We have a variety of tools in the workshop for building prototypes. I enjoy that aspect of engineering. I find that holds true for most of the engineers I know and work with, but it’s not always focused on anything more than relaxation or exploration. Sometimes, when we tinker around in the shop just for the sake of it, we discover solutions to meaningful problems by accident.
Recently, I made the “Made in Maryland” illuminated sign for some exhibit tables. It was fun and artistic, and I had to figure out how best to use the laser cutter in the process for engraving, masking, and painting to get multiple colors and complex shapes, but I didn’t have any great plans for it.
In passing, I explained how I made the sign to my colleague, and he was immediately inspired for how to solve some fabrication issues with microfluidic prototypes he’d been making. He could use similar techniques masking sheet materials and adhesives in a multi-layer laminate.
I think about this when I’m inspired to work with some new material or tool as a fun side project. I may not be solving an important engineering problem, but I am expanding a skill set and a way of thinking that could prove useful down the road.