Step 2: A creative approach to build a more cost-effective system
How can we encourage the creative process towards a more cost-effective system? For this we need an interdisciplinary team with engineers with a mechanical, electronic and also embedded software background.
In the ideal case, the team is complemented by experts with domain know-how, for example engineers who were involved in the implementation of the first version of the hardware. However, it is also important to involve people with little knowledge of the project history. This brings a breath of fresh air and new ideas.
You then share with the team the information you have learned about the cost structure. The team is then assigned the task of outlining ideas for a more cost-effective system. First, each person will generate ideas by themselves in a 20 min session and then briefly explain them to the team. No matter how wacky or off-the-wall these ideas may be. At this point, actual feasibility is not important yet. A seemingly unworkable idea can inspire a colleague and later develop into a viable concept in a second 20 min session.
The following questions are helpful for the team during the workshop and should spark ideas.
Can components be omitted by integrating their functions into other, already existing components?
- Can the cabling between micro switch and mainboard be integrated into the Printed Circuit Board? -> By placing the micro switches on the Printed Circuit Board, we can eliminate cables, plugs, sockets, crimp contacts and thus manual assembly.
- Can the spring mechanism be integrated into the bumpers as a plastic part? -> The metal springs are no longer required, and manual assembly is reduced.
Can many similar components be combined into a few?
- Is it possible to manufacture the four bumpers as a single part? -> This would not mean a great saving in material costs, but it would reduce the manual assembly.
- Is it possible to design the four micro switches as one single sensor? -> One sensor may be cheaper than four micro switches.
Can existing requirements be trimmed in such a way that they do not put the system at any disadvantage, but reduce the overall cost?
- Is it necessary that collisions can be detected simultaneously on all four sides?
-> The robot does not move in several directions at the same time. Given this fact, a collision can only occur on one side. This supports the previous ideas of combining the four micro switches and four bumpers.
Do alternative concepts bring advantages for the system?
- Is the binary, digital behaviour of the micro switches optimal? -> Some kind of linear sensor could provide depth information.
- Would it be advantageous to use a non-contact sensor instead of the micro switch? --> For example, can we use a Hall sensor as a proximity sensor? The sensor element would thus be free of mechanical stresses.
Ideas such as those just listed are then refined, evaluated and brought together in creative rounds. A creative workshop always takes place over several rounds. The final result is an overall concept for a new system, and this is also the case with our robot vacuum cleaner.
Step 3: Assess the results – how we reduced the production costs for the robot vacuum cleaner
In the following illustration you can see the result of the creative workshop on reducing production costs. We explain how the new system works below the diagram.