Jack Lemmon was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of nuclear engineer Jack Godell in the 1979 movie, The China Syndrome. The film was met with backlash from the nuclear power industry, but Lemmonís attempt to distill a technical problem into a brief soundbite near the end of the movie is unforgettable. (Source: movieactors.com)
Charles, that things work right the first time were not the bosses goals, they were his demands. It was really flattering to find that they believed that it could happen, and the good news is that we usually did get things right the first time. But on occasions it was only right the first time the boss saw it.
Charles, we did have an excellent track record of our machines being just what the customer needed, so you could be very at ease purchasing one of our test systems. Of course, when you sell equipment to the auto companies and the army they do come to the progress meetings and they do help to avoid errors in the specification. One big portion of getting it right was always the sales letter, which mine always described exactly what the equipment would do for the customer. The big advantage of designing custom equipment is having somebody tell you just exactly what it is that they need to achieve, and how fast and accurate the machine needs to be. So having clearly defined performance targets makes designing a system much simpler. NOT EASIER, but simpler. And on occasions I would have to tell them that what they asked for would not work, and then suggest an alternative that we could certify would deliver what they needed. I did make us a few friends that way, since it saved them from wasting both money and time. When you can make your customers engineers look good to their bosses you have made a friend indeed. A great way to get more business.
The movies seldom show engineers doing tsting because the assumption is that everything works the first time. That is probably why a lot of people think that engineering is not such a big deal. And of course one does get "a bit spoiled" when things do work right the first time. But I did have a boss who explained to me that it was expected that every design would work right the first time, that was why I was there. It was certainly flattering but also it did add to the pressure quite a bit, knowing what the expectations were.
The question of whether engineers could have foreseen the shortcut maintenance procedures that led to the crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in 1979 will probably linger for as long as there is an engineering profession.
More than 35 years later, the post-mortem on one of the countryís worst engineering disasters appears to be simple. A contractor asked for a change in an original design. The change was approved by engineers, later resulting in a mammoth structural collapse that killed 114 people and injured 216 more.
If youíre an embedded systems engineer whose analog capabilities are getting a little bit rusty, then youíll want to take note of an upcoming Design News Continuing Education Center class, ďAnalog Design for the Digital World,Ē running Monday, Nov. 17 through Friday, Nov. 21.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.