Think Again: Walt Disney Imagineering, NASA space travel
What do Walt Disney Imagineering and NASA space travel have in common? Engineering inspiration.
Ingredients of engineering inspiration, for Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI), include 140 skill sets and a mission to entertain. For NASA, engineering inspiration resulted from getting humans to and from space safely, with a mission in-between.
WDI engineering advice
At Disney, imagination and engineering combine in magical ways thanks to creative design, research and development, and more than 30 years of embracing a culture of innovation and technology. David R. Van Wyk, vice president, project management, Walt Disney Imagineering, asked an audience at the Siemens 2011 Automation Summit conference in June: “How can we be as relevant tomorrow as we are today? How can we meet and exceed guest expectations in a changing world? Could we be the typewriter of the next generation?” Substitute the word “customer” or “client” for guest, and nearly any engineer can glean advice from this.
To help engineer the next level of success in guest entertainment, Van Wyk said Imagineering:
- Incorporates skill sets of 140 disciplines, including engineers, creative staff, artists, architects, accountants, writers, theme and new media specialists, and more. A culture of interdisciplinary coordination with diverse stakeholders aims to interact and socialize to understand issues and problems.
- Tells a sweeping story, immersing the guest, whatever age, in the experience. Connecting with guests helps in that effort.
- Pays attention to details. A famous Walt Disney saying is that a guest may not notice a specific (sometimes tiny) detail, but he or she will notice when the detail isn’t there.
- Cultivates a culture of ideas and helps talented, creative people use new tools to do so. At Disney that includes “blue sky development,” where an idea comes to life in a virtual world to see how elements interact, for better understanding, collaboration, planning, and development.
- Resolves issues earlier in the engineering-design process, when it’s more economical to make changes, especially those involving equipment.
- Aims to adapt, modify, renew, and reinvent.
- Looks at products, processes, and people with sustainable design, driven by diversity and partners of choice.
- Seeks to incorporate more peer review earlier in the engineering-design process.
- Recognizes higher complexities required for a more sophisticated audience and expects to incorporate higher productivity tools in design and construction, including building information modeling (BIM), to preserve and adapt prior designs where it make sense.
- Looks for on-time delivery, getting it right before it gets to the field, with a strong start, strong finish, and careful resource allocation.
- Gains expertise through partnering, ensuring that stakeholders embrace objectives of predictability, collaboration, impeccable coordination, reduced decision latency, collective quality, and just-in-time delivery. That means tracking costs closely, including stakeholders in collaboration.
- Considers quality up front and asks supply chain partners to ensure they have quality assurance programs, ensuring the first conversation on the topic isn’t after something has gone wrong.
- Understands that lowest cost can translate into higher costs if other elements of a partnership aren’t right.
NASA's engineering inspiration: priceless
With the Space Shuttle program retired after 30 years, NASA is without funding for putting humans in low earth orbit (left to the Russians and to the private sector). Nor does NASA have funding for continuing the work on its already-begun deep space human exploration program.
While there are many direct technological benefits to putting humans in space—and practical reasons to use robotic space exploration—inspiring new engineering talent is among NASA's largest contributions.
What won't be engineered in the future because young people today, uninspired with NASA's lack of funding, will choose another career? What do you think?
Think Again - ONLINE extra
- Let your government know what you think
- Benefits of the Space Shuttle Era
- Automation and Ethernet combine for 3D Disney attraction
- About Walt Disney Imagineering
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