Letters 12/11/2008

Dec. 10, 2008
Engineers and silver-screen gore

Engineers and silver-screen gore
A handful of readers took offense at another engineer working to make Hollywood movies scary and safe. Dare we say, it’s just a movie? Other readers praise Toyota’s management theory while other seem to poke holes in Design for Costing.

It’s just a movie

The first of the Fundamental Principles of the ASME Code of Ethics of Engineers is for engineers to uphold and advance the integrity, honor, and dignity of the engineering profession by using their knowledge and skill for the enhancement of human welfare. I fail to see how that principle fits with the engineering required to develop the imaginary instruments of torture presented in the “How To Engineer A Nightmare,” (Oct. 23).

As one who tries to fill their life with uplifting experiences, I have never seen any of the Saw movies, but from reading the article, I get the idea. I’m sure David Hackl is sincere when he places the safety and well being of the actors paramount. It is his engineering contribution to the disturbing and grotesque imagery I find disquieting. The youth of today have a difficult enough time navigating the everyday horrors littering society. I can’t understand why a learned person would choose to fill their life providing engineering machines of torture and gore, imaginary or not. I hope he’s only doing it for the money.

Fewer articles like this please.

Scott Rodriguez

Anyone who attends one of these movies knows full well what kind of experience they are in for. It is escapist entertainment that obviously finds an audience, none of whom has any problem making a distinction between reality and the actions of actors on the screen. And as far as ethical behavior goes, I find it surprising that anyone would focus on the work of some poor schmuck toiling on Hollywood horror movies when there is unethical behavior running rampant in the financial markets.

—Leland Teschler

I am quite upset and very disappointed with Machine Design. The latest issue features an article on various torture devices used in the Saw movie series. Listen, there are people all over the world being treated brutally and inhumanely by thugs, dictators, and violently sadistic people. Torture, whether real or virtual is hideous. We don’t need any more of this.

I feel you should really examine your motives for making the decision to publish this article. Shame on you. Is your mind so corrupt as to view this as simple machine design article? Think about it.

Lawrence Fontaine

No one who attends one of these movies confuses the play acting of actors on the screen with reality. They view it as entertainment and I would suggest you do the same even if this genera of film is not your cup of tea. — Leland Teschler

Toyota’s got it right
Hopefully this letter is only one out of hundreds which you received in feedback after the article, “How to Develop Products like Toyota” (Oct. 8). Most engineers are aware that, “...many U.S. firms freeze their basic design early in the cycle...” As a contract engineer I’ve had the opportunity to see how many engineering departments function, from automotive to aerospace. The quote from M. Kennedy says it all, “... development is about quickly coming up with a design and then seeing whether or not it can be fixed.”

In many firms I’ve worked with, the schedule rules everything. In spite of the flaws of this focus being revealed decade after decade, it still remains. The most successful of the firms I’ve seen are quality focused, but even they have customers trying to force them to meet an arbitrary schedule.

I’ve seen the following situation several times: An engineer notices that important improvements can be made to a product but he isn’t allowed to make them. Why? Because the customer wants him to spend thousands of hours creating paperwork with the word “quality” written on it. The basic design is frozen early in the development so that the “design-finished” box can be checked off on the schedule. Quoting M. Kennedy, “Toyota would say this is absolutely backwards”. He’s right.

My worry is that only engineers are reading this article, not the MBAs and vice presidents who are in a position to improve the situation.

Darrell Hambley

Design for costing
I am a mechanical engineer with many years of experience in developing products. And I have been through “value engineering,” cost reduction, and various exercises to cut cost before a product comes to market. The Vantage Point column “Design for costing” (Oct. 9), seems to be another attempt to reduce cost for free which is a Utopian endeavor. There are three factors in product development: speed, quality, and cost. Generally, design engineers have to balance these three factors before putting something on the market. If engineers wish to excel at any two of the factors, they must give up something with the third. People who have never been through product development, such as the people behind Design for Costing, have tried to say for years that you can have all three without sacrificing anything, which just isn’t true.

Here’s why: If the person setting the cost of the component does not understand what governs the cost, then it will be impossible to develop a component that meets that cost target without sacrificing quality or time. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had a client, customer, or boss tell me how much something must cost without them truly understanding what they are asking for. For example, I was tasked last year with developing a highquality, luxury consumer good that would cost $100 or less and to get it to market in under nine months. I managed to get it on the market in less than nine months, but cost was sacrificed and the final product cost almost $300. When it comes to speed, quality, and cost, you can have any two, but must sacrifice the third. If vendors are having their feet held to the fire for target price, then hopefully they are sacrificing speed and not quality.

And don’t think the only way to drive innovation is by controlling cost. Innovation comes from being open minded to potential solutions. Personally, I am a huge fan of what I call “Collective Engineering” in which innovation comes from small teams of talented people focusing on solving complex problems. Yes, cost may be a deciding factor when choosing concepts, but it should not be a driving factor at the beginning.

In tough economies and competitive markets, many people like to tout cost as the top priority. Personally, I prefer to ask the tough questions and find out what the true needs are for the market. Sometimes you find consumers are not looking for the lowest cost. It may be particular functions, features, or quality. Or maybe it is time to market because there can be tremendous value in being first. By understanding user requirements and developing the best product that meets those requirements, you end up with a better product that creates a larger

 and longer lasting revenue stream than you will ever get through short-term cost-reduction exercises.

K. Yahn

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