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Optimizing your specifications for mechatronics projects.

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An essential prerequisite if you want things to run smoothly, the project specifications define the needs and expectations of the customer. They describe the functions that the product has to perform and indicate the technical requirements and the needs that it has to satisfy. There are two different types of specifications. The technical specifications contain the requirements and constraints, whereas the functional specifications describe how the product solves a problem. Mechatronics projects are no exception to this rule. Beyond the standard information that is routinely provided, here are three key tips for optimizing your specifications.

1. Get expert advice to reveal unstated needs implicit in the specifications

More than just getting expert advice, the best approach is to form a multidisciplinary project team that applies proven methods to bring out and clearly state the real needs of the customer.

“Excellent knowledge of the required functions thus allows the team to provide solutions that are optimized for quality, cost, and technical aspects.”

“In particular, we usually use processes of ‘external functional analysis,’ which means putting the product at the center of the study, and thoroughly exploring the real environment in which the system operates, its constraints (operation, harsh environment, maintenance), and its entire life cycle from design and manufacturing to its decommissioning,” explained Florent Prothon, head of the Mechatronics Design department at maxon France. “Excellent knowledge of the required functions thus allows the team to provide solutions that are optimized for quality, cost, and technical aspects.” 

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This external functional analysis is then followed by an internal functional analysis, amounting to a design brief for the mechatronic modules, their interfaces, and their various capabilities.

The process is usually supplemented by a preliminary risk analysis, which pinpoints elements of innovation, new and untested features, and sensitive interface points (which require functional audits or reliability testing that could affect the technical and economic design of the overall mechatronic solution).

At this stage, the specifications can be developed and fleshed out with the customer, clearly detailing each function in terms of its output, its tolerances, its flexibility, and how it can be checked during the project.

At maxon France, our expert project managers in mechatronics are attentive to the customer’s concerns throughout the project, so as to identify needs that may not be apparent, but which are sometimes key to the success of a project. Attentiveness and analytical skills are definitely our added value.

2. Specify a target cost at the start of a mechatronics project

Specifications are often compiled solely from a technical perspective.

However, specifying a target cost is just as crucial to the success of a mechatronics project and is often overlooked. If the cost is not assessed or is poorly assessed, this will have an impact on the planned technical choices.

For instance, it is unrealistic to choose the most expensive and high-end mechatronic components if the product has to be sold at an “entry-level” price.

Integrating the target cost from the start is consequently an issue that engineers at maxon France deal with on a daily basis, as this information is rarely present in customers’ specifications.

Moreover, these cost considerations are often closely linked to quality requirements, which is the other critical aspect.

3. Include the quality standards and the regulations in the mechatronics specifications

The quality requirements and also all the regulatory aspects relevant to the project must be ascertained in advance. It is essential to know the regulations and standards of the sector of application of the mechatronic system being developed (medical, transport, aerospace, industrial, etc.) from the start of the project, because this is usually a very critical element of the constraints that have to be dealt with. These elements are discussed with the customer when the customer informs us of their needs, and during the first techno-economic analyses.

This stage begins with a model-based audit, followed, if applicable, by the offer of an endurance testing program carefully designed in terms of product sampling and test times, potentially made more rigorous by tightening particular parameters.

Naturally, this last point relating to the quality standards and regulations governing the customer’s application is of the utmost importance in terms of impact on the design, development, and commercial production of the mechatronic application. It is a fundamental point which, if not properly defined, could eventually compromise the product’s market launch.

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In conclusion

To summarize, listening to the real needs of the customer, setting a boundary for costs, and laying out the framework of regulations and standards is an excellent way to obtain effective mechatronics specifications for a successful and easy project.

At maxon France, we believe that these three principles are essential, and that a full 360° appraisal of the project allows us to both optimize our response and also ensure the overall success of the project, which is often somewhat neglected in the initial specifications – commonly due to lack of time.

We also see it as our role to guide you in the drafting of specifications and to support you as much as possible in the creation of your project. Contact the experts in our Design Department.

Author: maxon France

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