There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. This just about sums up the status of modern manufacturing. Although it may make an entertaining reality show, I don’t mean to imply that factories are trying to teach old dogs new ways to skin cats.
It used to be the manufacturing process was simple, design a part and pick a material to machine it out of. In the last decade or two, major breakthroughs in engineering have led to the development of drastically different manufacturing techniques. For example, additive manufacturing (e.g. 3D printing and friction welding) can reduce material waste while still yielding a part with the same strength and functionality as other methods. Although these new methods have caught the public’s attention, they don’t always transition into factories as quickly as one might expect.
Companies tend to be slow to adopt new techniques due to the cost of retooling and a lack of good comparisons between old and new methods. Working in Karl Haapala’s lab, Harsha Malshe hopes to bring some clarity to this process with a computer program that can help companies sort through all the new manufacturing options and compare them with the tried-and-true methods. The program Harsha is helping to build, along with his colleagues in the Haapala lab, will allow engineers to submit their part designs and get out a detailed comparison of all the manufacturing options for that part. Hopefully this information will encourage companies to embrace new manufacturing technologies that save money and resources, or maybe we’ll find out that the old dog already knows the best tricks. I’m guessing the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
We’ll be talking with Harsha on this week’s episode to learn more about the rapidly changing field of manufacturing engineering.