Do You Need an Engineer for Your Prototype?

Guest blogger William Colbath continues his helpful series on Prototyping for with the following article:

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Hi all. Who do you think will be the last one standing on American Inventor when the dust finely clears? I am rooting for the baby carrier. But I have a very personal reason. This last week, my great granddaughter Audry died of sudden infant death syndrome. She was only 24 days old. The whole reason that I am mentioning this is that it has changed me in many ways. I now look at protecting our babies in a whole different light, One thing that I thought of is could a version of thebaby seat be used as a crib to help prevent sudden infant death syndrome? Just a thought... Now, on to the topic for this week.

One question that I get asked a lot is do I need a engineer during the prototyping stage. First a engineer is usually not needed in the early stages of a design, but if you are going to patent the design it is almost a necessity. Most prototypers are not engineers, but they do consult with engineers on a regular basis. Instead prototypers use experience to do what they do. Did I lose you? I will explain by example, my favorite way. I worked for a company that designed, built and used directional drilling machines for the pipeline industry. The drilling rigs can be steered under and around obstacles, such as rivers or railroads. After the drilling rig runs a pilot bit under the obstacle, they then attach what are called hole openers to the stem. The hole openers are then run back and forth to make the hole large enough for the pipe. They then attach the pipe to the drill stem and pull it under the obstacle. Some of these bore are huge 36" pipe sometimes over 10,000 ft. long. Anyway the company that I was working for used four different engineering firms from all over the country to help design three different sizes of drilling machines. Well as you can imagine the blueprints to build something like this number in the hundreds. When we started going over the blueprints to start ordering materials, we found pages that were blank. All they had on them was this "field engineer to fit". We got started building the first machine thinking that any minute a crazed engineer would come storming in and offer a solution to the problem of the blank pages. Well we waited and waited but no crazed engineer came to the rescue.

What happened here you ask. And I am glad you asked. Remember no one had ever built one of these machine quite like we were. The simple truth was the engineering firm involved had no idea how to do this. So enter the prototypers. Now before I make every engineer out there mad at me and they want to string me up in a old west kinda way. I am not attacking the engineering profession quite the contrary, read on and you will see. On a project like I am talking about engineers are absolutely positively needed. The problem that we had encountered was simple, but tough to solve. We needed a way of transferring the signal for the guidance system through the rotating drill stem. Without going into all of the details, I used a brass ring and a holder and brush from a welding machine. It took a few calls to the engineering firms and some trial and error (normally the wrong way to do it but sometimes you have to) After it was made to work the engineering firms sent reps to look it over and decide if it was going to work for the life of the machine. And that folks is the biggest advantage to using engineers.

The fact that they can tell you if it satisfies all the requirements of the design. Is it strong enough to work properly, or is it overbuilt. Or will it possibly cause a accident. And in this day and age you as a inventor must always be thinking about accidents, and the resulting lawsuits that come from them. And using a engineer is just one more safety layer if you get involved in a lawsuit. And because I have given expert testimony in many lawsuits I can tell you that when it starts they generally bring in everyone that had anything even remotelyto do with the product! Until you have given a deposition and sat across from a bunch of lawyers doing their level best to get you to screw up and admit to everything including the Kennedy assassination, you will never know what I am talking about. And I truly hope you never do! So cover your bases and give serious thought to using engineers.

Till next week,

William William Colbath Owner -

Apr 28, 2006
by Michelle
Michelle's picture

Our Condolences

Hi William:

I just wanted to publicly share the American Inventor Spot team and our readers deepest condolences to you and your family for the loss of your great graddaughter. I personally cannot think of anything more heartwrenching than the loss of a child.

Deepest regrets,

Your friends at American Inventor Spot

Apr 28, 2006
by Hot Spot Mama

William - I am so sorry for

William - I am so sorry for your loss. As a mother of two, I can not even imagine what you and your family is going through. When my boys were infants, I remember hearing about SIDS and continually checking on them while they were sleeping - not that I could do anything anyway. The amazing thing is that in this day and age, with all the technology we have, we can not prevent SIDS. In addition to the sadness you feel for losing your great granddaughter, you have also watched your child lose a granddaughter and your grandchild lose its child. Once again, I am so sorry for your incredible loss.

HotSpot Mama

Apr 30, 2006
by Ironponyfabrication

I want to thank everyone for the nice comments

It was very nice and I have relayed the messages on to My Daughter and Grandson. But I didn't mention it to get sympathy, but to point out how some things can change Your whole outlook on life, and this sure did that. I am studing what is known about sudden infant death syndrome to see if there is anything that I might be able to do to help reduce the deaths from it. I have found out that there is really little known about it. The very clear point from all this to me is that I can really understand what drove the inventor of the baby seat now. And I feel as though I can help, and that is what I am doing with My spare time. Thank You all for Your support. William