Hardware & 3D Printing: an interview with Nyles Nettleton from Oracle
Nyles Nettleton is an engineer and inventor with a number of patents, he is also the principal hardware engineer for Oracle and today we are going to share his responses to some of the more common questions that we receive from engineers that use our services.
Many of the engineers who create inventions are doing so to solve a problem that either they have faced or a problem they know has been an issue for others. If the old adage is true, that engineers are creative problem solvers then Nyles is a big problem solver in the industry. He has experience creating and inventing things to solve problems not only personally but also professional with his work at Oracle, the worldwide database software and technology company. Engineering has been called “design under constraint.” Engineers are required to create elegant solutions while working within tons of limitations, such as the laws of what can physically be made, the expectations of consumers, and so on. Every potential solution an engineer creates for a problem must be weighed against the realities of what’s physically possible and other concerns such as public safety, a client’s requirements, regulations, available materials, and a finite budget. It takes creativity to get successfully from problem to solution, all while navigating the multitude of constraints.
We asked Nyles is there a better way to start a project than looking for a solution to a problem and his reply was “Not really – a solution looking for a problem generally is fraught with trouble and misery.”
Tip #1 – Start with a problem, it’s easier to measure the end result by how far from solving the problem you are. If you’re start by engineering a solution, the hunt to find a problem is like finding a needle in a haystack.
Everything you use has had some form of engineering, for example your transportation (car, bike, subway, plane) needed engineers to design them, roads require civil engineers, mobile phones and computers need electrical engineers. Mechanical engineers design everything from air-conditioning systems to elements of your transportation, and the list never ends. Engineers are required to make these things and keep them working. To make this simpler basically anything you touch with your hands that wasn’t created by nature, an engineer had something to do with it. As an example let’s talk about multi-level PCBs. There is never just one way to solve a multi-level PCB design challenge; there is no single, “right” answer to a problem (as long as the end result functions the way it should). In his day to day Nyles must accept a degree of uncertainty regarding a solution’s endpoint, and creativity helps here, too. He is required a sense of vision that goes beyond constraints to “see” a solution that others might miss or dismiss as farfetched. But how far does that go? When I asked Nyles if the wheel needs to be re-invented every time, or if re-engineering an already existing product can be a perfectly acceptable solution to many problems he had this to say “A new wheel invention is a rare thing – most of the time it’s tweaks and remixing”
Tip #2 – Re-inventing the wheel is not only not necessary, it’s also very uncommon. Most inventions that we see are remixes or tweaks on an existing inventions. Engineering solutions to problems do not need to be constructed from the ground up.
With re-engineering it’s important to be mindful of patents and making sure that you’re not infringing on anyone’s intellectual property. We turned to Nyles to provide his opinion on how important is it to research patents before re-engineering? His response was “That’s a tricky one. If you’re in a startup, it’s likely you’ll be best served by doing thorough research. If you’re in a very large corporation, you may be better off leaving that to the patent lawyers.”
Tip #3 – Startups that plan to use re-engineering as the core of their business should research the patents that apply to their project, whereas larger companies can leave that to the patent lawyers that work for this purpose.
In most cases engineers are designing with the customer in mind and because Nyles is an engineer who has used Sculpteo’s services to create parts for both customers and himself, we wanted to know if there is a difference in engineering for personal projects and engineering for professional projects. This is what he had to say, “For most customers, aesthetics are just as important as functionality. With a customer, it’s extremely important to have a crystal clear definition of the problem that’s being solved. Otherwise, you’ll wind up iterating back and forth many more times than necessary until you hopefully come up with an acceptable solution. When I’m designing for myself, function comes first before aesthetics.” He went on to say this about using Sculpteo’s services “It’s been really good – customer service is great, part quality is excellent, [and] delivery times are realistic.”
Tip #4 – Function and aesthetics do not always go hand in hand. Occasionally functionality isn’t the only thing that matters and when that is the case reaching out to a service can give you the finished quality you’re looking for.
Let’s say you go through the process to create your design and it turns out that it doesn’t exactly solve your problem (or your client’s problems). We asked Nyles if this has ever happened to him and what he recommends for engineers in this position. He replied “This happens all the time. Re-thinking a design is part of the job. Next steps? Take a breath, be patient with yourself, go back to the problem being solved and see if there’s another angle to solving it.”
Tip #5 – Try to see an engineering problem from multiple angles, and remember there’s more than one way to solve an engineering problem.
Just take a step back and remember that it’s common to run into this issue, don’t scrap the project, but instead consider that there are multiple solutions and by finding something that doesn’t work you’re that much closer to finding the solution that will work.
We how you’ve enjoyed our interview with Nyles Nettleton and the 5 tips that have come out of the interview.