As the holiday season is upon us, many people will experience that exciting feeling of unwrapping a gift and seeing what’s inside. For us hardware engineers, this wonderful feeling comes multiple times a year when we receive eagerly awaited parts to build the prototypes we’ve been designing for the past day, week, or months.
The difference is, around the holidays, you want your gift to work. As engineers, sure we like when it works, but we really look forward to pushing our prototypes to the limits and finding out where and how they fail. Why? Because it’s only when we find these limits that we can truly understand in the boundaries of the design and revise the next version to withstand any tests that the end customer will put the product through.
Here at Cooper Perkins, we have a saying “small mistakes, small corrections.” This means that we should test our designs early and often, catching and correcting things along the way so that we never get too far down the wrong path. We do this by sketching out an idea at the whiteboard and asking colleagues to comment on the design, quickly building a breadboard with Legos to demonstrate how something will move, and by understanding and analyzing the fundamental equations that govern the behavior of our designs.
Through the product development process, we steadily test and iterate on the design to understanding what is and isn’t feasible for the given set of constraints we’re working with. Early on, we test and iterate upon the sub-systems and key components. While this reveals many opportunities for improvement that we fix along the way, it’s usually not until the Alpha stage that we’re able to identify the majority of issues. Assembling all the pieces into this first fully integrated prototype is an exciting process, and a large part of that is knowing that we’ll undoubtedly learn a wealth of knowledge about the best path forward.
Every issue discovered is a little gift to our future selves—by investing time to uncover the inevitable issues at this pivotal phase, we save our clients costly and time-intensive corrections that would surface later on if left unattended.