The term ‘agile engineering’ has traditionally been associated with the field of software development, typically covering areas such as adaptive planning, flexible thinking, rapid delivery and continuous development, often with a ‘fail-fast’ methodology.
Increasingly, we’re seeing similar techniques being adopted in other sectors of industry. They are particularly appropriate in our field of specialisation: low volume manufacturing.
Many of our customers in scientific, space and associated high-tech markets need to respond quickly to changing customer demand, the impact of new breakthroughs in technology, or urgent modifications in critical systems where the cost of downtime is measured in three or four figure sums per hour or day.
These challenges become increasingly demanding as the complexity of engineered systems and component parts increases. This is especially true in equipment that is destined to be used in the most hostile environments, such as the depths of space, or instrumentation that pushes the boundaries of scientific discovery in, for example, revealing the secrets of dark matter or antimatter.
To help customers meet these challenges, we’ve developed an agile engineering methodology; this is embedded in every aspect of our business.
A critical aspect is the speed and efficiency with which we communicate with customers. Everybody in our team understands the importance of a fast but carefully considered response to enquiries, whether these relate to pricing or, more frequently, technical questions or proposed modifications to projects that are in production.
In practice, speed of response and advice means that customers are able to save considerable time and, potentially, cost, especially during the early stages of a project, where factors such as design for manufacture can be key.
It’s also important to consider each question or suggested modification in the context of the project as a whole, to eliminate the risk that a simple change made early in the process may have significant impact in the later stages. Again, this can be something that appears relatively simple, such as the use of non-standard figures or symbols on engineering drawings, which can be open to interpretation, to the selection of the best materials; for example, on paper, these might meet the technical and commercial demands of the application, but may subsequently prove impossible to machine to the required quality.
The nature of many of the projects on which we work, and the fact that we may only ever produce a single, highly complex part or assembly, means that inevitably there is an iterative engineering process. Again, an agile approach is essential to ensure that the final product is produced exactly to specification, in terms of quality, performance, delivery and cost.
Our agile engineering approach extends to the machine tools and engineering equipment that we choose. For example, we use only the latest CNC machine tools from Mazak, CNC EDM systems from Fanuc and metal additive manufacturing equipment from Renishaw. This ensures commonalty of operation, both for processes and our operators, while simplifying tooling design, setup and changeover.
Ultimately, agile engineering is about delivering the very best solution for every customer and project, to the required specification, the highest quality, on time and within budget. Our processes and systems are configured to ensure we achieve this, with our team having the knowledge, skills and experience to transform agile engineering from ambition to reality.