While I wait for my train to depart for Paris, nursing an espresso and thoroughly enjoying European life, I thought I’d write about the crunch time that usually happens around this time of year at UBC. If escaping to another continent isn’t an option (sorry Nick and Davey), there are a number of other strategies to get through the combination of MECH2/MECH3, and design team involvement.
Like the tides, the periods of time before tests and competition deadlines roll by predictably every year. The key is to plan ahead and anticipate them from month one. This can be hard if you feel like you’re just barely able to keep your head above water, like I felt in MECH2.
While the course schedule might be unfamiliar, the MECH staff do a great job laying out the schedule as accurately as possible. Fall semester is a settling-in period, but by winter break you should be able to see your spring schedule and while your design team work may have been slow as teams ramp up, spring semester is always a rush. Make sure you take an hour or so to look through all your weeks and weekends, identify where big tests/deliverables lie, and front-load your design team work as much as possible. No one wants to be wrestling with SOLIDWORKS while attempting to absorb test material. In fact, I’d recommend pushing your team/project to reach every checkpoint as early as possible. The “unknown unknowns” that inevitably come up with design team work are always better managed the week before deadline, rather than at 5:00 am the day of.
As you progress and gain a bit of experience in design teams, you’ll likely start speking to sponsors and manufacturing partners to get your parts made. Here are a few key things to know about design team manufacturing:
- Give sponsors as much lead time as possible, for both courtesy and project management sake. Sponsors donate their time and effort (and money) to help us out, meaning real customer POs will always run first. While a simple part may take only an hour to machine out, giving many weeks of lead-time allows your sponsor to optimize their machine schedules. CNC machines aren’t cheap and need to be running near-constantly to turn profits these days. This courtesy also reflects positively on your project management skills!
- Invariably, engineering changes will come up as certain fillets or cuts can’t be done on their equipment. You might spend weeks thinking you’ve polished your part, only to find out it’s not machinable. Try your best to consider the limitations set by your particular machinist/manufacturer at the very beginning of design; many of them post their machine capabilities and model numbers on their website. No one wants to spend hours milling out a variable-radius fillet because it “fits your aesthetic.”
Design team work has been the most memorable experiences I’ve had in MECH. The unexpected challenges might incite a bit of terror in the midst of school, but I look back on them with endearment. Sick, twisted endearment.
Next posts will be dedicated to my Coordinated International Experience in Switzerland. Trust me, you want to look into this option.