A Prosthetics Engineer’s Ode To Spreadsheets
We’re sorry to disappoint but we love spreadsheets at COVVI, and we use them for almost everything. Every step of the process requires quite a bit of number crunching no matter how you look at it and so having access to Excel goes a long way. We’ll detail the various processes we use these digital tables for, and we’ll try not to fry your brain with formula jargon. We hope to demonstrate just how much benefit can come out of these modest beginnings, and maybe even inspire you to have a play with innumerable rows and columns!
The very first step before any designing can happen is to establish the parameters of the variables we’re working with, so in the case of a prosthetic hand we need to consider: force, speed, weight, temperature, current, voltage, and electrical power consumption. All of these are very physics-heavy in their own right and can make things complicated quite quickly.
Once parameters have been established these need to be related to physical parts, motors especially, and investigate the potentiality of their interactions – these are mostly calculated using formulas which we won’t go into here to prevent that aforementioned brain frying. However, spreadsheets are a lifesaver at this early stage as they can automate formulas which allows for hundreds of motor options to be calculated simultaneously, making the decision-making process for parts radically easier.
From here, as we’re working with human bodies in the design of prosthetic hands, we also handle a lot of physiological data regarding size, proportion and other anatomical elements, which need to be cross-referenced against our desired performance specifications, ensuring that we are producing a product that balances the crucial importance of esthetic appeal with functional capabilities. For example, all components that deliver speed, strength and grip need to fit within the space of an average human hand.
More practically speaking, Excel is great for keeping track of the product part supply chain, in terms of cost, weight and dimensions – it acts as the ideal auditing tool when comparing our engineered designs with their material output. Similarly, it enables a much more efficient monitoring of the development process as a whole: by keeping an accurate record of all figures in one place it clearly outlines the journey from conception, providing a concise reference point capable of grounding the team in times of chaos, which are inevitable when starting a business from the ground up. It is our Gantt chart keeping us on track, and it is a handy accompaniment to our official BOM (bill of materials).
As we’ve said we love spreadsheets, but hopefully you can now see why! It is an indispensable personalizable piece of software that is incredibly versatile in how it can enhance your life, both personally and professionally. It’s not limited to school classrooms, offices or workshops, but can act as an extension of your own complicated ideas which can be laid out clearly and concisely, in an easily digestible package with visual appeal. It was in part due to Excel’s support that the COVVI hand was brought to life and we’ll never underestimate its extraordinary capabilities.