By Brandon Leatherberry, Engineering Manager
“Are you kidding me? There’s no way to make that!”
If you’re in the business of making something, you’ve been on one side of this statement or the other. Either you’ve heard it, or you’ve said it. I’ll admit as an engineer I’ve experienced both throughout my career. It’s a crushing statement for all:
- To the design engineer, this is a blow to their creation. Months of crazy hours from idea to CAD design are gone with a simple statement.
- To the purchasing agent, a mountain of stress appears out of nowhere, as sourcing this part goes from a challenge to the impossible.
- To the foundry engineer, it represents a missed opportunity to turn molten metal into a new creation.
- To the foundry salesperson, a promising piece of business has just gone up in smoke.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a solution. It’s called “engineering relationships.” My apologies if you just fell out of your chair wondering how I connected the numbers-driven, no-feelings world of engineering with the touchy-feely subjectivity of relationships. Settle back into your seat, and I’ll walk you through it.
Let’s start with the customer’s design engineer. This person has come up with a design solution to a problem. Their focus is on an application, a set of constraints, and a space into which a part must fit. The part must meet specific requirements and serve its purpose for a defined life cycle. The design engineer is the expert on dimensional tolerances, potential interferences, application stresses, and all other key attributes of their part.
Next, let’s move to the foundry engineer. This person is an expert in the design of a mold that will guide molten metal into a cavity that produces a part. It will have the proper dimensional tolerances and material properties.
Imagine if the customer’s design engineer and foundry engineer are brought together. We’ll throw in a few tools, like a CAD model, some chemistry tables, material specifications and tolerance tables. What results is a highly technical conversation where the design engineer educates the foundry engineer. The foundry engineer comes to understand what is critical to the part design and why it has been designed as such. The foundry engineer further understands where the design can be modified and where it can’t.
Next, the student becomes the teacher as the foundry engineer educates the design engineer. The design engineer learns about mold design and how specific part features will impact part quality and cost. The design engineer will also learn the effects of tooling materials on cost, dimensional tolerances and tooling life.
Both sides are driven by a common objective: A successful, cost-effective part that will perform well in the application. This objective, along with an unwillingness to accept failure, will drive a constructive dialogue between these peers. Trust and respect will develop as they create an effective solution from their shared expertise. This is an engineering relationship.
Our experience at The C. A. Lawton Co. demonstrates that the earlier these relationships develop, the greater the benefit. Connecting engineers early, during the design or part qualification phase of a project, usually pays significantly larger dividends than connecting late or not at all.
The success of the customer experience is always enhanced when engineering relationships are fostered in this way. Are you a design engineer? Ask your purchasing agent to connect you with the foundry engineer. Are you a purchasing agent? Ask your salesperson to connect you with the foundry engineer.
It’s a great way to lead us to a more successful conclusion:
“We can make that.”