May 1998, Volume 3 Number 3
The Human Condition:
A Justification for Rapid Prototyping
We are all human. Yes, we have cultural, religious and political differences. But, we all demonstrate the same basic traits, characteristics and tendencies.
Actions are chosen, on outward appearance, based on logic. We rationalize and defend our actions with information that can be quantified and analyzed. Yet, it is my belief that many decisions are emotional ones that are merely supported by logic. Furthermore, these emotional decisions are deeply rooted in our personalities and our individual traits.
Rapid Prototyping (RP) identifies technologies that use additive processes to fabricate prototypes on a layer-by-layer basis. RP has proven its value in reducing time to market, increasing quality, and reducing costs. These benefits have been widely accepted by industry. What has not been verbalized is how RP adds value by catering to human nature. It is the human characteristics, traits and tendencies upon which I will justify the use of RP.
Nine years ago, RP was a new and intriguing technology that showed potential. Just rising from its research and development phase, there was little tangible proof that RP would benefit industry. Yet, RP captured our imaginations and caught our attention.
In the early days, it was only the classic risk takers that employed RP technologies. Today, the process has touched nearly every industry. Companies of all sizes have come to appreciate RP's benefits.
For most of the early risk takers the first introduction to RP delivered tremendous personal and business satisfaction. Yes, RP did have its limitations. But, this elite group observed and imagined the possibilities. For this group prototyping standards had been forever raised. There was no looking back or returning to the ways of the past. RP was here to stay.
Why? Was it because it reduced time-to-market, the critical issue facing industry today? Was it because it reduced costs? Was it because it improved quality? For the logical side of us all, and for the accounting side of our businesses, the answer was "yes". It is my belief that this is merely a logical rationalization for an emotional decision. The reason that RP is here to stay is that it caters to the human condition.
The decision to use RP is driven by personal gain rather than benefit for the company. How we come to use RP for the first time is a personal decision that is driven by personal satisfaction.
In the most basic terms, we choose our actions based on one of two focuses ... gaining pleasure or avoiding pain 1. The immediacy of receiving the pleasure or pain, and the anticipated intensity of each, play critical roles in our decision making process. Our individuality also plays a role in the pain and pleasure principal. For some, gaining pleasure will be the focus for the majority of their actions. Others will make pain avoidance their driving factor. In deciding to use RP, the focus on pain or pleasure decides how and when this course of action is pursued.
Those that tend to seek out pleasure are more likely to be proactive in the selection of RP as a prototyping tool. If this is you, you are likely to execute foresight and initiative in the evaluation and use of the technology. Why? You are looking for the pleasures that may be derived from the use of RP. These pleasures may include:
- Recognition from superiors, the company or the industry.
- Keeping up with or surpassing your peers.
- Finding more time to do the things you enjoy.
- Instant gratification found in holding your prototype in just a few days.
Those that tend to avoid pain are more likely to be reactive in using RP. If you desire to avoid pain, you may delay an RP implementation to address actions that are more immediate. You desire to avoid the pain resulting from situations such as:
- Spending valuable time on the evaluation of a new technology.
- Increasing the workload.
- Neglecting current projects and emergencies.
- The negative effects of a failed prototyping effort.
When avoiding pain, RP will be used when a situation arises that creates more pain if RP is not used. For example, RP's use may be initiated when a project can not be completed with conventional methods in the time allowed. When a design review meeting is less than a week away and the project has not yet been finalized, there are very few alternatives to acquiring prototypes in time. With your back against the wall, the decision is made to accept the pain associated with trying RP in order to avoid the larger pain that develops from not doing your job.
The decision to use RP may be outwardly justified in traditional business terms. But, personal needs, wants, and desires are the critical factors in justifying an attempt at applying RP to the design process.
Continued Justification -- Personal Traits
The decision to use RP for the first time can be difficult because it involves risk and time. The decision to continue using RP is much easier. Incorporating RP into the design cycle may not even be a decision, but rather, a way of life.
For those that have had a positive first experience, there will be continued use of RP technologies. This vast majority will justify RP for future projects in the objective terms of cost savings, quality improvements and time-to-market reductions. But, the real justification is an emotional one. The justification develops both from RP's ability to satisfy our human desires and from its ability to assist us in accommodating the corporate environment that results from other's personal traits.
RP allows us to continue to be the people that we are. It satisfies many of the needs common to us all without requiring modification of our behavior and desires.
How do you eat an elephant? The answer is one bite at a time. This is an adage that informs us that we should tackle projects in small, incremental steps. This adage is used to assist us in confronting an age-old enemy called procrastination.
Procrastination happens to the best of us. Knowing that a design review is four weeks away does not prompt us to begin the project at the earliest date. We manage to find ourselves with no prototype and only days until the deadline. Looking back on the pleasure and pain principle, we can clearly see that many of us will not start on a project until the pain associated with failure is imminent.
RP suppliers can provide testimony to the fact that designers and engineers procrastinate. When discussions turn to requested delivery, the client often specifies a date for delivery rather than the desired span of time. Rather than stating that the prototypes are desired in three to four days, the client will state that they are needed Monday (often this conversation happens on Friday at 3:00 PM). Further discussion reveals that there is a design review meeting, or similar business function, on Monday. Usually the meeting has been scheduled for some time. Procrastination is the reason that the RP effort must be completed in less than one business day.
Rather than change our behavior with respect to procrastination, we look for solutions to accommodate it. RP is such a tool. With RP, we can live our lives the way we choose. Since RP provides prototypes in days, it is a tool that allows us the opportunity to wait until the last minute to finalize a design. RP allows us to procrastinate.
One-hour film processing is a service available in the United States. How often do we need to have pictures developed in one hour? For a business application, fast film processing may be applicable and desirable with a deadline looming ahead. For personal consumption, the need for rapid delivery of photos is harder to understand. However, our desire for instant gratification explains why we have one-hour processing. We do not enjoy waiting.
In many households, an exposed role of film will remain in the camera or in a drawer for weeks. Once we have delivered the film to the processor, we develop an overwhelming desire to see our pictures now. Like an exposed role of film, our designs remain on a CAD station or a drafting board for weeks or months. When it is time to develop prototypes, we have a strong desire to hold the embodiment of the design now. After spending weeks or months designing an assembly, we desire a sense of satisfaction from a job well done. This satisfaction is best delivered through the realism and tangibility of holding the prototypes in our hands now.
Like one-hour film processing, RP satisfies the desire for instant gratification. With RP it is possible to release data on Friday afternoon and have a prototype in your hands on Monday morning. RP allows us to reap the benefits of our labor with little delay.
Seeing is believing. But, sight is only one of our senses. When reviewing a project, increasing the senses used makes the design more tangible. Tangibility is a necessity for clear understanding and communication.
If a sign says, "wet paint", what do we have the tendency to do? We touch the paint, of course. Touching the wet paint makes it real and tangible. The feel of the tacky substance proves that what we have been told is accurate.
Blueprints lack tangibility. Computer Aided Design (CAD) lacks tangibility. Without the ability to touch, see, bend, force and fit our prototypes, we increase the opportunity for mistakes. A shaded image from a CAD file provides an excellent example of what happens when we cannot hold the prototype in our hands. In the CAD environment, we need to know where to look to detect interference. We then measure two points to confirm a proper clearance. This exercise requires a level of thoroughness and diligence that we may not be prepared to demonstrate or may not have the time to execute. With RP, the left half is fitted to the right. If they do not seat properly, there is interference. This form of clear communication helps to protect us from mistakes.
Another example of the benefit of tangibility is that all components in the CAD environment are shown in the same 17-inch window. The size of the image is maximized to fill the computer screen. Viewing a part for extended periods causes a loss of appreciation for its size. In contrast, RP provides a tangible example of the design to truly confirm its size.
A company that designs cosmetic packaging learned that a lack of tangibility can be costly. This company required design approval from their client's marketing staff. Even though they lacked the ability to read blueprints and to fully comprehend CAD images, the marketing staff approved a package's design. However, upon receiving the first injection molded part, the marketing personnel immediately responded that the package was too large. Even with fully shaded, three-dimensional images, the lack of tangible proof of the design caused significant delays and increased costs. This company now places an RP model of every design in front of their clients for final approval.
Contrary to what many think, Murphy's Law states, "If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone will do it." The version cited more frequently is, "Anything that can go wrong, will."
Murphy's Law is so well known because it is so true. Human beings make mistakes, and designers and engineers are not exceptions.
RP excels because it allows us the liberty to make mistakes. At a recent conference, Elaine Hunt, of Clemson University, stated," ... We want instant prototypes. They allow us to make more mistakes faster." Isn't that what we really need? If we are going to make mistakes, it is better to detect them quickly. It is also beneficial to have the opportunity to regroup and rapidly correct these mistakes.
There is a cliché, "I do not have the time to do it right, but I have all the time I need to fix it." Due to pressures and deadlines, many of us find ourselves in a position where it is better to complete the task in the time allowed and then correct the inevitable mistakes at a later date.
RP is not a tool to prove that we are right. It is a tool to show us where we are wrong. RP allows us the opportunity to make mistakes by uncovering the errors in an expeditious way. RP provides the comfort of knowing that it is feasible to detect and correct our mistakes prior to a full commitment to the design.
Path of Least Resistance:
In the United States we have businesses that offer automotive oil changes in ten minutes. These companies offer nothing but oil changes. They do not provide any other repair services. Since the first such establishment was opened, this industry has exploded.
The popularity of the ten-minute oil change has grown, because the service is easy and convenient. With no appointment required, you pull in for an oil change when it is opportune. In 30 minutes or less, your vehicle is ready. Along with the oil and filter change, you receive a seventeen-point check of fluids and filters. These businesses even vacuum the inside of the car. What could be simpler? Ease and convenience are maximized.
We seek out the easiest route, simplest method and the path of least resistance. That is why the ten-minute oil change industry has flourished. It is also a reason for the growth of the RP industry.
RP can be the path of least resistance. For those who operate RP equipment, the technologies and processes are far from simple. However, as a consumer of RP services, the process can be very easy and convenient.
To generate an RP model, simply develop an accurate CAD database and transmit the file. A few days later you receive your prototype via overnight courier. Unlike conventional model making, RP does not require:
- Back and forth conversations to clarify blueprint or CAD data.
- Give-and-take on geometry due to an impact on time and cost.
- Sacrifice of features due to an inability to fabricate them.
- Coordination of human resources (labor).
- Material selection and acquisition.
With RP, all that has to be considered is:
- Is the CAD data accurate and usable?
- Does the vendor have machine resources to meet the deadline?
Of course, this simplicity assumes that an evaluation of the technologies has been previously executed. With an appreciation and understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each RP technology, the process becomes simple. RP can actually be as easy and convenient as having business cards or letterhead printed.
Continued Justification -- Business Environment
Your subordinates, peers and superiors are human too. Because they are human, they will demonstrate the same traits and tendencies that justify your use of RP. Procrastination, mistakes and poor communication from others can affect your results and achievements. You need a tool to overcome these obstacles. The speed and ease of RP aids you in doing so.
Miscommunication, it is so easy to understand why it happens. To illustrate how common miscommunication can be, ask yourself, "What does driving fast mean to me?" In the United States most highways have a posted speed limit of 65 miles per hour. As a result, driving fast means 75 to 80 miles per hour. Considering the Autobahn, what would fast be in Germany? If a simple statement can be misconstrued, how easy is it to miscommunicate on a design?
RP addresses poor communication in two ways. First, RP helps to eliminate miscommunication during a design. Second, RP assists in rapidly addressing any problems that result from a breakdown in communications.
Interpreting CAD data or blueprints can be difficult for even those with a technical background. Developing a mental image of a design from this data requires a special aptitude. Frequently, assumptions are made and conclusions drawn to assist in filling in the mental gaps. An example is provided nearly every time there is a request for quotation on production tooling. We are aware that toolmakers frequently make assumptions when reviewing a blueprint. The assumptions may result from incorrect design definition or ambiguity. An assumption by a toolmaker will be on the side of caution. This conservative estimate will, in turn, cost you time and money. Some companies have realized decreases in tooling costs of 15% to 25% when a toolmaker is provided an RP model.
If someone competent in reading blueprints has to make assumptions, how can we expect a non-technical person to fully comprehend a design from blueprints or CAD?
RP removes the guesswork in interpreting a design. It presents the design in a clear, tangible form that is easily understood by both technical and non-technical personnel. RP is a vehicle to clear and concise communications.
RP cannot prevent all miscommunications. However, should a problem occur because of poor communications, RP communicates the error. Once a mistake has been exposed, RP allows the rapid redevelopment of a prototype that includes any required modifications. This speed aids us in keeping a project within its timeline parameters to avoid costly delays.
Time-to-market is the focus for many companies. Reducing the time to deploy a new product is a major goal for many organizations. The resulting constraints on project time can condone and promote others' negative human characteristics. Poor time management is perhaps the most visible outcome.
"I need it yesterday." This is a statement that is frequently used in time pressured environments. Of course, the desired action can not be achieved yesterday. But, the immediacy for the action is clearly understood.
In some situations, the time crunch is created by another person's delays. Their poor management of time in completing their tasks, and in turn delegating the work, creates our emergencies. In other situations, the sense of urgency is artificially created in order to "pad" the schedule. Planning for the human tendency to miss deadlines, the delegator of the tasks defines an overly aggressive date for which the action is due. This allows the delegator the comfort of knowing that there are days available to accommodate a slip in the schedule.
Whatever the reason for urgency, we are faced with more external pressures on time. RP proves to be an excellent tool to aid us in complying with the deadlines we face and the brevity of time that is granted. No other prototyping tool allows us to come so close to delivering models yesterday.
Management has a prerogative to change its mind at any time. Frequently, a new concept or idea is mandated late in the design cycle. This development rarely offers an extension to the deadline.
Frustration and long days result from these new perspectives and decisions. The pressures can be intensified when management decides that there will be a change without identifying a new course of action. The clock continues to tick as we anxiously wait for decisions from the top. The deadline rapidly approaches while management considers the options.
Although the decision-making delays were beyond our control, we now carry the burden of delivering the project on time. Now, we must work harder and smarter. Long hours and teamwork will be required to complete the design on time. By extending the time we have available, RP's time-compression quality allows us to work smarter. RP shifts the design completion date outward by days or even weeks.
In this context, RP provides more time, the most valuable resource. RP does not increase the number of hours available in a day, but it does increase the number of hours available for other tasks in the design process. Gaining time through RP assists us in coping with the changes dictated by our superiors.
RP has been incorporated into our daily business activities, and as a result, the standards for performance have been raised to new heights. RP has adjusted our expectations on the time and effort involved in prototype development. Easy to obtain in a short period of time, RP has also shifted the demands for the satisfaction of personal needs and desires while allowing for our human foibles.
In high jumping, "raising the bar" has a literal connotation. In every day life "raising the bar" implies that the standards upon which we measure performance have been raised.
As humans, we see the bar and tend to accept it at its current height. However, once we are shown that the bar can be raised, our perception of performance is adjusted. When the standard is elevated, we will never allow that bar to be lowered again. RP has raised the bar for prototype development.
At one time, the four-minute mile was considered to be an unbreakable barrier. Our athletes, being human, tended to see and believe that a sub four-minute mile was an unrealistic goal. To run a mile in less than four minutes remained unrealistic until Roger Bannister broke through that barrier. After Mr. Bannister posted a time of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds, countless others have achieved this same level of performance. Why? Has it become easier to run a mile in less than four minutes? Has the human species become stronger and faster? The answer to both questions is no. The true answer lies in the perception that sub four-minute times are achievable. This level of performance is the new goal and the new standard.
Like Mr. Bannister, RP has broken through the time barrier. We now know that receiving prototypes in days, not weeks, is achievable. Therefore, we now expect to achieve this level of results on every project. Will we go back to accepting weeks as a standard prototype delivery? No. We will not return to longer delivery times because the delays would impact our ability to procrastinate, to make mistakes, and to follow the path of least resistance.
Since we will not accept lower standards, RP is here to stay. RP will only be replaced if a new technology or process is developed that exceeds our current expectations. We may embrace a change if it further reduces delivery times or improves results. To be truly welcomed and utilized, the improvements must also address our personal needs. For success, a replacement for RP must cater to the human condition.
1. Robbins, Anthony, Personal Power!, Gunthy-Renker Corp., Irwindale, CA, USA.
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