Taking a cut

Wilson’s world

David Wilson is editor of Engineeringtalk and Electronicstalk and associate editor of The Engineer

The consortium of medium-sized engineering companies and their partners in academia were thrilled when they were awarded a grant from a government body to undertake a research project to discover if it might be possible to develop a novel means to manufacture components.

They realised that — if their research proved successful — that the characteristics of the parts produced by their unique manufacturing technique would provide some significant advantages over the ones that were currently being used in the marketplace, both in terms of performance, as well as cost.

Indeed, they also recognised that, should they be able to do so, the new manufacturing technique could potentially provide the industrial members with a distinct lead over their competitors overseas.

But the wily engineering teams also understood that it would be an onerous task to realise their goals within the three-year duration of the project. Nevertheless, undeterred by the scale of the task, a committee of managers from the companies and the universities set about dividing up the responsibilities of the project to meet the goals within that timeframe.

While one group within the consortium were tasked with the job of creating new designs for the components, a second worked on acquiring the new materials from which the designs were to be created, while a third worked to optimise the manufacturing process and to examine the characteristics of the parts that were produced from it.

Six months into the project, the researchers were delighted to see that their efforts looked to be bearing fruit. Indeed, thanks to their diligence and hard work, the project was pulling ahead of schedule, and the light at the end of the research tunnel appeared to be getting brighter by the day.

Some of the new components had been designed, the properties of the new materials from which they were to be made had been characterised and the manufacturing methodology had already been trialled to successfully produce a few one-off components that had been sent to the academics for closer examination.

But then, almost out of the blue, the bad news arrived. The government body that had decided to fund the research for a three-year period had, in its infinite wisdom, decided that was now far too long. That’s right. Instead of supporting the project for another two-year period, the whole shooting match was to be wrapped up within the year.

Despite the fact that they were dismayed by the government decision to pull the funding plug on their efforts, the optimistic engineers once again met up to decide what results might be achieved during the time that they now had left and scaled back their efforts accordingly.

As successful as the project eventually proved to be in demonstrating that the new manufacturing technology might have the potential to create a new breed of components, the cutbacks proved too much for the teams to actually realise the ambitious goals that they had set themselves at the start of the project.

And that’s a shame because, if they had been given the time that they had been promised in the first place, the results of their efforts might have been a darned sight more beneficial.

David Wilson

The Wilson’s world blog also forms part of the Engineeringtalk, Electronicstalk and Manufacturingtalk newsletters.