Agile methods have gained mainstream acceptance in software development organizations for the development of solutions for enhancing existing products or creating new ones. The method has found widespread acceptance and has been very effective in the continuous delivery of new and effective solutions.
At the first thought, the potential of Agile methodology to be used for product design does not seem like a logical extension of software development approach. The agile approach needs teamwork, collaboration, and adaption. A task is broken into small increments. Iteration planning is preferred over a long-term focused plan. Cross-functional teams work on all parts of a task including planning, analysis, design, build, testing for an iteration.
However, the Agile methodology is a natural choice for product design. It is used for complex projects that have ever-changing needs and requirements, which can’t be fully predicted or estimated before commencing a project.
To make sure that the Agile methodology is fully potential for the mechanical engineering world, following actions are needed:
- Product developers have to build in lead times for parts procurement
- Communicate with suppliers that are not part of the development cycle
- Specific components like electrical parts, moulded parts, circuitry have to be taken into consideration while deciding the timeline
- Constant communication with manufacturing teams have to be maintained to make sure dependencies are met
An overall method can be certainly customized for initial stage design approach.
Usage in Analysis and Design:
Agile methodology is of the perfect use for Computer Aided Design and Drafting, (CADD). During this process, iterations are short. The design is broken into multiple logical parts.
Engineers work in the small teams and in an iterative manner on a specific design, parts of design or assemblies. The cycle would end with analysis and virtual prototyping until the product is ready for release. A larger team might participate in the release. The team would include the members from quality control, marketing and manufacturing to provide continuous feedback. Based on a feedback, the engineering team might need to go through the multiple iterations to refine the design.
Below is the interesting video about the use of the Agile process for automotive development.
Tenets of the Agile Manifesto:
Agile manifesto has the business value represented in the following tenets:
1) Individuals and interactions over the process and tools
In today’s fast-paced world, every company treats employees as independent minds. This would help the company to rely on the individuality of the employees and cooperation among them. Regular communication and collaboration between various departments like a business, engineering, administration, and production can bring up issues quickly and help with faster solutions that have merits and benefit all.
2) Working software over comprehensive documentation
In the process, mechanical engineering work may not be as easy to compartmentalize as the components of a piece of software. However, building and iterating from the start can sometimes achieve a much better product than getting everything on paper first going for the actual product with a production run. Powerpoint slides presentation and simulations can certainly help with understanding of the product. Still physical, in-hand prototype is the best way for finding design problems, sparking new ideas, or convincing a customer to sign off a project.
3) Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
The initial discussions/negotiations with a customer and planning is the right way to start. However, full path of the project or changes that could come along the way cannot be predicted upfront. This makes it more important that company stays adaptable and works closely with its customers. Continuous communication with the customers will reveal problems sooner, help meet the specifications more accurately, and more rapidly adapt to any changing circumstances. Overall, this leads not only a more satisfied customer, but also a more efficient and flexible organization.
4) Responding to change over following a plan
A company that can quickly adapt to new specifications in a project will require employees that can think and react quickly, a wider range of knowledge and expertise, and a modular and reconfigurable environment. The Agile company values rapid response to change and continuous improvement of their product and organization. These qualities are obviously valuable for any project, however, so it is easy to see how that change can be a beneficial for the company.
The concept car:
The concept car is a great example of the use of Agile methodology tenets in a mechanical engineering context. No auto manufacturer would spend tens of millions of dollars, or more, designing a car line, tooling up an entire assembly line, and manufacturing thousands of units, without first gauging the demand. Instead, they work through imaginative sketches and hand-made prototypes, all the while gauging feedback from the engineering team that would design it and the people who would drive it, at corporate meetings and at car shows.
The concept car most likely never goes to retail, but it lets the company predict the path they should follow, and save time and money designing next year’s production models. The concept car is an example of what is called as “Minimum Viable Product”. The company wants the car to be successful, so it can gauge the reaction of the consumers and industry experts that either love it or hate it.
Use of the latest technologies:
With the ever-increasing functionality of CAD suites and the growing prevalence of a cloud-based file-sharing software, a mechanical engineering firm can easily involve their client in the product development process. An engineering firm recently retrofitted a client’s 120-foot counter-flow heat exchanger, and sent design files back and forth half a dozen times, iterating with the direct input of the field service engineers from client’s team. Even if one’s client doesn’t have CAD capability, tools such as Adobe 3D files and screen-sharing programs can allow for the same collaboration and cooperation. This continuous collaboration and constant communication resulted in a product design as per the need and eventual success of overall project.
Entire engineering process can be viewed as a company’s product. This makes it valuable to look at “early and continuous delivery of products” in a mechanical engineering context. Current technologies make this collaboration even more achievable. Development using agile methodologies can work for mechanical engineering organizations, but with customization and refinement.