Working styles and methods (II). Digital Manufacturing and Prototyping
Documenting is a really important process. With many parameters and a trial and error process, writing everything is the key to understand what’s happening. But that’s not easy. We have many spontaneous ideas, and when they are successful, we have to write them down. Usually, we just celebrate the success, and we start thinking about the next step instead of taking 10min to write things down. With many trials and errors and a lack of notes, in the end, we don’t know what worked best.
We have this documentation need in two processes: design and manufacturing.
In design, the need comes from Fusion360. We have many steps for the parametric design concept, and it’s always possible to go back and change things. And we have to do it frequently to solve mistakes or to add improvements.
But a simple design could have easily 40-50 or more steps. So without a name for everything, we need to understand the design sequence again, losing time on it. That’s needed for each of the operations done and, more importantly, for each of the created components. Without it, all the changes are slow and confusing.
It’s true that during the design process, we are very focused on a sequence of operations and stop it for adding names interrupts this flow. So, we can work in groups: designing a component and then giving a name to all the associated issues.
For manufacturing, I find it easier to write everything. When I use the machines, I start doing a small test with different settings (in the laser cutting that’s mandatory) and writing down everything. What’s difficult is to consider all the parameters from the material, the machine, the tool (in CNC). But it’s not difficult to pay attention to the most important ones.
It’s also needed to organize the chaos with the files. In all the process, there are 3d, 2d versions, files in the format of the design software and the machine… and usually it’s not clear what we are using, or which one is the right one. If you don’t have all the notes and procedures, then producing a new copy two months later becomes complicated. It’s like starting again.
I discovered these problems in my own projects, and there are many that I have never completed. I need to find a long time slot to print or cut a small project near a whole day. And that’s mainly coming from the lack of documentation. I have to do all the steps in a row, or I’ll forget something, and the next day is like starting all over again from scratch.
It’s also related to my own schedule, I employ around one day per week on this topic, and that’s probably not enough. When I go back to a project two weeks later, I have forgotten everything.
I guess another mistake I’m making is not to keep many notes. So far, I don’t have a perfect method for documenting the files. I frequently use the file’s name to add information, something like “box_A5_02_laser_colors_3mm_0.1kerf”, but that’s not very elegant. Maybe, it’s better to add a TXT with the same name and all the information inside. This problem is very similar to what happens in software development, and I find many analogies here. I also have a small notebook where I write all the parameters, but I need a digital Excel version.
- There is not a unique truth. I have to accept some uncertainty and trial and error, so mistakes.
- We need procedures and to document everything. By doing it, we save time.
- Sharing with the community is excellent, but even better to document the processes and sharing procedures.
- Each one should find his workflow. How to go from the idea to the product, and ideally, how to repeat the production of pieces easily. Documenting is the key.
- Depending on the mindset, more than on the professionality, we will try to do everything perfectly at first or follow a trial and error process.
- Discoverers or amateurs with some free time has an interesting profile for the community. We are more focused on learning and documenting because we are not in a hurry to producing something.