Project Wrap-up

With the class demo and functional testing concluded, the design and build process for my adjustable standing desk is just about concluded. This project (and the class) was a great learning experience for me, not in the sense of fundamental engineering principles or even how to model structures — I think most people who have gone through a typical undergraduate engineering course sequence knows all of that.

Instead, my biggest takeaway from this class is the importance of sticking to the deterministic design process. I think for many people who like to build stuff (that’s why we became engineers, right?), it is more enjoyable to be mucking around in the shop doing the hands-on work instead of plugging away at spreadsheets working out equations. Throughout the design process for this desk, I have often found myself tempted to size some component simply based on gut feeling instead of making the effort to go through the analytical modelling process. This kind of instinctive design is fine — it’s how humans got along for centuries before all the analytical models came about, but it is a deplorable way to do engineering. It is the professional duty of the engineer to draw on the full extent of her knowledge to produce the best design possible using the minimal amount of resources, moving fast and iterating (and breaking things) is fine, but iterating on prototypes isĀ much more expensive than doing the math properly and getting as close as possible the first time round. Iterative design has its place (e.g. when models don’t exist or are too complex to solve expediently), but one must be careful not to use it as a crutch against analytical laziness.

Enough of the philosophical musings for now. Here is a fun video I made by placing my camera on my rising desktop. It showcases the Hobby Shop’s quaint collection of mallets and hammers.

Adjustable Standing Desk: Vertical Panning Shot from Shien Yang Lee on Vimeo.

Next steps

While the precision design aspect of my desk is more or less complete at this point. There are few improvements I need to take care of before I can fairly call it a complete and usable desk. Over the coming weeks, I plan to clean up the wiring by burying it in slots along the columns and permanently attaching my control board to the desk. Then I plan to install limit switches and tilt sensors on the desk to allow it to self-home and to catch error conditions should the axes go out of sync or the desk threatens to tip itself over by descending onto a component below the desktop. Once these are in place, I think the desk will have the basic usability and safety features needed to be a functioning product. The final step would be to do a final sand-down of the surface and finish the wood.

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