MICROMETER

A solution for using a Vernier Depth Gauge.

Project Summary

The Problem:

Manufacturing equipment often requires precise calibration prior to operation. One particular welding machine required the use of a depth-gauge that was difficult to align properly. Operating this machine with improper calibration could result in thousands of dollars of re-work and part-damages.

The Solution:

A 3-D Printed jig that could hold and align the micrometer, allowing for faster, more ergonomic calibrations. 

Micrometer Transparent.png

01 Define

During my time as a manufacturing engineer, I had the pleasure of meeting Ryan*, a technician who operated a large welding machine in an adjacent manufacturing cell. He mentioned to me that calibrating the machine each morning was the least enjoyable part of his day. 

Given my interest in 3-D design and my access to the site's 3-D printers, I wanted to see if I could design a solution for Ryan that would help simplify this part of his daily responsibilities.

*Real name changed for privacy. 

My Role:

Engineer/Designer

Tools Used:

Creo Parametric (Pro-E), Makerbot, Stratasys, Pen & Paper

02 Research

Storyboarding

I created a storyboard of Ryan's experience. This helped identify the pain points Ryan experienced and created a starting point for generating ideas.

Storyboard Page.png

03 Analyze

Heuristic Review

While I understood Ryan's concerns through my observations, I didn't fully empathize with his situation until he let me try the calibration myself.

  • The curvature of the machine-face made it difficult to hold the micrometer in a single place.

  • The flashlight had to be held at a precise angle in order to get a good view of the micrometer pin. 

  • Once the micrometer pin was aligned with the machine, twisting the end cap could displace the alignment.

I also observed some small details that I initially missed. 

  • There were small screw holes in the 'donut-plate'.

  • The donut-plates had a predicable curvature with a hole in the direct center.

  • Squatting while balancing tools was quickly uncomfortable.

  • Kneeling on the grated surface was very painful.

Most importantly, Ryan's invitation to have me try to perform the task allowed me to have a fuller understanding of his pain points and allows us to discuss solutions from the same starting point. 

04 Ideate

Prototyping

With the pain points previously identified, Ryan and I brainstormed solutions that we could test. Ideas were sketched out then printed using a low-fidelity Makerbot 3-D printer. 

Pain Points

1.   The grated surfaces could allow tools to fall through.

2.   Squatting on a grated surface is unstable; Kneeling on the grated surface is painful.

3.   Standing on the grated surface is not an option because the measurement needed is at knee-level.

4.   A light source is needed; holding a flashlight in the mouth is uncomfortable.

Potential Solutions

1.   Mat Placement: Cover the grated area with a sheet or mat that would prevent small tools from falling through. 

2.   Tool Development: Develop a tool extension that would allow the tool to be operated from a standing position.

3.   Jig Holder Development: Develop a tool holder that would allow the user to operate the micrometer with a single hand. 

Jig 1
Jig 1

First jig, intending to hang over the rounded donut.

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Jig 2
Jig 2

Jig meant to match the curvature of the inner donut.

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Jig 4
Jig 4

Jig meant to line up with the holes of the donut.

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Jig 1
Jig 1

First jig, intending to hang over the rounded donut.

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05 Develop

3D Printing

After several rounds of iterations, Ryan and I developed a small plastic jig that would hold and align the micrometer. We also found and cut out a foam mat which allowed us to perform the measurement comfortably on our knees. The final design was printed as a solid block of ABS polymer using a Stratasys F123.  

Micrometer IRL.png

Ryan testing out the new Tool Jig.

Lessons Learned

Get your hands dirty - While I find developing personas to be fantastic tool for user empathy, I learned a great deal more by getting my hands dirty. Taking the time to truly experience the pain points of my customer yielded many more results than thinking theoretically about my user's needs. 

Lean on your Experts - While I got to experience Ryan's frustrations a few times, he had months to experience these pain points and think of potential solutions. Leaning on Ryan as an expert allowed us to iterate ideas quickly and ultimately allowed us both to take pride in our joint solution.