Machine design

2 min read

The marketing manager at the machine builder was thrilled when a potential customer asked him if his engineers might be able to automate a key production process by developing a bespoke machine specifically for the purpose.

The chief engineer knew that he had the in-house expertise to design and manufacture such a beast. His crack engineering team had built up years of experience in the fields of software development, vision, pneumatics and mechanical engineering, and he saw no reason why they should not be able to develop the system in less than a year.

Armed with a brief specification detailing the functions that the new machine would be called on to perform, the chief engineer called his engineering team together in the company conference room to discuss the most cost-effective strategy that they might take to create it. There they ironed out many details of the new design, explicitly defining the technologies that they would need to deploy to ensure that the machine would function as required.

Just as the meeting was drawing to a close, one of the junior members of staff suggested that the engineering team might consider using a new variable-frequency drive in the new system – if they did, he said, the machine would use a lot less power and save the customer quite a bit of money over its lifetime.

The rest of the engineering team sat in silence as the younger engineer made his case for using the new technology. But, after he finished speaking, no-one in the room raised any questions at all and the meeting broke up without another word being spoken about the energy-saving idea.

Later that day, the young engineer was called into the chief engineer’s office for a little chat. During the meeting, the chief engineer complemented him on the invaluable contributions that he had made to the company’s business. There was no doubt, he said, that some of his ideas were truly innovative.

But, he added, while his latest suggestion to use a variable-frequency drive in the new machine certainly made a lot of sense from a technical standpoint, it was totally impractical from a cost perspective. The fact was that the SME was in a bidding war with three other companies for the contract to build the new machine and the company that came in with the lowest quote was certain to win it.

So, despite the fact that a more expensive machine might indeed actually save the client a lot of money over its lifetime, any proposal to build such an energy-saving product would almost certainly fall on completely deaf ears when it reached the company’s own marketing folks, let alone the ears of the purchasing manager at the customer.

The wise old chief engineer proved right and the SME eventually won the contract to build the inexpensive machine without the high-tech drive that ecologically friendly young engineer would have liked to have seen used in it.

Fortunately, however, the expertise of the young engineer did not go to waste. Years later, when European legislation called for all new machines to meet much stricter energy-saving specifications, his experience was very much in demand.

Best wishes:

Dave Wilson
Editor, Engineeringtalk

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