Letters 6/23/2011

June 23, 2011
This issue's letter writers don’t have much sympathy for engineers upset about their lot in life. A German reader, on the other hand, crows about his country’s foresight in dealing with nuclear power

Whiners and a dose of some safety advice
This issue’s letter writers don’t have much sympathy for engineers upset about their lot in life. A German reader, on the other hand, crows about his country’s foresight in dealing with nuclear power. And our safety expert dishes out some good advice on safety equipment.

Stop the whining
Jobs have dried up … some have gone offshore … the government isn’t helping …woe is me. That’s what a lot of the letters in your magazine seem to say (“Engineering’s Downside,” April 21). So? Get off your duff, use those engineering skills you supposedly have, and go to work for yourself. Design a product. Provide a service. Build it in your garage. Start small and build it up.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself.

I’m 75 with a high-school education (graduated in ‘53 when it was possible to get a good, rounded education), and I immediately started my own business at 18 and failed just about as quickly. Serial entrepreneurs simply move on and work on the next challenge.

I am currently working seven days a week (and falling behind with orders) making a product (patent pending) that had not been updated or revised in the last 500 years.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Lee Marshall

It would have been helpful if a sheet of absorbent paper toweling could have been bound into the magazine in the letters’ section recently. As it was, I had to scramble to find my personal “crying towel” upon reading the plight of these engineers.

As for the editorial (Good Enough for Government Work,” April 19), I have never worked on a government contract that didn’t need a correction to the designs or specifications provided by all those government workers.

Richard Distel

Outsourcing debate
Outsourcing is a bad idea and could only work if you believe a nation as large and diverse as the U. S. can survive and grow using a service-based economy (“Thinking About Outsourcing Product Development?” April 5). If a company does not have the knowledge of how to develop its own products, what differentiates it from any other company? Know-how, the ability to do what needs to be done, is probably the most valuable asset an organization has. We devalue this asset at our own peril.

Louise Kitchner

Thank you for your comment. I think what is often misunderstood is the difference between core technology that every company should certainly retain internally, and noncore engineering functions. For example, designing a plastic component is not a core technology. Sure, it may be part of a larger system, but executing a design is something that specialists can do faster and better in many cases. When looked at this way, a company does not give up anything regarding the core knowledge of its products. This is what we see in our business and we view our role as maximizing a company’s internal talent and resources by shedding noncore activities. — Jorg Lorscheider

So goes Germany
At least we in Germany are trying to find a way to a future without nuclear power. Not only because of the dangers from the power plants but also because of the nuclear waste which will become more and more difficult to handle. We feel responsible for our country, our resources, and our children. Sustainability is what we reach for. This does not mean closing one nuclear power plant and building two coal power plants. We have a long-term energy plan. It is a strategy for the next 10, 20, 50, and 100 years. This is foresight, a goal.

And we have started tackling that goal with concretely defined milestones. One very important point is to raise the efficiency and to save energy. Energy that does not have to be produced is the cleanest and safest.

I am very proud to live in a country where people accept their responsibilities for their country and act accordingly. We are on the way. What about you?

Herman Hellstern

For the safety expert
At our company, we use several safety devices on machinery. Often two such devices are used at the same time, including pull backs, light curtains, palm buttons, and guards. My concern is that we are looking at a new press brake that uses a safety feature consisting of three laser beams placed about the tooling tip. It senses objects and is programmable. We have asked for literature on the equipment, but I would also prefer third-party information or safety reviews.

Have you seen any information on this feature or its ability to keep workers safe? Is there a database available of case files? How can we get access? Any thoughts to a best practice for searching this kind of data?

Chris Bunten

I am not familiar with this guarding system. If I were in your place, I would:
1. Contact the company and ask for a copy of their hazard-analysis and safety-studies reports. Be wary if they are not willing to share this information with you.
2. Contact OSHA and ask if they know of this safety system and any problems it might have.
3. Have your corporate attorney check to see if this device has been involved in any lawsuits. The lawyer should have contacts with the plaintiff bar which keeps this type of information.
4. Perform your own hazard analysis study of this device.
5. Be aware of the differences between machine guards and machine guarding devices. All of the safety devices you mention rely on people using them properly. This leaves a lot of room for human error.
6. If this device is programmable, make sure any hazard analysis looks at the worst possible scenario. I am always concerned about programmable devices in that they may be programmed for maximum production rather than maximum safety.
7. Make sure anyone who leads your safety investigation is a qualified safety expert, knowledgeable in machine guarding, and, hopefully, has a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) rating.— Lanny Berke

Professors being honest
Your editorial (“Bad Advice Online,” May 4) reminded me of the time I attended a conference at Purdue University as an editor, and a bunch of professors assumed I was one of them.

About 10 of us went out for pizza and beer, and I heard stories that would curl your hair. They talked about grantsmanship and how “good” professors can make two to three times their salaries from government grants. Plus, no one in government ever reads these studies, so professors only need to ensure that when anyone opens the study, they’ll read something that sounds professorial. And a rule of thumb is that the size of the study (in pounds) is directly related to the dollar amount of the grant.

The professors also spoke favorably of using grad students as slaves. In fact, they said the only two forms of slavery left in this country are grad students and interns. Another rule of thumb they discussed was that no professor worth his salt teaches any more than he absolutely has to, especially undergrad classes. That’s why teaching assistants (grad students) were invented.

And to these professors, “peer review” meant: “Don’t criticize my paper and I won’t criticize yours.”

Rich Merritt

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.

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