Musicians practice for hours every day. Writers write things constantly that they don't intend to publish just for practice. Industrial designers are sketching constantly, sometimes just pages and pages of ellipses to hone their technique.
I'm essentially doing this project as practice. I would consider myself to be a good engineer, but I want to be great. If you're an engineer or want to hear me rant about why it's important to practice, read below.
How does a design engineer expect to become great without mastering the tools of their trade?
I asked this to myself as I settled in to another 12 hours of manufacturing engineer's purgatory. (the Hong Kong airport) I'd spent similar times learning as much as I could, and I had more of the same reading prepared: A PDF on thermoforming, and old book about the optical properties of thin films, and some bullshit "white paper" about case hardening.
You know where this is going. Musicians can only read so much about theory or the greats or special techniques before seeing diminishing returns. To complete the analogy: I had to play, baby. I needed chops. I'd been using CAD for 9 years, but I wanted to be faster. I wanted beautiful, parametric assemblies that respond elegantly to changes in a master sketch or design table. So I decided to do this.
After a few months, I have a good list of reasons why I think every mechanical engineer should design all 507, or at least a few, even if they think they're good at CAD. Being good at surface modeling or sheet metal tools is one thing, but being able to architect the foundation of a machine and see how your decisions play out throughout the design process is something that rarely gets practiced.
Furthermore, once you can whip up one of these in an hour, you've only just started. You're still only mastering the tools, not the trade. It's time to start the real engineering. Free body diagrams, tolerance stackups, shaft fitment, stress analysis, cosmetics, bearing selection, motor sizing, GD&T, FEA, drawings, and so much more! You can add everything in to the process of making these little machines until you've hit all parts of a hardware shipping process. I estimate you can get good practice on each step of the process up until about an EVT level.
Think of how much better you'll be after 10 of these. How about 50?
It's fun to brag about shipping products (and although it's hypocritical I'm about to do it) but at the end of the day most teams can expect at least a year to experience a full cycle, and that's not a whole lot even if it's good. My best exposure was taking the Form 3 from early proto to MP, and even though in my biased opinion I think it's the most complex piece of consumer electronics ever,* it wasn't enough. I still didn't get to touch everything, and it took two years to do. As intense as that was, it's a slow path to mastery.
Try it out, and let me know how it goes! Reach out to work with me, argue about it, or share your progress. Thanks for reading.
*The Form 3 has high-precision optics, a custom laser, custom galvanometer, micron-scale precision motion, a high-pull tensioning system, *several* types of onboard optics calibration, custom load sensor on the Z axis, magnetic mixer coupler and sensors, intense material compatibility requirements, strict cosmetic requirements, and plenty more. ...and this is just the hardware. It's insane.