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Great point Jack. The company I retired from (GE) required FMEA work on all programs, new and for products getting nothing but a "face-lift". The thought being--"if you touch it, make it better". We engineers screemend and moaned due to the time it generally took to perform a good FMEA, but in the end, we produced a better product for the effort. I notice that there are those times that UL ( Underwriters' Laboratories ) require a FMEA also, which I think is very interesting. Bob Jackson, PE
It's worth noting that a new book, "Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World" cites the willingness to take calculated risks and the willingness to learn from failure as two of the keys to developing innovative minds.
Excellent post Vimal. You are right on the money. In my previous industry, we were doing FMEA (failure modes and effects analysis) on major projects for about the last 10 years. Some of this was required by our customers. Unfortunately, industry in general does not seem to be that specific.
Well explained..! past performance does not gaurantee future success and performance. Had Napolean been an engineer he would have definitely procliamined "Complacency is not found in the dictionary of the engineer". By anticipating failure engineering design will repay the faith of the stakeholders.
vimal, your post hits the nail on the head. This is an interesting story. It also reminds me of the slogan of the equities industry, "...past performance is not an guarntee of future performance...", or something like that.
Successful change comes, not from emulating success and trying to better it, but from learning from and anticipating failure, whether actually experienced or hypothetically imagined. This should be the underlying aspect of every design. Petroski as usual at his best ..!
Indeed! Many years ago, when we were first trying out fiber optic networks on our plant control system, our technicians noticed that many nodes would go offline at random. Standard practice of swapping parts and reterminating connectors didn't seem to help.
So I went out to the site armed with a function generator for sending pulses of variable duty cycles, and an oscilloscope. I knew from having looked inside that the fiber-optic converters had no processors of any sort inside. The plant was filled with all sorts of people. There were construction projects going on, system demand was high, and stress levels were going through the roof.
I found a quiet corner, grabbed one of the units, and tested it. Sure enough the pulses from a loop-back cable were distorted to the edge what should have been readable. I then grabbed another unit with the similar serial numbers and production run from working stock and I tried it out. The pulses were clean.
I looked inside the units and discovered that some units had a DC blocking capacitor in series with the data connection with one tenth the value of the working units. The problem units had serial numbers indicating a production run at the same time as the good units. My best guess is that someone had probably mixed these values in a parts bin.
I explained this to my boss and he promptly declared that we were going to use a different brand. So instead of a few hours to correct the problem boards, we ended up spending many more weeks with another product that also gave us significant headaches of a different sort. From that point we were very reticent to use fiber optic cable systems even though we knew theoretically it should have worked very well for us.
That was a case of not learning the right lessons from failure.
@kenish: You can find a fairly detailed metallurgical report on the sinking of the Titanic here. If you're not a metallurgist, you may want to skip directly to the conclusions.
You're right that the steel was brittle at cold temperatures; in fact, it would have even been brittle at room temperature. The ductile-to-brittle transition temperature was between 100 and 140°F, compared to about 10°F for comparable modern steels.
The issue was not the carbon content, so much as high levels of sulfur combined with low levels of manganese. However, the author of the report concludes that nobody at the time would have known this was a problem.
The ductile-to-brittle transition in steels was not well understood until after World War II, when a large number of U.S. merchant marine vessels sank as a result of low temperature brittleness.
@williamlweaver- The O-rings on the Challenger were fully tested and the temperature range was known. Concerns and objections to launching in conditions outside of spec were ignored or overridden. But, Titanic and Challenger have many parallels in both the technical and human aspects.
Rivets recovered from the Titanic have a higher than normal carbon content. I don't recall if this was by mistake, or to save money. I'm a EE but I believe that the high carbon would make the rivets brittle in cold temperatures.
In many engineering workplaces, there’s a generational conflict between recent engineering graduates and older, more experienced engineers. However, a recent study published in the psychology journal Cognition suggests that both may have something to learn from another group: 4 year olds.
Conventional wisdom holds that MIT, Cal Tech, and Stanford are three of the country’s best undergraduate engineering schools. Unfortunately, when conventional wisdom visits the topic of best engineering schools, it too often leaves out some of the most distinguished programs that don’t happen to offer PhD-level degrees.
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