The cost of saving money

Our secret blogger asks whether engineering firms are in danger of sacrificing design quality in the relentless rush to get a product to market?

As I sit typing this Dreamliners have been sat immobile on hard standings around the world for a full fortnight with no sign of them taking to the air again in the near future. Boeing have even stopped delivery of new aircraft adding to what we all know must be a huge (and rising) cost. The primary cause for this aeronautical headache seems to be auto-immolating batteries but the finger has also been pointed at the aircraft being rushed into production.

Some have blames the Dreamliner's problems on a squeezed production process
Some have blames the Dreamliner’s problems on a squeezed production process

Here at Amalgamated Products Limited we are no strangers to the accelerated timeline. Equally I am sure it is not peculiar to us to have fluffies ask for something in an impossible timescale, engineers to respond with how long it will actually take, and then a punch up ensuing until a compromise is found that everyone can at least live with.

To be fair we do tend to deliver so there is something to be said for this approach but there surely comes a point where the quality of the engineering will suffer? At the moment we have the Ultra-Widget 2000 in the process of being designed. Unfortunately the engineering stage has been locked into a very tight timescale by those who supposedly know best. Of course it is a matter of professional pride, and the wish of avoiding a career move to the job centre, to achieve what has been asked.

The team involved are the finest group of Widget engineers you could ever wish to meet so we have a very good chance of not only achieving this but also producing the best Widget known to man. However a decision has to be made regarding which of our process controls and aids we can jettison. There is simply not enough time to carry out every exercise that we know to be at the heart of good design practice. 

This could merely be seen as the pragmatic application of slimming down the process and, let’s face it, as important as the humble Widget may be its not “life or death” stuff. However the chance of arriving at a non optimised design is increased which means although we get a new product to market quicker; it may just not be the best product we could possibly create.

As with most things it comes down to finding the right balance. We are now so focused on getting stuff out quickly and earning money that perhaps things have moved too far? At Amalgamated Products we are extremely capable engineers and work as a team such that its going to be very difficult to meet our target – but we should just get there, and with a Widget worthy of our name.

I shouldn’t like to try for any quicker though and this time there is no room for negotiation. For Boeing it may be that with a much more complex product, in a field where safety is generally closely guarded and protected, they are learning this lesson one project too late.