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This is why engineers will never publish cookery books...

In this blog, one of our mechanical engineers tells us why engineers will never publish cookery books and how sticking to the recipe isn't only for bakers. 

Despite what the title implies, there is no link (that has been found to date) between the the vocational choice of engineering, and one’s ability to rustle up something tasty. What engineers have proved they are very good at, however, is solving the same problem with different solutions. Or rather, baking the same cake with different recipes.

When tackling almost any challenge in engineering, a solution to meet certain criteria is all that is required, yet having a fixed set of objectives doesn’t mean that there is a fixed answer. In fact, no matter how precise a problem to solve is, there are always options – ways in which the problem could be approached differently, and in turn, produce different solutions.

These can manifest in an infinite number of ways; from how to position a part against another, or how to constrain a bearing to a housing, to whether the entire process you’ve spent 3 months designing should in fact be run backwards to improve overall efficiency.

Sticking to the recipe 

An industry area that makes great use of recipes is mass production. They will create a product, and then produce thousands upon thousands of them in the exact same way; no altering of the recipe after each one. This is of course necessary for their business to function, but highlights the benefits of reducing design time to create something that solves a problem in the same way. Their products aren’t always the most optimal, and sometimes have holes in which could easily be solved. But the cost and impact of doing so isn’t worth it for them. Recipes allow them to solve their problem in the same way every time, and benefit financially from it.

Although lots of the problems we solve in engineering are unique, they have a lot of overlap with something that’s been cooked up before. And as tempting as it is to re-design in our own vision to ‘improve’ something, it’s not always time or cost effective to do so.

Knowing when to stop 

The possibilities of design drive us to always want to improve what we’re working towards, and its this double-edged mindset of never feeling like a design is complete that can throw our recipe books out the window. It is with the best intention that we improve upon our own work – making changes to make it as good as it can be. But the difficulty with this is knowing when to stop. There is no fixed solution, so no best way of solving a problem.

As we get closer and closer to ‘perfection’ (the existence of which is debatable but we won’t get into that now), it takes exponentially more time to get there. There is a point with the design of everything that a line needs to be drawn, and it is deemed ‘good enough’. This is the perspective that we have to recognise to go and find the book we just threw away, and know when is the right time to use it.

So next time you’re baking your proverbial cake of nuts and bolts, make sure you’re not ignoring a perfectly good recipe!

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