If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. You’ve heard it a million times, and it’s good life advice. Still, for engineers, it’s more than that. It’s a way of life. At Houston Mechatronics, our jobs are all about taking a problem and tackling it head-on, oftentimes with solutions that haven’t yet been invented. And doing so requires a fair amount of trial, error and intelligent investigation. That’s where rapid prototyping comes in.
Our team hits the ground running on projects, first putting pencil to paper (or marker to marker board) to map out any initial thoughts. Once a general plan emerges and the crew has talked it through, things get a little DIY. Using basic tools such as PVC pipe, duct tape, nuts and bolts, and parts we 3D print, we get to work creating physical versions of those abstract concepts. The goal here isn’t to build a 100% perfect working model, but to lay the groundwork for what the product might eventually become, and to better understand the physics of the problem.
Once that step is complete — typically a few days to a week after the project’s start — we delve into the new creation and analyze it from every point of view. We test and re-test. Which elements work? Which don’t? Is there any part of the design that might prove problematic or cost-prohibitive down the road? Once we’ve thought through those factors, it’s back to the drawing board for another iteration.
A few days later, an updated design emerges that incorporates what we learned. The new design is closer to the final solution, but it likely still isn’t spot on. We’re innovating and improving as we go, using each iteration as a stepping stone to what comes next. We know that rapidly finding what doesn’t work is the fastest way to solutions that do.
The photo you see here is just one example of rapid prototyping in action. These are all early iterations of a pipe inspection robot we have in the works, and each variation took approximately three weeks to create. As the finished product comes into view, our process ensures a solution that meets or exceeds our customers’ expectations!