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  • The Elegant Art of Keeping It Simple: A Tale of Overengineering and Redemption

    Aaron Moncur

    Back in the days when Pipeline was pretty much a one-man show starring yours truly, I got this gig to whip up a cleaning fixture for a medical device. Picture this: it needed to snuggle right into an existing ultrasonic bath housing like it was made for it, be crafted out of 316 stainless steel to avoid rusting away to oblivion, and play nice with a bunch of different device setups. No pressure, right?

    Diving into this project, I ran headfirst into the usual design drama—challenges popping up left and right like whack-a-moles. But, like a design ninja, I sliced through each problem with what I thought was sheer elegance. By the end, I was pretty smitten with my creation. It had all the bells and whistles, sturdy as a tank, and it looked cool enough to make the cover of "Stylish Engineering Monthly" (if that was a thing).



    I kept the client in the loop with weekly updates, watching the design go from sketch to spectacle. They did murmur something about it being "too complex" at one point, but hey, no directive to change course. I figured they'd see the light once they laid hands on this masterpiece. "Just wait till you use it," I thought. "It'll be like going from a flip phone to a smartphone!"


    Then came the reality check. Ordering the parts had me whispering, "Ouch, that's gonna sting," as I reluctantly handed over a small fortune to my machine shop. But no worries, I reassured myself, the customer's going to be over the moon with this swanky design.

    Assembly time rolled around, and let's just say it was an eye-opener. "That took forever... and how much did the screws cost?!" And don't get me started on the spring plungers (highlighted in blue below) - 48 of them, at $12 a pop. Ugh. My wallet's still recovering.


    Shipping day arrived, and off went my baby, all packed and ready to dazzle. I was practically waiting by the phone for the shower of praise. Instead, what I got was a "Houston, we have a problem." The client called, not too pleased, saying, "It's not working out." My jaw hit the floor. "How could this be? Did you try turning it on?" Turns out, it wasn't just about flipping a switch. The fixture was too complex, and some bits were playing hide and seek (hint: screws).

    After some troubleshooting and a hefty dose of reality, I had to face the music. My "masterpiece" was a dud for the client. Back to the drawing board I went, eating half the cost for my overzealous design escapade.

    So, what did the client actually want? Drumroll... a design that was about as straightforward as it gets. No frills, no fancy parts—just some cleverly bent wire doing its thing. The bill of materials for this humble pie? Less than a quarter of my original magnum opus. And guess what? It worked like a charm.





    Lessons learned? Engineers like me can get a little too jazzed about making things complicated. It's like thinking everyone wants a Swiss Army knife when they just need a simple screwdriver. Operators and clients don't always share our geeky enthusiasm for complexity. And, sometimes, less really is more.

    Moral of the story: Keeping it simple isn't just a design principle; it's a way to keep your clients (boss, stakeholder, etc…fill in the noun appropriate for your situation) happy and your projects on budget. And hey, if you're ever in doubt, maybe ask a few more questions up front. It could save you a lot of headaches (and cash) down the road.

    As for younger engineers out there, don't go it alone. Find a mentor, a seasoned pro who can spot an over-engineered disaster from a mile away. There's a bunch of them hanging out on The Wave (mentors…not disasters), ready to lend an ear and some sage advice. Trust me, it's better than learning the hard way.

    In the end, engineering isn't about making the sleekest, most complicated thingamajig. It's about solving problems in the smartest, most efficient way. And sometimes, that means embracing the beauty of simplicity. So, here's to finding elegance in the straightforward, and remembering that in engineering, as in life, the best solution is often the simplest one.

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