We’ve had a “work-from-anywhere” policy since before Covid-19 swept in … and swept us all out of the office. We were used to meeting remotely — but not being able to walk into the shop and get our hands sawdust-y or saunter into the testing lab and solder? This was new!
A month ago we were side by side making and debugging parts; building and testing prototypes; and doing PCB inspection, wiring, and electrical rework. Our shop and lab were filled with people working and machines whirring.
Introducing Bresslergroup East and West
Once it became clear that Covid-19 was turning into a public health crisis, our program management team proactively assessed the need for site closures as a risk mitigation activity.
We created an internal project to support a plan to move our shops and lab into — where else? — the respective homes of our excellent and well-skilled technicians, Jason Kelly, John Kurcheski, and Steve Czaplicki.
Immediately we saw that this process would be seamless. Not only are they well-skilled, but they are well-equipped. The list of what Jason, John, and Steve already had in their home shops and lab was almost comprehensive.
Take a look for yourself:
Bresslergroup’s Prototyping Shop West
Model Shop Manager, Jason Kelly, runs Bresslergroup Shop West. Jason has worked as a furniture restorer, forklift service technician, freelance designer, and model maker for manufacturers and design consultancies across a broad range of product categories.
The common thread running through it all is making things, whether from scrap metal in a garage or resin in a 3D printer.
Jason’s knowledge about a wide range of disciplines and technologies contributes to his ability to solve pretty much any prototyping challenge. He has shared some of his prototyping tips and tricks on the blog where he has also written about a side project, the Interborough Rapid Transit Co., that brought him to Maker Faire.
Bresslergroup’s Prototyping Shop East
Senior Model Maker, John Kurcheski, is the master of Bresslergroup Shop East. John is a sculptor, longtime tinkerer, and inventor. His “Ball Claw” sports ball holder can be found in big-box retailers throughout the U.S. and Europe.
Our EE Lab Away From the EE Lab
Senior Laboratory Technician, Steve Czaplicki, heads up our EE (Electrical Engineering) Lab away from the EE Lab. Steve is passionate about electronic device development process and he brings a creative, rigorous mindset to his role managing the lab at Bresslergroup.
He makes sure we have all the tools, supplies, and techniques necessary to take on the myriad of tasks we encounter while supporting the electronics assembly and rework effort, and designing programs to test functional aspects of prototypes.
Steve is constantly seeking methods and tools to improve Bresslergroup’s capabilities.
How Do We Make the Logistics Work?
This process of moving our shop and lab to remote locations has been an opportunity for many of us on the project management team to use skills and knowledge we brought to Bresslergroup from past experiences.
As a former international project manager, I once spent all my time managing teams who were not co-located and who had impacts from being in different time zones. That experience led to me being slightly more prepared for this kind of abrupt change.
Here’s how we handle the day-to-day:
We meet short and often.
Our program management team meets first thing every morning for a 15-minute stand-up to align daily on project prioritization (and each project team has a daily check-in, too).
The program management team is made up of industry leaders from manufacturing, software, industrial, and military backgrounds, which allows us to effectively tap into a well of leadership and prior risk mitigation experience.
We prioritize moving parts.
With this team on our daily calls, we’ve been successful at maintaining our prototyping schedules even with the extra time needed for shipping parts between sites during the quarantine period. It’s important to touch base every day on when parts are arriving at our remote labs to ensure we continue without a hitch. To coordinate shipments we’re using local courier systems and services as well as traditional shipping and at-home pickups.
We still find ways to be hands on.
All engineers and technicians have been given webcams to allow for remote debugging support with other technicians or engineers.
Just one word: documentation.
For a remote team to be effective, documentation used by the group needs to be maintained at a high level to ensure that all requirements are met and test procedures can be run by independent parties.
Under normal circumstances we do a great deal of documentation — our technical project leads write supporting test plans, mechanical/hardware specifications, and product requirements. Now we’re leveraging this documentation in ways that keep remote team members and our clients aligned and coordinated. It’s important that we’re all literally on the same page.
Don’t Stop Prototyping
Our fully operational shops and lab continue to provide prototyping and testing support for all our client projects. Each site has the required gear to support the project team for as long as we need to operate in a remote fashion. Each technician is well-equipped in their respective home to allow for the support of electrical rework, mechanical prototyping, and electrical prototyping.
Setting this up has been a nice win for us in what is an unsettling time. In fact it has given us an opportunity to flex our creative project management skills and even to improve our capabilities — we now have welding in our arsenal, thanks to Jason. We’re building a custom print head to upgrade one of our 3D printers. And we’ve set up a new tool, a thermoformer, that we hadn’t previously had time to get working.
We find comfort in coming together to execute a mission well and in being able to continue to serve our clients. Surprising them with the seamlessness of our shift to remote digital-physical prototyping has been nice, too.