Mechanical engineering design that can provide ideas for non-manufacturers
We interviewed Fortec Co., Ltd.’s CEO Shinichi Misao, who is good at mechanical engineering design for non-manufacturers, about the concept of mechanical design and how to generate ideas.
First, please tell us about the company profile.
I founded the company in April 2012 as a mechanical engineering design company. We support companies, especially non-manufacturers, which want to develop products through mechanical design, FEM analysis, prototype production, and mass- production support.
As for my background, after graduating from university, I first joined Toshiba Medical Manufacturing Co., Ltd., where I was designing medical equipment. Then I changed my job to Casio Computer Co., Ltd. and engaged in designing consumer products such as mobile phones and electronic musical instruments. I quit from NEC Casio Mobile Communications Co., Ltd. and established Fortec Co., Ltd.
My life is all about mechanical design from drafting to 2D CAD, then to 3D CAD. It has been 30 years of experiencing the transition of the IT revolution.
What kind of company is your customer?
We have 3 types of customers:.
・ Manufacturers who seek external mechanical engineering design companies due to a lack of internal resources.
・ IT / venture companies that aim to launch a new business including developing products.
・ Construction industry, transportation industry, etc. which want to solve labor shortage problems by creating original tools and equipment
Aside from the manufacturers, they are non-manufacturing companies. Isn't it interesting? The circumstances of the growth of IoT and labor shortages have been boosting new demand for product development. Nowadays, non-manufacturing companies are creating a new 'product development' market.
IoT is said to be the Internet of Things. The IT and security industries, dealing with information and communications so far, have begun to create new businesses connecting this information to new products.
In addition, the labor shortage is a serious problem in the construction and transportation industries. Again, non-manufacturing companies are enthusiastic about 'product development', such as developing their own tools that enable them to perform tasks productively.
We support such non-manufacturer product development based on our many years of experience in mechanical design.
How exactly does work from non-manufacturers differ from work from manufacturers?
Non-manufacturers have no experience in product development and cannot write specifications which are 'rules that must be met' in product development.
In the first place, the job of the mechanical design is 'creating a structure that satisfies the specifications', but they cannot make the specifications themselves. Working with a non-manufacturer starts with understanding what they want to do and proposing specifications.
Creating a specification with a customer is not easy. Considering conventional common sense, it is the manufacturer's role to make the specification and take responsibility for it.
However, when 3D CAD became available at a low price, it became easy to create a prototype by yourself and make a prototype with a 3D printer from the easy idea of 'I want this product'. Isn't it good to expand the possibilities of manufacturing? We and mechanical designers also need to take on the challenge of determining specifications with such customers.
'Making a shape' differs from 'making a design'. When the product is used by consumers, it must not be dangerous or broken immediately. On the other hand, if it becomes excessive- quality, the company is not competitive on price and the sales might be sluggish.
Product specifications are a compass for what a product should be in the plan with many conflicting factors, and it is the basis of everything.
Speaking of 3D CAD, you have experienced a shift from 2D CAD to 3D CAD. What was the biggest change for you?
To be honest, when I challenged 2D CAD to 3D CAD, I had a hard time. It took me months to understand what the challenge was for me, and it was like 'I don't know what I don't know' situation. And I realized that I needed to change my thinking process. The thinking process which is involved in 2D CAD can allow me to write the CAD while thinking, and if you look at the shape on the way, you can see the shape as part of the completed structure.
When you see a house under construction assembling a framework, attaching parts such as roofs and windows and painting it, you can imagine what the house looks like, even if it is in progress. 2D CAD design is something like that. In the case of 3D CAD, you may think that a designer is thinking of the structure in the 3D CAD software, but that is not the case. In fact, we consider and make the design in my mind in advance, then I output it to 3D CAD.
When drawing a square box, in 2D CAD, you write the bottom surface and write the four sides. In the case of 3D CAD, you can create a rectangular solid and then delete the top surface to make a box shape. This 3D CAD thinking process doesn't go straight to the finished form. In other words, it is very difficult to confirm the design in the middle of designing. Even if you try to convert 3D CAD to 2D drawings in the middle of designing, everything is halfway. If you can't consider the shapes and the structures only after creating all the shapes, there is no productivity.
So, I needed to consider the initial design in my mind and then output it. This was difficult for me at first when I started to use 3D CAD. If you are using 3D CAD- like 'Making a shape first and then consider', it is essentially wrong. The order should be reversed. The shapes will not come out until you consider the design.
I learned 3D CAD on my own earlier than other colleagues. After a while, they decided to introduce 3D CAD throughout the company, and held some training courses. In-house designers joined the 7-day training. On the last day of the course, the instructor asked us, 'Do you have any questions?' Then one of the designers said, 'So, how can we design with that?'
This question was very eye-opening to me. It was the point that I couldn't explain even after I can use 3D CAD. Changing tools and using 3D CAD required us such a big change in the way of thinking.
You mean, what has become unexpectedly difficult when it comes to 3D CAD: how do you share and review your progress with customers?
Yes. When using 3D CAD, it is very important for the customer how we create the data that can be shared properly to improve. This is the design for the customer and it is necessary to meet the specifications of the product that they want to create.
In addition to 'creating data that can be shared properly', it is also necessary to manage the modification. We have to know that when modifying the data, what other data will be changed or not changed.
In the past, even though the 2D drawings weren't quite perfect, the metal-mold maker understood the CAD and corrected them as needed. Therefore, there was a master check process that the designer went to the site and checked the model. In 3D CAD, data ambiguity is no longer tolerable (since the software gives an error), data accuracy is more required.
In that sense, the development of 3D CAD has contributed to improve our ability of designing. While 3D CAD has also influenced the attitude of creating shapes without thinking.
Communication with customers is important in any job. What is it like “Creating data that is easily shared with customers”?
Since the shape is never determined at once, we need to improve it through communication with the customers. That being said, it is very difficult to confirm the design in the middle because of the characteristics of 3D CAD. It is essential that thinking the structure in my mind in advance then output it to 3D CAD. As I have said so far, that is the difference of thinking between 3D CAD and 2D CAD.
As for how to manage the corrections that the customer demands, we need to change the numbers of the data, but other numbers that we do not want to change should not be changed.
For example, 'There is a boss, a board and a screw'. Each of the three holes’ positions must match, right? However, if you make the data without thinking, the holes and screws on the board will not move even if you move the boss position. If you try to adjust this matter manually, the operation is so time-consuming, which forces you to have less time to consider making design itself.
Therefore, my idea is that identifying the requirement of the design at first and making the external definition files. I can ensure that I am on the right track to meet the specification when modifying the data by loading and using the external file.
In mechanic engineering design, it is not allowed to 'width without reason' or 'gap without reason'. The job is to make them logically. For example, when you change the width of the case, changing only the width will widen the gap inside the case. This is the 'gap without reason' and the gab should not be. If the case has a curved shape, this process even cannot guarantee if it keeps the correct shape. Define the curve and gap in the external file so that they have correct information even though other related data is edited.
Even if 'gap without reason' and 'gap with reason' resulted in the same number, the meaning is completely different.
From your perspective as a 30-year experienced mechanical engineering designer, how can we become a designer who can provide ideas to the customers?
With the slogan 'Provide ideas for mechanical design', we aim not only to design based on the specifications, but also to support product development from the beginning of creating the specifications.
You may think it is due to the individual's talent when it comes to creating ideas. Of course, there are also such genius designers. However, what is important for a person with average ability, like me, is, after all, 'thinking logically' becomes the power to generate ideas.
As I said earlier, even if you take one 'gap', you should think about how it should be and not leave it as a 'result just happened'. This leads to the ability to think of specifications. The specification is an element that must be met in order to be a product, and the product consists of three layers: core benefit, actual product, and augmented product.
The core benefit is the value for consumers. If it is a ballpoint pen, you can draw diagrams and write letters by applying pressure and moving it on the paper. The actual product is related to the appearance and the features of the pen. The augmented product includes mainly services such as warranty or installation.
If you change the design of the ballpoint pen and if it becomes a pen that users cannot write, this change cannot be accepted. This is the ability to understand how your design is involved in product functions such as the three layers. If you can organize elements that should not be changed, you will know to what extent you can modify, so it will be easier to come up with ideas.
If you look at another example, your laptop has an R on each corner. Can this R be rounder? It may be good or it may be bad. The curve is related to the design. There are gaps around the buttons on the keyboard, should all of them be uniform? This should be uniform. So what width gap is best? What is the difference between a 0.5 mm gap and a 0.2 mm gap?
If you use 3D CAD, you can create shapes without thinking, but if you try to design everything logically, you will be able to have the ability to think about the specifications themselves.
Even in situations where customers ask us 'This prototype costs much. Can you improve it somehow?' by accumulating and practicing this logical thinking, you can organize the relationship between your design and the three layers. It will bring you the ability to make proposals to the customer.
I have recently noticed that this ability has helped me analyze customers' work. When we have customers, like construction or civil engineering companies, who want to develop tools that help them work efficiently despite the labor shortage, we apply this way of thinking to analyze their work process.
We observe their work and analyze it. What is the purpose of the task? Which is the core work that creates value? What should not be changed? And so on. This allows you to understand what things to be improved, generate ideas and lead to create specification proposals for the product.
Can you tell us the habits you keep in mind to come up with ideas?
Other than 'thinking thoroughly and logically', it is the observation and analysis of second-hand junk items. Mechanical design is a structural design, but recent new products place importance on electronic functions such as smartphones. They are not helpful to us. As a structural idea stock, it is useful to study devices before smartphones appeared. You can buy old toys online and disassemble them as well.
(For example, he said and showed me the junk) I purchased these for reference of the hinge parts.
The left calculator hinge has been slimmed to the limit. The middle is a children's toy. A child's toy costs several thousand yen not expensive, but electric wires are passed through this small hinge. The right is also an all-resin toy. This hinge can be adjusted in two steps.
Seeing the good work of other mechanical designers will also increase my motivation.
|Company name||Fortech Co., Ltd. / Detailed info at DIAgate|
|Location||6-724-5 Narabashi, Higashiyamato-shi, Tokyo 207-0031|
|Business description||Mechanical engineering design company including, 3D modeling, design support, manufacturing coordination|
|Speaker||Representative Director, Shinichi Misao|
Author of this article：Haruyo Ono
Web Rocket Inc. Small Business Consultant
I love Thomas Edison since I was a child and I love the challenging life of creating new value in the world with my own ideas.