Use and Environmental profiles
Did you know that hot air doesn’t rise when there is no or very little gravity?
The electronics used to steer an oil exploration drill head 5 miles deep in the earth experiences 200°C sulfuric acid immersion along with continuous 50,000G shocks.
I used to think the environment under the hood a car was difficult.
Products Have to Work Where Used
Or at least where they are expected to be used.
I once worked with a team making a portable oxygen delivery device for those patients prescribed by their doctor a regular dosage of oxygen. It was to allow the patients the ability to leave their home to shop, visit friends, or see their doctor and remain on oxygen doing so.
At the time, I was climbing mountains, 14,000 ft mountains.
My offer to ‘test’ the device during my next summit attempt was met with, ‘these devices are for the home or local travel within the patient’s local community’. Obviously, not for mountaineers. (While not technically needed for the climbs I did, I sure liked the idea yet would probably not enjoy the extra weight)
One of the first steps when creating a product is answering where will customers use the product?
Some products have a very defined environment that is well known. Others have a wide range of expected environmental stresses. Some products, well, we just do not really know where it will find its most use.
In college, I used my turntable, amp, and speakers in my car (backseat, powered by an inverter powered by the cigarette lighter socket). It worked well when the car was parked. Not so well when driving (quickly switched to cassette tapes.)
Kenwood engineers, if they considered a car based turntable, didn’t design one that worked in that environment. They did create a fantastic system that worked quite well sitting stably on a shelf or entertainment center.
Define the Environment and Use
Beyond knowing your product’s environment is inside the space station, or 3 feet behind a drill head, or a college dorm room, you need to define that range of stresses within that specific environment.
This includes the weather and use stresses.
The more detail the better. How many power on button presses will the game console see per day? How often for different types of gamers? How hard? With what surface or object? What angle?
You will need at least a reasonable estimate in order to select the button from a catalog. Same with every other component, design element, and material used in the product. You and your team need to know the environment and use profiles.
Create Profiles and Fill in the Details
If you are designing an inexpensive and effective water purification system destined for Africa, that is a start.
Where is Africa? Will different customers use the device differently?
Create a profile of stresses and values for each group of customers, or regions, for example.
Africa is a big place. It has extreme desert and tropical jungles. 20,000 mountains (is there more than one?), coastlines, etc. Africa has insects and animals not found elsewhere. How will those creatures treat your device?
Assumptions will get the team started, yet details have to quickly be made available.
This is the tricky part.
Studies, measurements, behavior monitoring, risk assessments, environmental testing all take time and resources. Getting the design perfect except it won’t work if exposed to rain, then, it’s not perfect. It doesn’t work if it rains.
We cannot assume the device will only experience non-condensing moderate humidity if it will in normal use experience direct rain and condensing humidity conditions.
Listing in the user manual to not use outside, when that is where the water to purify is located is a product that has failed.
- Brainstorm the potential stresses
- Gather the data you can for each stress quickly
- Make the known stresses and values known to the team
- For stress without details, make assumptions
- Make sure the entire team knows those are assumptions (guesses)
- For stresses that may lead to product failures, sort a way to get better data
- Fill in the blanks where necessary
This idea is to enable a great design, appropriate testing, and a successful product performance. Help your team make a product that works as intended where intended.
Last note: keep in mind that customers will not read the manual or environmental limits. If the product is useful, they will find new and exhilarating environments to use your product.
For example, if I could afford a portable oxygen breathing assist device, I’d take it to the top of a nearby mountain.
Have you ever been surprised by where and how your products are used?
Any very creative customers exploring the boundaries of use?
Leave a comment and help your peers expand their understanding of the range of environments and uses.