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Old 04-07-2014, 08:45 PM   #41
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This did not come from an engineer... but close enough....

During a finance meeting it was pointed out that they were selling the stuff for less than variable costs... and the response was 'We will make it up in volume'...

True story... my boss almost blew a gasket....
Our sales force used to do that with copper water tube when I worked for Anaconda back east (loss leader of sorts). Now all that tubing is made overseas.
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Old 04-07-2014, 09:39 PM   #42
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Had a lunch with one of our PhD engineers who actually said: "gee, the thermal energy radiating off this surface is quite high". (THE PLATE IS REALLY HOT!)
Probably he didn't touch the plate, he only put his hand close to it. Nothing wrong not burning yourself, and then only stating what you truly know.

I currently work for a $200+B Megacorp that 10 years ago put an elaborate project management process in place designed to ensure that projects come in on time and within budget. During my training for this process, we saw how projects now take longer and cost more than they used to, but they come in on time and within budget. As a company, we're very proud of this process!
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Old 04-07-2014, 10:44 PM   #43
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Originally Posted by Texas Proud View Post
This did not come from an engineer... but close enough....

During a finance meeting it was pointed out that they were selling the stuff for less than variable costs... and the response was 'We will make it up in volume'...

True story... my boss almost blew a gasket....
He/She was kidding right
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Old 04-08-2014, 05:23 AM   #44
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the overriding issue was unrealistic expectations that engineers had of the others and vice versa. It's amazing how little is accomplished when everyone is trying to protect one's turf as opposed to trying to work as a team.
My experience with (and as) an engineer in such meetings is that we typically don't have turf that we're trying to protect. We're aiming to do our jobs, and generally the parameters of our jobs aren't negotiable in the same way a sales contract or a service-level agreement is negotiable. I know I personally view myself as a resource, as a service to offer to product management to achieve their goals. I don't have a preference between "tell me what you want and I'll tell you how much resources will be necessary" versus "tell me how much resources you'll provide and I'll tell you how much I can give you for it". But I don't brook with the "we'll tell you both what you will give us and how much resources we're going to provide you to do so", which seems to be the instinctive reaction I've seen to today's extremely competitive environment whereby there simply isn't enough to do what needs to be done. The business types seem to have a much harder time than us engineering types, accepting that limited resources implies limited results. I would hate to be in a situation where I couldn't effectively push back against unreasonable expectations, but I suspect I'm very lucky to be in such a rare situation for an engineer.
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Old 04-08-2014, 06:41 AM   #45
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This did not come from an engineer... but close enough....

During a finance meeting it was pointed out that they were selling the stuff for less than variable costs... and the response was 'We will make it up in volume'...

True story... my boss almost blew a gasket....
That my friends would make a great Dilbert cartoon.
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Old 04-08-2014, 08:42 AM   #46
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I've sat in far too many of these meetings where management is demanding red lines in all the colors of the rainbow. But Ive also been in meetings where sales has sold red lines, we have a deadline to produce the red lines in a week, and the engineers are demanding an additional two months to study what color red is the reddest, and to design a pen that can produce any multicolor line in case the customer doesn't want red in the future. This can go both ways.
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Old 04-08-2014, 09:55 AM   #47
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Supposedly, while the company did send engineers to the companies to make sure they had the specs correct and were doing the job properly, they never sent anybody who worked on the assembly lines. When the parts got to the assembly plant, the guys assembling the planes found numerous problems and conflicts with the assembly process.
And how is this not the engineer's fault If they cannot draw up the specs that some other engineer can follow..... well...


Just sayin.....
Agreed - the specs should have covered everything.



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Had a lunch with one of our PhD engineers who actually said: "gee, the thermal energy radiating off this surface is quite high". (THE PLATE IS REALLY HOT!)
I'd expect more from a PhD. The term "quite high" is relative, surely that plate was not hotter than the surface of the Sun! We need a reference point, or it is meaningless blabber! What he/she should have said was: "gee, the thermal energy radiating off this surface is high enough above ambient to be detectable by my biological sensory mechanisms." But "THE PLATE IS REALLY HOT!" would have made the same point, even non-degreed humans could connect the dots.

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Hmm... I can assure you not all engineers are infallible. I work in Logistics which is downstream from Engineering (and everything else, but that is another story).

I've sat in shipping meetings at some very large industrial manufacturers and and looked at schematics of things that engineers have designed and are as proud as punch about.

Never mind these things are to large, to heavy or a combination of the two to be moved down the road, onto a railcar or onto a vessel for anything less than a kings ransom or a redesign of highways or a change in the laws of geometry.

But, heh, their drawings sure were purdy..........
Of course not all engineers are infallible, I think it's safe to say that all engineers are fallible. The questions is - where did the failure occur?

Your above example could be the flip side of Texas Proud's example saying the engineers may be the ones at fault for not providing the proper specs to an out-sourced assembly plant. In your example, were the engineers given specs on the size and weight constraints of the design? Though you could also say that they should have asked, but heck, if it wasn't important enough to specify, then why should the engineer make it important enough to constrain the design? There were probably already many, many constraints. Engineering is largely about managing constraints.

If you were in Logistics, maybe it was your responsibility to get those size/weight constraints in the specs?

Maybe it would two king's ransoms to make it smaller, lighter? If so, they did the right thing.

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Old 04-08-2014, 10:34 AM   #48
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Of course not all engineers are infallible, I think it's safe to say that all engineers are fallible. The questions is - where did the failure occur?
Your above example could be the flip side of Texas Proud's example saying the engineers may be the ones at fault for not providing the proper specs to an out-sourced assembly plant. In your example, were the engineers given specs on the size and weight constraints of the design? Though you could also say that they should have asked, but heck, if it wasn't important enough to specify, then why should the engineer make it important enough to constrain the design? There were probably already many, many constraints. Engineering is largely about managing constraints.

If you were in Logistics, maybe it was your responsibility to get those size/weight constraints in the specs? -ERD50
Actually, I am a completely blameless (ahemm!) outside vendor brought in after the fact. I agree there should have been an supervisor at some point saying:

"hey fellas, wait a minute. we're an exporting company. wonder if we should see if these things can be moved off of our factory property to anywhere else in the world to the people who want to buy them"

And, if it was a supervisor in the engineering department, wouldn't he/she probably have been an engineer to ? Thereby compounding the engineering oversight ? And actually, as memory serves, the CEO of that division was an engineer. Triple compounding the oversight !!

Anyway, just kidding and yes, everyone in these cases (except ME, ME, ME, lol) was fallible, not just the engineers. But, also, come on. Engineers don't design things in a vacuum do they ? They don't get put in a cupboard at the end of the day and not let out to see the real world ? Common sense might have helped (I know, not so common).

And in the end, the products did have to get re-engineered so they could be exported cost effectively. So, early input by someone (not necessarily an engineer) could have saved a lot of grief and cost. But, it would have robbed me of some goods stories...
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Old 04-08-2014, 10:40 AM   #49
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Reflecting on all this, and I was often in a position between the design engineers and the 'rest of the world' so I have a decent perspective I think, the crux of the issue is that people outside of engineering often do not have a good idea (or even think to ask) what the effect of their requirements will have. And engineering often does not know enough about the 'outside world' to push back against certain requirements.

I recall one case in particular, I was asked sit in on some conference calls with a product group I never worked with before. This product was having some high field failure rates, and upper management wanted me to provide some outside views and 'fresh eyes' on the problem. I felt pretty empowered to ask 'dumb questions' - heck I barely knew just a few people on this team and I knew I'd have to report back to my bosses, so even dumb questions would be better than no questions.

It became clear the problems were mechanical in nature, components were fracturing due to flex of the circuit board, and all the solutions were centered around trying to beef up support of the board, and/or allow it to 'float'. Each iteration of these 'fixes' would take weeks of testing, and often had little improvement.

After some more investigation, I find out this circuit board was much thinner than in any other similar product we made. I talked with some of our Mech Engineers, and found that in simple terms, flex would increase by a cubed factor of the reduction in thickness of the PC board. So their board being about 1/3 less thick could exhibit about 9x the flex!

So my 'dumb suggestion' - just make the stupid PC board thicker!

Their engineers told me they couldn't make the PC board thicker - they had a total height requirement from marketing, and there was no other place to take height out.

So I talked to marketing, and they claimed the height requirement was non-negotiable with the customer (edit/add: this was a portable device, not something that had to fit in a standard rack or some other physical 'hard' limit on dimensions - it was just a 'want'). But we are talking about a thickness increase that I don't think any human could detect, even with two samples side-by-side, w/o a dial calipers! But I could not convince the marketing guy to submit dummy samples to the customer for review, with the explanation/promise of increased field reliability for the slightly thicker version.

So bottom line, outside of regulatory/safety requirements, almost nothing should be spec'd as an absolute. Engineers should be told, "The product will be worth $X/unit more over its life if we can meet xyz goal. Your goal is to do it for less than that, including warranty costs."

That undetectable reduction in thickness in that product probably cost the company $1M, maybe more when you consider future lost sales from customer dissatisfaction, and the opportunity cost of all those engineers tied up in fixing a problem instead of working on the next new product.

I don't now if the engineers pushed back when they realized how fragile that PCB would be, but if they did they were probably told - just do it, that's your job! Make it work!

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Old 04-08-2014, 10:50 AM   #50
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... But, also, come on. Engineers don't design things in a vacuum do they ? They don't get put in a cupboard at the end of the day and not let out to see the real world ? Common sense might have helped (I know, not so common). ...
Absolutely, but without knowing all the details of everything in this case, I was just throwing those out as general possibilities.

In a big organization, it can be tough for underlings to know when they should question something, and apply 'common sense', or when they should go with what they were given. Especially when the project is super-challenging, do you really want to add a constraint to your project (though maybe you should, for the well being of the project)?

See my previous post for an example.

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Old 04-08-2014, 11:19 AM   #51
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I've sat in far too many of these meetings where management is demanding red lines in all the colors of the rainbow. But Ive also been in meetings where sales has sold red lines, we have a deadline to produce the red lines in a week, and the engineers are demanding an additional two months to study what color red is the reddest, and to design a pen that can produce any multicolor line in case the customer doesn't want red in the future. This can go both ways.
True, engineers are the classic example of "it is not broke, but we can make it better". Or the more common expression, "sh!t or get off the pot"

My previous reply, I said engineers have to make judgment calls based on limited data. The natural tendency is to get as much data as you can, thus giving higher confidence in the decision.

Now for an engineer joke, we have to be able to laugh at ourselves:
Two college engineering students meet on campus and engr A notices that engr B has a new bicycle. Engr B tells him that last night a beautiful girl rode up on the bike and then stopped, took off her clothes and said "you can have anything you want". Engr A says "good choice, the clothes probably would not have fit"
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Old 04-08-2014, 03:03 PM   #52
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Case study #1: In a wafer fab, each lot of 24 silicon wafers has one extra slot in the cassette, wherein a monitor wafer would be added, so that film characteristics could be measured post-processing. Operators Manufacturing specialists were to add/remove this monitor using a wafer-handling robotic sorter, and never move it manually, due to the high probability of scratching an adjacent wafer, causing scrap and reducing yield.

Problem was the specialists were whipped relentlessly to "go fast", and there was a constant bottleneck at the wafer sorter, which caused the specialists to sneak over to the manual vacuum "pencil" and add/remove monitors manually, causing lots of the aforementioned "scrap".

Undoubtedly, the wafer sorters were "expensive" ($100k?), though likely one of the least expensive pieces of equipment in the facility. It chapped my a$$ that this was reported to management by me and others, and yet ignored. Save a dollar, lose a thousand...

Sometimes the guys/gals on the floor actually know something, but acknowledging that would mean they couldn't treat us like interchangeable parts with no particular skills...
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Old 04-10-2014, 12:39 AM   #53
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He/She was kidding right

Nope.... that is why boss = blown gasket....
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Old 04-10-2014, 03:14 PM   #54
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Well, this video has officially gone viral at w**k. Shared it with a colleague who forwarded it, blah, blah, blah - saw it again today as my manager's boss played it our weekly staff meeting. Sounds like it has been quite a hit at the megacorp engineering office too. My industry is consumer goods manufacturing, where most of what we deal with can be boiled down to really simple physics, but it is pretty amazing how many people are a tad bit simpler than that.... hence the rolling on the floor over lines like "Geometry?"

Bring on the consultants!
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Old 04-11-2014, 08:27 AM   #55
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Old 04-11-2014, 10:21 PM   #56
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The business types seem to have a much harder time than us engineering types, accepting that limited resources implies limited results.
This was one of the reasons I chose to ER. My group had been (justifiably) downsized due to changes in technology. I sensed that management would expect the same output from my group with 1/4 the people. I didn't think that the job would be much fun in those circumstances.

After I ER'd they hired another engineer to lead the tiny group. He had more or less the same qualifications I had. Nine months later he quit because they kept asking for more than could be delivered with the group that he had.
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Old 04-12-2014, 07:22 AM   #57
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On many projects that required overnight travel to an offsite vendor I would more often than not send an hourly employee or two which was pretty much unheard of back in the day. The payback was many fold as the hourly people would come back to the plant with a greater appreciation of what it takes to work a project plus they had a much better understanding how the equipment was supposed to work.
Great work!

A colleague, very senior ChE in operations all his life was put on an LNG project. There were many visits to the vendors in the budget. Who do you think went on these trips? The brass, of course. No technical subjects were discussed. Everything was 'great'. How do you think the plant turned out? You got it.
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Old 04-12-2014, 07:27 AM   #58
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Hmm... I can assure you not all engineers are infallible. I work in Logistics which is downstream from Engineering (and everything else, but that is another story).

I've sat in shipping meetings at some very large industrial manufacturers and and looked at schematics of things that engineers have designed and are as proud as punch about.
Never mind these things are to large, to heavy or a combination of the two to be moved down the road, onto a railcar or onto a vessel for anything less than a kings ransom or a redesign of highways or a change in the laws of geometry.

But, heh, their drawings sure were purdy..........
Logistics and transport are not taught in engineering school to engineers. We just won't know what they are unless somebody tells us. It is a specialty all its own.

I have worked for several custom large equipment companies and have worked on design of huge plants for the oil sands. Everybody knew the limitations and the routes that had to be taken. It is the responsibility of the employer to provide these limitations to the engineers.
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Old 04-12-2014, 07:57 AM   #59
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I once worked for a project manager who made up schedules to make his bosses happy and them dumped them on us. My project leader got sick of this so he ended up making a Project Time Slide Rule. You set the amount of time needed versus the completion date and then read how far back in time you had to start working so as to meet the deadline.
Been there.

Worked on a huge oil sands project.

I was #2 hired after the project manager. We sat around for a couple of months--waiting for the contract to be signed. (End date did not change. ) He showed me the contract. The customer had asked for a +/-10% estimate in the middle of front-end engineering. And the engineering company agreed to it. We knew this was going to be a train-wreck.

There are several steps in defining a project (in my business). there are different versions of these, but these are the essentials:

Conceptual design. This is where you make a lot of assumptions and check to see if it looks even close to feasible. You settle on the process you want to use. Plant lay-out is investigated and subject to change. Order-of-magnitude estimates are possible.

Front-end design. Here you check your assumptions, identify the bad ones and fix them and review the design in new light. Equipment is designed and sized. +100%/-50% estimates are possible.

Detailed design. Here you do the serious design work. Most design issues have been worked out and now you design and spec the equipment.
You can only get a +/-10% estimate if you have quotes on all the equipment and they are only good for 30 days.

After the start of the Front-End Design, the customer changed his mind about what process to use (never been tried before) and also broke the plant up into two parts well removed from each other.

The customer's overall project manager had a mantra: "Cheaper, better, faster". A friend looked at me in angst and said, "Cheaper, better, faster--disaster".

The customer broke up the project into many very large parts but neglected to arrange for co-ordination. Effectively, they had taken on the role of managing the overall project but didn't bother to do so. I do not think they knew how.

The project collapsed very publicly. The customer blamed everyone but himself. That company was taken over shortly after by a much wiser company and the high-profile managers were sent to distant places to operations that were on the chopping block or fired.
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Old 04-12-2014, 07:58 AM   #60
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The reason I choke up the thread is that it is daytime here and y'all are sleeping.
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