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Over the past 4 or 5 years I have watched the growth of crowd sourced design. I have seen protein folding projects claim success by harnessing the crowd. I have also seen SETI grow their search for life from harnessing thousands of computers to now also harnessing their owners. I have not personally taken part in any projects, so I went looking on the web to see any engineering design projects had used crowd sourcing and how the community perceives their success. I was able to find articles on completed software and bio engineering projects but non on any completed design projects. However I also found a lot of engineering crowd source projects still running; NASA crowd source project, DARPA crowd source project, Open Source Rocket and a few others. All of these projects made me a little excited and a little scared.
As a designer in the aerospace industry I am all too aware of the amount of control, checks and rechecks that go into the design and fabrication of aerospace products. The design of simple angles may be controlled by over 20 spec documents and need to be reviewed by 15 subject matter experts before it can even go out for bid to a supplier. Once the supplier fabricates the part easily over 30 sped documents were referenced and several levels of quality check will have been performed. Lastly, the parts are continually inspected as they are received and added to the assembly or product. And even with all of those reviews 25% of a program’s budget usually goes to rework. So this experience begs me to ask a few questions:
- How much accountability can be built into crowd sourced engineering?
- How much efficiency is lost in crowd sourcing your engineering?
- What specs, processes and controls will need to be created to make these projects viable?
- What data formats and change management systems are used to ensure that downstream stake holders of the engineering output can plan their tasks?
- How is functional commonality achieved? ie. how do you know all of the parts are being stress analyzed the same way?
I see some solutions for these questions but it will take a leader and a hierarchy to implement on the project. Is that a viable for crowd sourced projects? Only the future will tell I guess.
I am going to try a few of these and let you know how they turn out.
JJ Biel-Goebel is a program manager at the Industry leading Center for Advanced Transportation Technology lab at the University of Maryland. The CATT Lab as it is affectionately called focuses on big data science as it relates to the transportation industry. JJ leads efforts in the manipulation, archrival and visualization of petabyte size datasets used by a variety of companies, government agencies and universities. Previously JJ was Lead Engineer on the Chinook Integrated Product Team in charge of affordable redesign. As such, JJ has direct leadership of a team of engineers, planners and support personnel on two continents responsible for redesigning large sections of the airframe. Prior to this position JJ had functional responsibility for over 500 engineers supporting and managed the development and deployment of processes, tools and training on the Chinook Program. JJ has also held the role of functional process lead within the Mechanical/structural Engineering function at the enterprise level, supporting 4,600 designers and analysts for structures, mechanical/fluid systems, support and training equipment. Learn More.
Currently, JJ is working on small robotics projects in the DC area with some unbelievable team mates.