Surprising Solutions

by Tandy Banks

How Small Businesses Invest in Technology Part 2: Engineering-centric Companies

Engineering is all about problem-solving.

One of my favorite design problems involved a small encoder mount for a mixing system. The encoders were used to count rotations on a screw that metered dry product into a mixer.

SS1Operators of this equipment were breaking encoders at an alarming rate and they were expensive to replace—not to mention the equipment downtime.

After determining the root cause of the issue, it was clear that a better mount had to be produced; we designed seven pieces of laser-cut stainless steel that fit together like a puzzle. But the tricky part was how to hold all of the puzzle pieces into a sturdy mount.

The very seasoned electrical engineer working with me on the project suggested—out of the blue—a simple hairpin. I thought he had lost his mind, but after giving his idea some consideration I later discovered he was right!

Innovative solutions might seem risky and even a bit crazy at first—that’s what makes them exciting.

This is part 2 of a 3-part blog series. Today, we will be looking into how engineering-centric companies can tackle the challenges of new technologies.

Engineering-centric companies are the ones that are pushing new products and processes in our world. They bring us ways to improve how we communicate, how we fight disease, how we find and use energy. They make imagination into reality.

These companies are likely to adopt pertinent technologies at a quicker pace early in the life of the business. For example, a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) system may be purchased even before the business plan is finished. In the early days of the business, Engineering-centric leaders continually sketch new ideas, trying to fine-tune the details of their design. Their ultimate goal: —have the design far enough along to successfully convince others to make the innovation journey with them.

But things change quickly as the company grows.

I have seen many engineering-centric companies fall into a cycle where the owner is forced out of daily engineering activities to deal with running the business. These distractions can often stifle progress. After all, a lot of these engineering-centric companies came to be because the original owners had great ideas about how to improve and advance, and they actually were able to innovate in the early days of the business. Many also struggle with the necessity of being owner or business leader, because that is not likely their best skill set.

This distraction problem can keep company owners from the opportunity of looking at technologies that allow them to stay ahead of the competition. One technology that can get overlooked is computer-aided engineering (CAE) solutions, also called analysis or simulation tools. On the surface, these tools can sometimes appear too complex for the average engineer.

And because some companies tend to believe that their designs are static or purposely overbuilt, they don’t worry about product failure. Besides, “it has always been done this way; it’s good enough.”

However, a HUGE opportunity for advancement could be missed.

CAE tools can expose unneeded, costly materials in a design. CAE also reduces the amount of physical testing needed for final product reviews. Material reduction, lighter designs, and fewer tests can quickly add up to real dollars being saved.

In the busy course of growing a company, engineering-centric owners need to be careful to not overlook the need for continuous improvement. As companies grow it is important to invest in documented processes to reduce pains of onboarding new resources, and to facilitate consistency as much as possible.

Developing a company’s internal culture of improvement and staying ahead of changes in market will be essential to rising above competitors and staying relavent. If you are not improving the way your products are designed and used, someone else will.

The third and final part will explore the tendencies of business-centric companies.  Read Part 1: We Fear Change.

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