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28 October 2019
Reduction of the development cycle using 3D printing
TBIOM
Article written by Jaume Palou Fusté CEO and CTO of TBIOM and FCTecnics.
Reduction of the development cycle using 3D printing

When the experts of a prestigious acoustics centre told us a year ago that it was virtually impossible to reduce the noise produced by a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) fan as small as the AIRMONY (the smallest ever) to below 45dBA, the team's hearts sank, but we maintained our composure and clung to the few signs that we could achieve our goal; our vision was based more on faith than on the immediate evidence. Physics state that to absorb vibrations and noise you need volume and mass. We said that anything can be optimised. 

I often tried to establish a linear (Gantt-style) plan of R&D actions and designs that would allow us to get closer to our goal by starting the week with a good injection of optimism, tasks and objectives. 

In our AIRMONY design we mix concepts of passive and active acoustics, fluid mechanics, electronics, digital signal processing, and material technology, among others, all linked together.

Optimisation and improvement require a continuous process of: creative hypothesis, construction, test and measurement, and analysis of results.

You can't improve what you can't measure.
This phrase, often attributed to Peter Drucker, highlights the importance of measuring. The phrase actually corresponds to William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), British physicist and mathematician (1824–1907): "What is not defined cannot be measured. What is not measured cannot be improved".

Notice this word: What is not defined cannot be measured.

We may be tempted to define something computationally and also test it computationally, i.e. simulate it.

 When we attended an advanced acoustic course given by Dr. Jordi Romeu, and thanks to previous training on fluid mechanics given by Dr. Alfred Fontanals, we realised that it is more important for the engineer to understand the problem facing him or her than to make guesses on a computer, although this may well be useful in cases where defining and building a prototype costs more than simulating it.

When the engineer understands at least part of the problem, he or she is able to take the next step and form a creative hypothesis with indications of working better with the millions of random combinations that may arise.

In order to encourage this creative process, our brain has to 'switch' between focused thought and lateral thinking; for this it is very useful to 'feel and suffer' the experiment - this mental, sensory and stress mechanism generates new connections and relationships that our brain re-organises in a massively parallel process, in the REM phase of deep sleep, being capable of creating 'singularities' outside any conventional reasoning, of breaking molds.

Finally, we decided to move progressively towards an optimal solution based on hypothesis, test and error, and conclusions, in a spiral cycle of a weeklong period.

For this cycle to be effective, it is very important to maintain traceability of the work done; for this we cooperatively recorded the experiments and conclusions in a shared logbook in the cloud. 

It is also extremely important not to let too much time pass between hypotheses and conclusions, as we tend to easily forget what is not consolidated with a causeeffect relationship. The weekly work cycle is perfect: neither too short nor too long.

From time to time, sharing our experience with the people from LEITAT, UPC, and SIMULTANEA and getting their feedback has allowed us to broaden our point of view and be more accurate in our interactions. Printing services have been effective and dynamic, exploiting fully and passionately the speed and effectiveness of the technology available to them.

Recently, and thanks to our June 2019 patent, we have managed to get AIRMONY to produce only 36dBA of noise, with the prospect of reaching 33dBA, far below the Air-Mini product, which is our main portable competitor and registers 38dBA. AIRMONY has many other advantages that make it hard to beat; now it is time to raise the funding necessary to get through the final stages of the CE mark and begin manufacturing.

Following this explanation, a smart reader will realise that being able to make use of the 3D printing at the 3DFactory Incubator and the services associated with Leitat not only means having access to 'impossible parts' at a very reasonable price currently, but also massively encouraging the ongoing creation of unique and different products, in a global market in which copying the competition and doing more of the same is the order of the day coming from the east.

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