A tech company was struggling to release its latest product. It had a big problem: the glass on its handheld device had an astronomically high failure rate in drop tests. Stumped, engineers initiated a series of experiments with different variables to isolate the cause of a problem, known as a DOE*. They mounted the glass with thicker adhesive, tested double-stick foam, and even tried a rigid glue. They attempted a several controlled experiments to make the the product either more rigid or more flexible. Nothing was working. With many thousands of units ready to be manufactured and costs mounting by the day, panic began to set in.
DOEs sound simple enough: run tests until you figure out the problem. But they can go horribly wrong, resulting in poor-quality products, cost overruns and shipment delays. Here’s Instrumental’s five-step DOE process, with our recommended do’s and don’ts for each step to help you avert disaster.
The Instrumental team has been hard at work staging a set of significant functionality upgrades that will roll out to our customers in the coming months. We’re releasing the first of these upgrades today -- augmenting our customers’ ability to easily review and to analyze the data that Instrumental collects.
You’ve designed your part, built the CAD, and now need to kick it off for tooling. You’ve drafted your drawing and completed your tolerance stacks. But there’s one more key step: you need to formulate an inspection plan.
At it’s surface, this appears to be as simple as adding inspection bubbles to your dimensioned drawing. But underneath, there is important deliberation about what, how, and how often to measure each dimension critical to your product’s function, reliability, or cosmetic appearance. This is the data that you will rely on to prove the stability of your manufacturing process and to solve problems quickly if that process drifts
Regardless of whether you’re a proponent or not, automation is happening, and it’s happening fast. China has adopted policies with the intention to become a global leader in automation. What policies are the United States considering? The ones making the most headlines these days are economic policies to tax imports -- with the intention of incentivizing the reshoring of manufacturing jobs.
The question no one is asking is: what will those policies do to American manufacturing automation?
I spend a lot of my time these days speaking with engineers at companies that make things -- whether they are working at the brands doing the design work or at the factories doing the building. I usually open the conversation with an icebreaker: “Have you ever seen a new product get delayed?” Sometimes I get laughs, sometimes solemnity; overwhelmingly the answer is “all the time”.
What’s even more interesting is that most of these engineers acknowledge that these delays are expensive, but that they or their companies aren’t really doing much about it.
At Instrumental, we help our customers find and fix issues faster, saving weeks of development schedule slips or mass production delays. We do this by capturing high resolution images of every unit during assembly, and providing a seamless viewing experience from anywhere in the world. It’s this seamless connection to actionable data that makes the Instrumental system more valuable than traditional factory equipment.
That being said, we’re all engineers here. And when engineers are evaluating any new solution, they want to understand their options.
Traceability is a place where many companies cut corners in favor of the many other challenges involved in bringing a physical product to market, and they do so at great peril. The simplest (and most powerful!) form of traceability is assigning individual serial numbers to each individual unit, known as serialization.
What are the elements of a good hardware development process? Back in 2000, Joel Spolsky published a self-described “sloppy” list of the twelve things to rate the quality of a software team.
As a mechanical engineer who cofounded a software company, I often find myself trying to find translations between the two worlds of hardware and software. I’ve taken inspiration from The Joel Test to posit my own criteria for rating the quality of a hardware development process, based on my experiences working closely with many hardware companies.
Happy holidays from all of us at Instrumental!
Recently we announced Instrumental Measure, the first tool that enables hardware engineers to measure almost any dimension from any stage of assembly of any unit, at any time, without physical access to the unit or factory. This is possible because of Instrumental equipment that takes high-resolution images on the manufacturing lines. Those images are processed to compensate for optical artifacts, and then measurements can be taken directly on the images. The remote, retroactive nature of Instrumental Measure unlocks new use cases for measurement that were not previously possible. In this post, we’ll cover some common issues that many hardware engineering teams encounter, and compare how those issues would be solved with and without Instrumental Measure.
When Sam and I decided to teardown a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 to see if we could understand why some of them had caught fire, we didn’t just rip it apart and take some photos. We engaged in a real failure analysis (FA) process.
First, we ignored all of the theories we had read and focused on making a list of the key things that could go wrong from a design or implementation perspective that would result in a fire. Ranging from part quality to design issues, these became our hypotheses.
We then proceeded to carefully tear down the unit layer-by-layer to find evidence that either supported or refuted each hypothesis.
Brendan Green is Head of Advanced Manufacturing Operations at Instrumental. We asked him to share tips he’s learned from his experiences manufacturing physical products. This is Part 2 of 2.
Q: How are manufacturing companies organized?
Factories are not monolithic - they’re all tied to each other. In China, factories are in clusters depending on what you want to manufacture. Textiles, hardware, even pool tables - for anything you want to make, the factories for that vertical are often located near each other. That’s because having all the raw materials, components, etc. together in one area is convenient because you have a lot of suppliers nearby. That also means there’s competition for those suppliers nearby, which makes it easier for you as a product company to compare your options.
When you work with a factory, you have to be careful about who’s actually producing your product. It becomes even more important with a complex product or a product with regulatory/safety requirements because larger factories (especially if you’re not a high-volume customer) will often push your product out to their subcontractors without telling you. The subcontractors are smaller factories that don’t always have the same level of quality and aren’t always subject to the same labor practice standards. The big factories may not want you to know what they’re doing for two reasons. The first reason is because they’re doing something they shouldn’t. The second reason is that they’re protecting a strategic advantage. For example, the painting of the toys we were making was hard (we were painting onto silicone rubber and that’s a highly specialized skill so that is a source of competitive advantage). Our manufacturer wouldn’t tell us their painting supplier because there are only a few factories that can do that and they wanted to make it hard for us to build somewhere else. The factory wants to be a key player. Unfortunately, in a case like that, it means you won’t understand the whole supply chain.