Home ->The Mech Touch ->396 Engineering Challenge

 "Why can't I get it to work?"

Ves stood stumped in front of the 3D printer as he halted his fabrication efforts. The other mech technicians who watched from the sidelines couldn't help him either.

Initially, fabricating the components for the prototype went smoothly. Ves already practiced fabricating the most tricky parts, and much of the components used familiar materials employed in his other designs.

The HRF armor plating posed no difficulty at all, although Ves found its lengthy fabrication time to be a drag. It couldn't be helped, as the formula key draw was to refine a lot of cheap materials into effective armor plating. Transforming all of those raw materials took time that even the best machines couldn't hurry up.

As for the now-familiar Veltrex formula, Ves knew all of its nuances inside and out. Parts which other mech technicians might struggle with came out of the Dortmund production line with ease.

To be sure of their integrity, Ves scanned each and every part with his Vulcaneye scanner. Even a deviation of 0.1 percent led him to scrap the entire part entirely and force him to fabricate another copy.

Mechs could tolerate a lot of deviances, but just because Ves could clunk some sloppy parts together didn't mean it would fly in the market. The MTA strictly certified every mech sold in the open market because they disapproved of the practice.

Ves stuck to a higher standard, so he was even stricter to himself than the MTA.

The only unforeseen problem came when he fabricated the two light crystals. As the gimmicks of his second original design, the crystals needed to be attention-grabbing and unique. In order to amplify their performance, Ves stretched their physical attributes to the limit of what he could make.

The smaller crystal posed fewer problems. The main challenge with this smaller sample came when Ves tried to assemble the laser rifle. Even though it was scaled to the size of a mech, some portions required extreme precision, and that was exactly the case with the smaller crystal.

"Still, anyone can assemble this rifle with enough practice." He determined after he fumbled around until he got the rifle to take on its intended form.

The big crystal rested on the chest of his hunched mech. Though the mech's posture made the crystal a bit less prominent than he originally intended, it would still be able to mitigate energy attacks from the front. Any laser beams that strayed close to the chest would partially lose their efficacy in the vicinity of this crystal.

The problem with this big one was that it was extremely hard to reproduce. It required a perfect environment and a flawless machine in order to recreate a large enough crystal.

It always worked when Ves practiced its fabrication in a virtual environment. He worked under perfect conditions back then. Right now, Ves already ruined his forth big crystal. He looked in dismay as the Dortmund printer spat out a huge crystal that was larger than his body but displayed a very large crack on its surface.

"This is why you need to test out your designs for real." Chief Cyril said as he stepped forward until he stood next to Ves. "More complex mechs sometimes come with hundreds of tiny issues that aren't apparent during the modelling phases. Especially with weird stuff like these crystals. This is alien technology, right? Those fancy models of yours probably can't wrap their math around its attributes."

"You have a point." Ves conceded. "The smaller crystal is close enough to what I've reproduced in my lab to work. This bigger one is a different story."

He never physically fabricated a crystal of this size before. He vastly underestimated the actual difficulty involved in creating such a monstrosity. He thought it wouldn't be so troublesome to scale up a crystal according to his current understanding of the alien crystal technology.

Ves discretely turned his attention inward. "Can you do anything to help?"

The spirit of the crystal golem barely communicated back. Even though it was a complete spirit, it did not retain too much knowledge from its predecessor. It retained a lot of knowledge in some fields, but possessed huge gaps in many other areas.

"Do you think it's a problem with my design or a problem with the working environment?"

The chief scratched his head. "I'm not sure, but my gut tells me that reproducing the crystal is pushing beyond the limits of the capabilities of the Dortmund printer. It's like trying to cook a traditional meal without a kitchen."

The manufacturing of mechs and its components always centered around the design, the materials and the hardware. All three of these points needed to be satisfied in order to produce a good mech.

Right now, Ves encountered a shortcoming in the one area which he had never really worried about before. The formidable Dortmund printer which Ves relied on to produce his mechs for the next generation started to reach its limits.

Now that they recognized the problem, they could work on coming up with a solution.

"Maybe you should scale back your ambitious design. Do you really have to include such a huge crystal?"

Ves pursed his lips. "I can make some compromises on its size for the bronze and silver label variants, but the gold label mech is my poster model for this product line. It can't under-deliver on its promises."

"That's the trouble with gimmicks. It all sounds well and good, but when you try to turn them into reality, you begin to realize that they're called gimmicks for a reason. Anything that's good enough to be included in a standard design don't come with so many issues."

He basically faced two options right now. Either he could scale back his gimmick, or he could try to find a workaround for his problems.

"There shouldn't be a problem with the concept. It's only our hardware that's failing us." Ves summed up. "Problems with engineering can be solved with engineering."

Cyril snorted. "That's easier said than done. What do you want to do? Improve the Dortmund printer? You don't understand a thing about how it works."

"That's true. I'm thinking about using an entirely different approach to create the crystals. When you think about it, using a 3D printer to fabricate a crystal is like using a feather to hammer a nail. It's the wrong tool for the job."

The insights provided by the crystal golem revealed that his former race utilized an entirely different method to make their crystals. Human fabrication technology predominantly pieced the crystals together at an extremely microscopic level, while the extinct aliens essentially grew the crystals in a more organic manner.

Ves could go on and on about the technical details, but the basic solution would be to imitate the alien race's method of production by creating a customized, homebrew synthesizer.

"Instead of making our own machines, why not buy an existing one?"

"They won't be tuned to create the kind of crystals I want." Ves shook his head. "I already looked it up in case I can simplify the production of the crystals. There's no easy solution out there."

The machines that met his standard could only be obtained from second-rate states such as the Friday Coalition. He could get his hands on a basic machine that fit his needs for the ludicrous price of 100 merits.

He would rather make his own machine than to cough up that much merits at once.

"Do you even know how to make your own machine?"

"I've never made one before, but I already have a framework in mind. With my understanding of alien technology, I can probably kludge something together that works."

Even if Ves specialized in designing mechs, he possessed a broad breadth of knowledge that would not lose out to any of the engineers working at equipment manufacturers like Benson Industrial Machinery.

He only lacked practice and familiarity with industry-specific methods, but Ves had become somewhat familiar with the makeup of these kinds of machines. He personally worked on reconstructing the Dortmund printer by hand so he wasn't working from scratch.

"How much time and effort will this take, though?" Chief Cyril asked a very pertinent question. "If it takes a couple of months or more to design a tailor-made synthesizer, aren't you better off with an off-the-shelf machine?"

Ves faced a lot of time pressure as well. With everything that happened so far, the war between the two states risked becoming super-heated at any moment. Ves really wanted to finish his current design project before that happened.

He tried to estimate how much time and effort he needed to put in the design and creation of the crystal synthesizer. "Most of the technology involved is readily available. I only need to design fabricate some custom modules in order to accommodate the alien technology. It's going to take some time, but not that much."

Most importantly, Ves did not intend to work by himself this time. In a project like this that fell out of his expertise, he figured that soliciting everyone's advice couldn't hurt.

The entire Production Department led by the Chief and Carlos started rotating in different shifts. They looked on as Ves designed a crystal synthesizer in front of their eyes. He already had a good idea on how it should look like, but he felt much less certain about some of the details.

He couldn't hope for the mech technicians to understand the entire machine, but their puzzlement guided Ves into a deeper understanding of what he did. Sometimes, they pointed out a couple of faults that Ves had overlooked, which saved him a lot of time down the road.

Five days went by as this open process continued. Both Ves and the mech technicians gained a lot out of this exchange. On the sixth day, Ves felt the crystal synthesizer's design looked good enough to reproduce.

"I don't fully understand how it works, but even I can see it doesn't come cheap." Chief Cyril spoke as he inspected the final design for anything else they overlooked. "Unlike with mechs, you can't put it in a simulation and see whether it works."

Ves and the LMC lacked the right mathematical models to do so. As a company that mainly produced mechs, it had no business with designing and producing its own production equipment. Ves would have to sacrifice a lot to get his hands on the right models.

He would rather save himself the trouble and create the synthesizer on the spot. It was sloppy, but it worked.

"I think the cost of the raw materials alone will amount to about 250 million credits."

That was not a light sum, but the LMC could handle the cost. Ves only needed one of them in order to enable the LMC to mass produce the crystals necessary for his design.

Ves used the Dortmund printer to fabricate the components. He then moved on to the assembler to piece the synthesizer together.

Naturally, he did not fully rely on the machines to do all the work. For some of the more delicate components, he put them together by hand. At each step, he verified the assembly by scanning his work with his Vulcaneye. Any deviations from his design could prove costly, so Ves was very meticulous about the assembly.

A couple of days later, a crystal synthesizer half the size of a massive industrial printer rested in the corner of the Dortmund hall. After an extensive round of checks, Ves fed the synthesizer with the necessary materials to produce a big crystal.

After a couple of hours of work, the machine spat out a crystal with a multiple cracks on its surface.

Ves, Carlos and Chief Cyril looked at each other in dismay.

"Maybe it's just some teething troubles."

They put the synthesizer to the test and let it grow more than ten crystals in a row.

Five of them came with enormous cracks. Three of them looked fine to the naked eye, but when they scanned the crystals, the discovered numerous micro fractures.

Only two of the crystals met the standard.

What now?