Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Machine Design

The design of machines and machine components is a somewhat esoteric field that only a few poeple, like the hands-on engineering types can really handle with expertise.

By now we know a lot of different kinds of machines/devices that are in the market - all things mechanical, eletrical or electronic or some combination there of.

If we examined these products in the market and looked at the evolution of the product from someone or some team's creative design into its modern design form, we would probably find that when the initial design cycles identify the optimal template to adopt, the subsequent cycles are more focussed on finetuning the design and adding additional features.

In cases where the sub-optimal designs were chosen we will probably find that either they were disastrous to the company involved or that they had to make a major design change at some point or that some other company came up with a better design.

The interesting thing about designing a machine or a sub-assembly of a machine part is that there are two opposing interests that need to be balanced - suitability to the application we are creating and simplicity of machining, assembling and maintaining.

How opposing these two aspects of someone's machine is, determines how realistic it will be to expect that such a design will go on and become the defactor design of that machine, in the future as well.

A good design must reconcile the two and do it while taking advantage of the latest breakthroughs in any field involved.

Another tough problem is to then sublimate the design by incorporating as many off-the-shelf parts as possible.

This is where machine design becomes art - because sometimes a survey of available off-the-shelf parts (suited best for whatever other purpose it was made for) can upend the machine design cycle - this can happen because of either the lack of suitable parts or if you're lucky, by a surfeit of them that might allow you to simplify your design, but in so many ways, that you now have to choose from a confusing array of suspects.

I have found that it is possible to use everyday parts in new ways. Creative work like that can save a lot of money (and frustruation) in finding an executable design within your budget. A good hardware store is a lucky treasure to find as it allows for serendipity.
But ultimately, pencil has to meet paper - many parts have to be custom designed or atleast customized in someway, if only to fasten then in the properway to the overal assembly. Patience is perhaps the only prerequisite once you start putting a design on paper. Start with an isometric drawing of the assembly and work your way down to detailed Front-Top-Side views of individual parts. Make sure to note measurement units used and all relevant dimensions.

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