Reposted from Industry Week, Advancing the Business of Manufacturing – Technology Trends by Travis Hessman, July 21, 2014
Here’s one for the design geeks:
Engineers at English Racing had a problem.
Actually, that had a solution to a problem. And that was a problem.
The high performance racecars the Washington-based company produces tend, as you would imagine, to put some ridiculous pressures on their engines. The ability for those engines to withstand the pressures – in fact, the ability of each of their individual components to withstand them – can make all the difference at the finish line.
It’s not as much about racing as it is a giant extreme engineering challenge.
Case in point: The races in which English Racing compete have cars accelerating up to 185 mph in less than 1/2 mile. That means RPMs well above 10,000, suicidal oil pressures and, often, cataclysmic engine failures.
The oil pressure part has been one of the problems that has dogged the industry forever. Apparently, the engine pulleys containing that pressure is the fracture point deep in the engine that causes the failures that lose races and, eventually, whole engines.
But that wasn’t English Racing’s problem.
Engineers there had actually solved that issue. They had designed a whole new pulley for their engines – a radical redesign that turned the pulley slower, dropped the oil pressure and, essentially, resolved the whole problem.
Or at least it did on paper.
Here was the problem: English Racing couldn’t make the new part.
After all of the design work, the rethinking and engineering innovation were done, the tooling, lead time and cash required for the new mold proved too much.
The company actually spent two years trying to make the new piece – two frustrating, expensive, fruitless years fighting impossible engineering and budget constraints.
Then then the engineers made what is becoming a pretty common decision: they 3-D printed it.
After two years of failed efforts in house, Oregon-based metalworker MTI printed the piece in five hours.
Three days later, it was installed on its first racecar.
And earlier this month, it set a new speed record for its class at 196.68 mph.
This is an example of a process that seems to be repeating itself endlessly in engineering departments across the industry.
We are at a point now where we are pushing the boundaries of engineering. We are streamlining our processes more than ever before; we are demanding more out of our products, using fewer components to do more work.
We are neck deep in 21st century engineering challenges, but still using 20th century techniques to pull them off.
Like English Racing has learned – just like GE, Ford, NASA and countless others before it – when your outdated techniques can’t handle a new job, it’s time to get a new tool.