The Unconventional Guide to Client Projects

The types of projects that we undertake at Makersmith are so varied that each one brings it’s own unique challenges; no routine work for us!  As a result we have to make sure that we learn as much as possible from each project and embed whatever we have learnt into the next.

An important part of this is time recording; it’s really easy to significantly underestimate the time taken to carry out a design or manufacturing task as we naturally tend to be optimistic when we envision a process.  If, having carried out the task, we know exactly how long it took, then we are in a much better position to not only plan the next project timescale more accurately but to give our clients the most effective quotations for work.

Our Unconventional Guide is based on one day’s time logging for a project for one of our design team:

7:45am Arrive at work, coffee, review schedule for the day. Update project planner to record completed work.  Check emails, check client emails into CRM system.  Fire up SolidWorks ready to review project CAD model

8:22am Take call from client with detail query as they are on the way to work. Reassure them that we have resolved the query and will confirm with them by email before the end of the day. Log the call in the CRM system

8:27am First task this morning: resolve the design of connections between steelwork and timber components, build detail in to the outline concept model until it is completely resolved.  Compare the solution with the the requirements of the detailed Project Specification it’s in line with that.  Review the detail to make sure there are no untested assumptions.  Double check the availability of special fixings they are normally a stock item.  Record this and the full specification in the project Bill of Materials.

Designer's Coffee10:35am Really stop for coffee…

10:46am Prepare for client meeting at 1pm for new project. It’s great to have such an amazing meeting venue the Old Kitchen at the Abbey enough to excite any prospective client; make sure the room booking is confirmed…

Set up paperwork, initial documents and detailed specification questionnaire to run through with client.  Make sure the computer Works!

11:33am Review key issues for new project and carry out research into alternative materials and suppliers.

12:07pm Lunch a short walk in the woods and back for…

12:48pm To the Old Kitchen to check the setup.

1:15pm SolidWorks modelMeet clients with colleagues. Chair meeting and lead through client requirements, detail specification issues, identify areas where we need more client information and where more research is needed. Conclude with summary of our respective actions and timescales to complete.  All done.

14:30pm Return to office and complete meeting notes for project file/audit trail and summarise on CRM system.

15:07pm Check in the workshop to see progress of another project and evaluate stiffness of the structure having done the design originally it’s good to see it in the flesh and to feel that it is just as designed.

15:22pm Back to detail project work.  This time taking detail computer data out from SolidWorks for use in manufacturing systems to create laser cut steel profiles.  Also take timberwork profile data for production.

16:02pm Use CNC tooling program to check the correct machining sequence for the timber.  Revise the design slightly in SolidWorks to optimise machining time and re-check the CNC programme. All fine.

17:16pm Review emails that have arrived during the day and allocate responses to future time slots.  Reply as necessary.

17:46pm Shut down the computer to go home. Leave through the workshop where the CNC machines are still running. Out into the evening air with the hazy view across to the hills and stumble over a flock of Quail that seem to be wandering around the car park and perching on the cars…

Another day at Makersmith…

4 Hot Topics where Design meets The Environment

Thankfully there is now much more emphasis on environmentally positive design and this whole area is constantly evolving. Of course it isn’t just design, but manufacturing, construction, distribution, systems… everything that we do, make and use.

There’s no substitute for the “reduce, re-use, recycle” mantra that is in common use, the most important part is the first – REDUCE.   Our use of energy and resources and the demand to consume more can’t continue, so a reduction in our use – of everything – is essential.

That gives design, environmentally sensitive design, a truly world changing role. There are some interesting areas of development and some where the work is only just beginning:

 Tiny House  Tiny houses

There’s a big movement towards Tiny Houses at the moment. These trailer or container sized homes can provide an effective housing solution where land and/or money is short. Of course, being relatively tiny they are much more able to be fully resourced by integrated renewable energy, water recovery and composting toilet systems.   There are some downsides too – apart from the lack of space; having a larger surface are to volume ratio than conventional properties means that they could be more vulnerable to heat loss or heat gain unless that’s addressed by integral shading or insulation.  Maybe the next step should be to develop earth-sheltered tiny homes? Being small, the usual problems of living underground (access to natural light and escape in the event of fire) could be more easily mitigated.  Maybe the next big thing could be Burrow Living…?

composting-1431541_1920Composting Toilets

Surprisingly the flush toilet has been around since the Bronze Age in various ways. Following significant improvements in technology during the Industrial Revolution it has become a very effective waste disposal system that unfortunately uses one of our most precious resources – water; so the water flushed toilet has become the norm. Composting toilets address this by, as the name suggests, turning human waste into usable compost without additional water. These toilets are currently mainly used for off-grid applications and do need careful management to address the problems that arise from pathogens and contaminants in the waste. There would also be a lot of scalability and infrastructure problems to be addressed if everyone were to install a composting toilet…

There’s a huge design challenge here; design a universally usable human waste disposal system that is as user friendly as the flush toilet – but without water. Answers please – soon…

Distributed Generation

It simply very logical that power should be generated near to where it’s consumed. As renewable energy from solar, wind and geothermal sources become technically more cost effective it’s also becoming easier for that energy to be stored and used at source.

What we do need to be careful of as designers is the total energy cost of doing this. We have to ask ourselves what is the real energy and environmental cost of producing the turbines, generators and batteries, getting them to site, or building them into a product, maintaining them and disposing of them as compared to a more centralised system?

Providing that equation is positive then distributed generation makes sense – only let’s not make any untested assumptions about the true environmental cost.

welder-673559_1920Distributed Manufacturing

Another “Distributed” topic! This is going to be big…

What if, instead of your washing machine being made in Germany, or China and shipped around the world, it was made in your town, or your village?

It could be any product that we need or use, and it’s a great challenge to product designers. We need to reduce the environmental and energy footprint of products, could making them locally do that? As with power generation the energy balance would have to stack up.  It means looking at products in an entirely different way and considering not just what they do, but why they do it.

What is the purpose of a washing machine working in the way it has always done or looking the way it always has? How do we persuade or enable people to wash their clothes less so that the machines can be simpler? It’s a huge area for development and has already started in a small way with small spare parts being manufactured locally by 3D printing; scaling it up will be the challenge.

So the key thing is for us all to start thinking about the environmental impact of design on the whole product lifecycle – whether your product is a house, a washing machine or a widget, and above all, design to REDUCE first!

Modular Design

Modularity is a great concept – in buildings – in products – in transport systems; anywhere there’s a need for flexibility combined with cost effective production.

But what is modular design? Put very simply it’s LEGO®; lots of pieces produced in quantity but capable of assembly into a number – or in the case of Lego, an unimaginable number – of design combinations.

We also ought to distinguish between modular product and pre-fabricated product as there’s often confusion between the two.

Pre-fabricated products are those which are made and assembled in one place – usually the factory -and then shipped complete or mostly complete to their point of end use. As opposed to assembling the product at the point of end use.  This most often applies to building structures which traditionally were built from individual components – bricks and mortar for example – on site. Pre-fabricated buildings are built in a factory and moved whole to the site, this eliminates a lot of risk, cost and effort on site in favour of a more streamlined factory process.

Pre-fabricated products are also often modular as well, but they don’t have to be.

The key issue in modular design is the interaction of the various elements when they are assembled in their various configurations. The ease of assembly and the correct interfacing between the modular elements requires considerable design thought.

This is one of the huge benefits of using computer aided design systems (CAD) as most mainstream packages have features that facilitate modularity.

Here at Makersmith we use SolidWorks as our core 3D CAD system and this allows us to completely visualise and test designs before they are manufactured or constructed. In particular, SolidWorks has a “configuration” feature that allows you to easily create variations of a basic part design as well as easily assemble multiple parts into a range of different assemblies.  This process works equally well for large structures such as buildings as it does for simple individual parts.

The short video shows how a simple model of a piece of pipe can easily be configured with length and diameter variations – all with the same basic geometry. It’s really a very powerful tool indeed.

Modular Structure

We use the same process to construct modular structures that are assembled from many hundreds of parts:

The great thing about doing this is that it’s easy to check all the interfaces and connections to ensure that design detail is fully resolved and that there are no unanswered questions.

Designing and developing modular systems is really satisfying and it’s great when they go together and simply work; it’s probably because we still enjoy playing with LEGO®!

If you want to see more about an early modular building system then this is a great article: