3D Printing and Manufacturing: How rapid prototyping might change the world.

3D printing, or rapid prototyping, moves out of scifi and into reality.

“Computer, give me a ham sandwich.”

We may not be too far away from that as the technology of rapid prototyping is moving into the food industry.  Today, 3D printing is being used to create custom parts that can have remarkable strength and functionality.  The fully-assembled part can actually be made with tolerances around 2-thousandths of an inch and with moving parts already assembled.

In the food industry, it is simply a matter of time until multiple combinations of ingredients and formulas are created to produce food on-demand.  However, the complexity of organic systems is still out of reach for the industry today and the complex reactions that occur during cooking would be difficult to model in a prototyping machine.

But what are some examples of ways we can leverage this technology today.

  1. Visualizing floor layouts.  Today 3D modeling is already accomplished on computer screens, enabling an individual to conduct a virtual tour of a facility before it is even constructed.  But what if you could create a scale model of the plant, with equipment already installed and scaled fork trucks, pallets, and people to visualize the workings of the plant within hours?  Literally, it is possible to build a model overnight, while you sleep.  This could alter how we go about creating a visual factory and could assist Industrial Engineers with plant layout and Operations people with new equipment installations and safety evaluations before a plant is even under construction.  It could save thousands of dollars in post-construction tweaking of a plant.
  2. Changepart construction and design.  Before new packaging can hit the market, a major time constraint is the design and construction of changeparts for the packaging equipment.  Rapid prototyping would allow the package to be made in a day, a physical sample sent to the equipment manufacturer, changeparts to be designed almost immediately, and then those changeparts printed the next day to try a dry fit to the package and the equipment.  This could shave weeks, if not months, from a new package timeline to market.
  3. Reducing equipment downtime.  Metal prototyping is a possibility with this technology as well.  A new part can be made overnight or even right in the shop.  Depending on the part complexity and where it must be shipped from, it might be a faster, cheaper alternative to have the part printed when it is needed if it can be done locally.
  4. Reducing parts inventory.  Some parts have to be purchased in quantities that can be a bit ridiculous at times.  If parts aren’t needed very often, they can be printed on-demand, reducing on-hand inventory and freeing up space in your parts room.

I’m sure I missed many of the ways this technology can help the manufacturing environment.  There are engineering and new product testing that are a given for this type of technology.  The 3D printing world is already starting to invade the food industry by printing out chocolate and sugar candy.

Now, how about that sandwich?


Technical Creativity


Don’t discount creative thinkers in technical roles.  Also, don’t discount technical thinkers in creative roles.  We use both our left and right brains every day.  Granted, some people are prone to use one side over the other, but that doesn’t mean they can’t reach into and borrow from the recessive hemisphere.

When you look at history, many of the great scientists were also artists, and vice-versa.  The best example I can think of is Leonardo da Vinci.  The man could do just about everything and is known for his contributions in both art and science.

When you consider the imagination it takes to build bridges, skyscrapers, chemical processes, medical devices and more, it is easy to see how creativity must lead design.  A prime example is how science fiction becomes science fact.  Imagination is ingenuity.

Some ways to foster imagination and technical accuracy…

1)      Get out of your comfort zone.

2)      Change your perspective.

3)      Play games at work and at home.

4)      Become a student of many disciplines.

5)      Take on new hobbies that work your recessive side.

6)      Encourage others to join you.

Being one way is not better than the other.  We often discount the arts in business.  But the arts are what keep us building new things.  Cultivate both minds, and you will see exponential results.

Scale and Perspective


A blimp in the distance.

Understanding Scale is what Engineers and Project Managers do.  Understanding Perspective is what Leaders do.  Combining the two, marrying scale and perspective, is what Project Leaders do.


Building to scale is when you construct something to be proportionally equivalent to the final product.  Scale models are used to understand spatial relationships; scale systems are used to test loads and outputs.  Scale also is a measure of degree.  A small-scale project versus a large-scale project.  Scaling a project refers to pilot testing and then upsizing a system to its final size or load.


Perspective is a point-of-view and understanding the relationship of things from a specific place; knowing how to represent items in terms of the things around it.  Artistic perspective often discusses the ability to translate 3-dimensional into 2-dimensional in such a way that it is understandable and realistic to the viewer.  Abstract perspective involves the position and observation from the individual on the topic or object.  Perspective is tied to emotion and experience.

When working on a project, it is important to remember both Scale and Perspective throughout the process.  Using the DMAIC model from 6-sigma, we can apply both Scale and Perspective throughout the method.

Define – Understanding the scale of the project is part of the define phase.  One must determine the size and scope that will be included and excluded as part of the project.  The Project Leader must also understand the perspective of the sponsor and the end-user.  Too many times we omit the perspective of the people that know the process best and can add significant value to the scope.

Measure – This is often thought of as strictly a scientific item.  However, this phase of the project requires a thorough understanding of the perspectives of the customer, sponsor, user, and team.  Each of these perspectives will have different metrics that are important to them and they need to at least be considered.  Some will be eliminated due to time constraints, feasibility, or other reasons, but consideration is key when involving people in your project.  The scale of this phase can be daunting unless a good method of vetting the essential from the ancillary is found.  Scaling this section back can be detrimental unless all of the perspectives that affect the project are understood.

Analyze – Be careful of “paralysis by analysis”.  There are hundreds of statistical tools to use and different ways to slice and dice the data.  Scale your analysis so that it is representative of the perspectives you choose to include in your project.  Understand the key improvement areas of each and perform an initial-phase test to see if the data warrants further investigation.

Improve – This is where scale and perspective can sometimes collide.  By including multiple perspectives you will undoubtedly increase the scale of the project.  Understand where improvement will yield the best results and start there, adding scale as long as the project justifies the improvement.  Implementation may need to be scaled as well, working your way to the final product once you have proven the method.

Control – This is where gaining perspective at the beginning of the project will pay the most dividends.  By understanding the perspective of the end-user you will be able to sustain and control the process.  Remember, the end-user will be the one to decide whether or not your project will work, not the boss, not the sponsor, not you.  If the end-user decides that the project does not satisfy the need from their perspective, no matter how much you scale, it won’t work…period.

We, as Project Leaders, are people that work with processes, projects, and people.  We have to understand the process we are affecting, design and manage the projects that will improve that process, and serve the people that will benefit from and use the final product.

What is your perspective of this post?

How have you seen different perspectives affect the outcome of a project?

Six Sins of Process Design

sixsins1Designing a process is a process in itself.  Webster defines process as

“a series of actions or operations conducing to an end”

By this definition, almost everything we do is a process.  So as we design processes as engineers, managers, or practitioners, we must consider several things.  Here is a list of six that, if not considered, can lead to disastrous results.

Sin Number 1: Not Involving the End User

It is easy to get caught up in the theoretical and to put pen to paper.  It is hard to get a lot of people to contribute to the design and to be humble enough to let them tell you how something should be done.  The End-User is the customer.  As a designer of a process you are typically not the end-user, but merely the creator.  Create a process and then walk away, right?  Wrong.  The process is no good if it is not used and it will not be used if the customer doesn’t have any say.  You have to get people involved with the design if you want the ever-elusive buy-in that has to come with a successful process.  Listen to what causes pain today and eliminate the pain in the process.  Not only will this result in a happy customer, it will also result in a more efficient system.

Sin Number 2: Not Knowing the Payback

The savings can dictate the intricacy of the process.  This is especially true for equipment and engineering.  If you know how much you save with the process improvement then you can understand how much you can spend and get away with it for the project proposal.  If your company has a standard payback rule of 18 months, then try to get every last dime you can into the project cost without jumping over the payback period.  Then you can design the project with the most automation or bells and whistles you can to make the system more appealing.

Sin Number 3: Doing Too Much Yourself

Don’t be afraid to seek help.  You can’t do it all.  Often times, taking on too much results in mediocre design and execution.  Get others to help take the burden up for you.  Supervisors, operators and engineers are great resources for technical knowledge and interviewing end users to identify project needs.  If you are on a multiple shift operation, get help from the supervisors on those off-shifts to help you with questions, implementation, and auditing.

Sin Number 4: Sticking to a Process for Process’s Sake

Just because you learned a really interesting process doesn’t mean it applies to your application.  Sometimes it is tempting to force a process design where it doesn’t belong.  Other times your organization needs to change a little to accommodate a design and that change needs to be the project first.  Very few processes can be implemented without some sort of modification.  Consider your options and don’t force a square peg into a round hole.

Sin Number 5: Not Consulting the Experts

If you are not the technical expert for the process, get the experts involved.  Don’t think you have to be the expert about everything.  You are the designer of a process.  Processes usually have individual components or unit operations as part of the system.  You don’t have to be the unit operation expert to create a stellar process.  But you need to make sure that you consult the experts to understand how the parts connect and make sure your design considers all of the needs for each unit op.

Sin Number 6: Neglecting the Future

Guess what…your process will not be the last.  Something will come along that will be better.  Another process will have to interact with yours.  Something will change in the system and it will have to be modified.  Don’t be arrogant, you can’t see the future, but you can accommodate it.  The U.S. Constitution was designed so that it could be changed in the future as the times changed.  Make sure that your process has a way to be modified with the times.  Document your process so that it is easy to follow and alter as the need arises.  Allow for simple bolt-ons or modifications.  Anticipate near-future changes and design for them wherever you can.

If you can avoid these sins you will have better processes.  It takes a lot of work to design something that will be functional, helpful and will last.  Take the time to do it right.

What other sins can you think of related to Process Design?

Which sin have can you relate to the most in your life?