Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Classic Debate

So the last few days have been another example of that classic debate over when does design become more important than manufacturing, or when does manufacturing overshadow design?

We've been working tirelessly to determine all of the factors that will impact the body engineering and how the surfaces of the Rally Fighter will have to change if we select certain headlights, tail lights, side view mirrors etc., and as always there is a delicate balance that needs to be found between maintaining the design intent of the vehicle and manufacturing/engineering.

For example, let's say you have a tail light that is the clear choice over another in terms of how it looks (with the second choice is a good looking option in itself, but when compared to the first choice, it is inferior), but is 4x the cost, will be more difficult to source, and more complex to integrate into the body shape in production runs. What do you do? Do you sacrifice all of these engineering/manufacturing constraints solely for the right look? Or do you go with the second choice since it is an excellent blend of a good looking design, low cost, ease of manufacture, and is easily obtainable at scale but just doesn't provide the "I gotta have it" factor as much as the first choice? And even further, do you take a broader approach and hedge your bets a bit knowing that you can save cost, engineering time, and complexity in other areas of the vehicle and go with the more expensive, better looking part?

Such is the life of a team of designers and engineers who work closely to bridge the gap found in the current auto manufacturing model. Highly frustrating at times, and comes with no shortage of long, passionate discussions, but a welcomed alternative to the far more complex and costly option of the current model where a design is "thrown over the wall" and the engineering team has to fully develop new solutions and vice versa.

Fact of the matter is that there is never a definite answer to this question in general as it's always a case by case basis. One thing is for sure though, and that is that when you come to a crossroad such as this, something has to give and you need to find the best compromise as there is NEVER a "perfect" solution, where a "perfect" solution would be defined as one where no possible alternative presents itself without trade-offs.

In my experience, using this frame of mind, you will ALWAYS find a great solution if you do the research, test a few theories, and get feedback from both sides of "the wall". At some point, you have to realize that you need to freeze the design because you will totally blow your budget and time line if you're constantly redesigning to meet the criteria of the latest solution. Draw a line in the sand and move on to the next decision, because the word "done" in the automotive design world is most certainly a relative term.

No comments: