that far. We retain antiquated ideas, workflows, recordkeeping, while propagating more of the same.

The engineering department under the microscope

Okay, for most of my readers, this is where you live. You eat, drink, and think about design most of the time you are at work. But have you ever questioned why you do certain things in a specific way? Maybe for the health of your company it's time to "believe nothing and question everything."

  • Is your current design workflow the result of acquired habits, or is it really the most efficient way to design and communicate?
  • Have you selected the best tools for the job, or are you just maintaining status quo?
  • Is the engineering workflow designed for the best possible communication between departments?
  • Are you maintaining obsolete standards that have been in place in your company since the beginning?
  • Do you feel that every day at work is like rowing an extremely heavy boat upstream?
  • Do you really communicate with other departments in your company, especially manufacturing?

With the economy currently in the tank, showing some weak signs of improvement, it's time to start questioning everything NOW. As I'm sure everyone has seen by now, many weaker competitors are gone. More will follow. Will your company be one of them?

Having gone through many recessions in my lifetime, I've seen that the companies that survive are the ones that are enthusiastic about change. I'm not talking about the change that our government constantly professes, I'm talking about Real Change. Not change for change's sake, but change that will stick and improve every facet of your business and your chances for success, not just survival. Sometimes companies focus so much on survival, they are not prepared for the improvements necessary for success!

So how do we accomplish this in our own company? Is it going to cost money? Will company management buy into our ideas for change? Where do we start?

We start by believing that nothing that we currently do is correct. We then start to dissect every function and operation that we perform. Below are a few areas that are at the top of my list. Make your own "question everything" list:

  • How do we plan a project prior to design?
  • Are designs worked on by individuals or by project groups?
  • Do we pick the best engineers/designers for that project?
  • Have all engineers and designers been evaluated and ranked by qualifications?
  • Has the actual design been thoroughly described as to function and feasibility, with an adequate timeline for completion?
  • Have all design parameters been fully determined?
  • Have we set up a good line of communication with the customer/end user?
  • How do we execute the design?
  • Have we set up our database and project structure for easy reuse of subassemblies and components from prior designs?
  • How do we reuse those components? Copying components to other project directories is an extremely bad habit. There are better ways.
  • Do we have the proper tools to accomplish the design productively?
  • Are we using older software tools out of habit?
  • Autodesk's current theme of Digital Prototyping is not just an advertising buzzword. Digital Prototyping is the key to your company's survival in the future. Has this been fully embraced within your company?
  • Are you on state-of-the-art Autodesk Inventor software, or are you lagging severely behind in versions that do not have the capability you need?
  • Are you reluctant to utilize the newer versions, preferring instead to maintain status quo?
  • Have you taken the time and interest to learn everything there is to know about the software that you use?
  • Is your manager or company owner actually aware that newer software and proper training is the key to increased productivity?
  • How do we communicate the design?
  • Are we stuck on one-size-fits-all paper? Do we continue the obsolete practice of combining assembly drawings and part drawing documentation in one huge file?
  • Are we giving manufacturing staff all of the information they really need to produce a part, or complete design efficiently with optimum quality and cost reduction?
  • Are we over- or under-tolerancing? Over-tolerancing on individual parts increases manufacturing costs considerably. Under-tolerancing considerably increases waste and remake/remachining time.
  • Have we implemented geometric dimensioning and tolerancing within our company? GD&T has been around a very long time and can dramatically improve quality and reduce waste in any company.
  • Are we fully checking drawings for error before manufacturing? Have we established a policy of not manufacturing any part until it has been fully checked and released?
  • How do we handle ECOs and revisions? Do we have a policy and is it strictly enforced?
  • Do we have an "us versus them" mentality with manufacturing? Do we really believe that our job is done when our designs have been released to manufacturing?

"Fixing" the engineering department

I'm not going to put myself in the position of telling you how to fix your engineering department. You know your own company better than anyone else. You could pay me to come to your company and tell your management what to change and how, but you are actually in a better position to know.

You know the company, the product, and if you follow my advice on "believe nothing, question everything", you should also know or have discovered the problems that need to be fixed. Not just for survival, but for success. I welcome any comments or questions regarding the need for your company to change. Feel free to e-mail me anytime!

Now, it's time for you to get busy making it happen!

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