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Value of Engineering

Value of Engineering

You don't have to be an engineer to appreciate this story.

A toothpaste factory had a problem. They sometimes shipped empty boxes without
the tube inside.

This challenged their perceived quality with the buyers and distributors.
Understanding how important the relationship with them was, the CEO of the
company assembled his top people.

They decided to hire an external engineering company to solve their empty boxes
problem. The project followed the usual process: budget and project sponsor
allocated, RFP, and third-parties selected.

Six months (and $8 million) later they had a fantastic solution - on time, on
budget, and high quality. Everyone in the project was pleased.

They solved the problem by using a high-tech precision scale that would sound a
bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box weighed less than it should. The
line would stop, someone would walk over, remove the defective box, and then
press another button to re-start the line. As a result of the new package
monitoring process, no empty boxes were being shipped out of the factory.

With no more customer complaints, the CEO felt the $8 million was well spent. He
then reviewed the line statistics report and discovered the number of empty
boxes picked up by the scale in the first week was consistent with projections,
however, the next three weeks were zero! The estimated rate should have been at
least a dozen boxes a day. He had the engineers check the equipment, they
verified the report as accurate.

Puzzled, the CEO traveled down to the factory, viewed the part of the line where
the precision scale was installed, and observed just ahead of the new $8 million
dollar solution sat a $20 desk fan blowing the empty boxes off the belt and into
a bin. He asked the line supervisor what that was about.

"Oh, that," the supervisor replied, "Bert, the kid from maintenance, put it
there because he was tired of walking over, removing the box and re-starting the
line every time the bell rang."

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Man my sides are gone.

slip ring 3 phase induction motor

30 yrs ago, I was "bert"
I am currently rebuilding a 100 year old blower assembly.
this puppy has a 12' fan and is driven by a slip ring 3 phase induction motor.
the "babbit" bearings were interesting to learn about...
and it has a "Crown" belt.
while wiring the motor back in, I noticed that the wound rotor has no external electrical input. it goes directly to a Rheostat. and that is how it is variable speed. no shit.

we have been dumbed down something fierce.
don't mess with bert, or Texas.

Are you going to do the right thing?

Are you going to have it turned and mill some bronze bearings to replace the babbit? or measure and locate real bearings? I would. By the way, I have a friend that still has the molds and knows how to pour babbit in the old T and A Ford models. Pretty amazing to watch.

If I disappear from a discussion please forgive me. My 24-7 business requires me to split mid-sentence to serve them. I am not ducking out, I will be back later to catch up.

We found a place in Odessa Texas.

that re poured the Babbit. and bored it out to 3" and 3/16th.
one of the "slingers" was missing... so, I fabricated replacements out of smashed 3/8 soft copper refrigeration tubing.
I had to "butt" braze it together, then we used a hammer to make it spherical.
I think it will work, and we can test it. the fabricated "slingers" that is..... they entrain the gear oil for the upper bearing surface.....
I am only making labor hours for this job but I am doing it anyhow.

I am still trying to understand how speed is controlled. 3 phase AC variable speed?

it looks to me like they made an alternator out of the wound rotor, and ran it to a rheostat. 100 years ago.

no kidding.

I'll help you look man.

I'll try to help try to find a diagram Ken, Do you have the specs? model, etc.? how many wires to the motor? An old timer out here had a few of those on his OLD ore mill to run trommels and conveyer belts.

If I disappear from a discussion please forgive me. My 24-7 business requires me to split mid-sentence to serve them. I am not ducking out, I will be back later to catch up.

If everyone is thinking alike

If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking.

When solving problems, it is absolutely necessary to put people that have different perspectives on the team.


and I spent 200k on my son's engineering degree

The lesson

The lesson is that when a CEO can't figure out an efficient solution - he pays for his mistake by taking a loss.

When a politician institutes a bad policy or can't solve a problem efficiently - he does not pay for his mistake - he doesn't lose money.

When violence and theft are legal (government), there is no natural feedback mechanism that punishes or rewards.

When violence and theft are illegal (free market), there is a constant incentive to get it right.

Funny But...

A real engineer would solve the problem of empty boxes at its root cause and not put up with defects that cause rework. Unless of course management or unions prevented that from happening.


I agree with your assessment.

I have noticed the same sort of problems, being kicked down the road as you have it, ignored by way of incorporating "checkup methods" if you will onto a later process and incorrectly applying the label "quality control".

The problem is meant to be stopped at it's root cause, not the branches that stem from it.

As Thoreau put it "Strike at the Root".

I have found this to be false

As a heavy truck and auto master tech I have found this to be false. I have found that they engineer for ease of assembly and function but never incorporate the thought that it might have to be worked on later in the initial design. Very,very seldom is ease of maintenance ever considered up front. Ever change a radiator in a VW Jetta? They built the car around the radiator so in order to get the radiator out you have to disassemble the whole front of the car and almost remove the engine. I have many examples like this. There is no one a tech cusses more than the engineers.

If I disappear from a discussion please forgive me. My 24-7 business requires me to split mid-sentence to serve them. I am not ducking out, I will be back later to catch up.

guess you don't know how engineering works

managers give you requirements. the biggest in the automotive world is cost. you always have conflicts between requirements from maintenance, assembly, cost, safety, etc. Guess who loses most of those conflicts.

Engineers can design damn near anything to meet everyones wants and needs except when you throw constaints in the mix. Constraints like: 1. It can't cost more than X 2. it can't take more than Y to build 3. it has to fit in Z

So the engineer gets the heat but is normally not the root of the problem.

You want a car that is easy to repair and it will be one that won't be sold.

Sure I do

90% is spent on job security and the 10% is spent on how to make it an even worse product than the previous year at the same cost as the previous year. Can you tell me why Ron's Chevette was a piece of junk? I can, engineering with an agenda in mind. I would be willing to explain it if you like?

If I disappear from a discussion please forgive me. My 24-7 business requires me to split mid-sentence to serve them. I am not ducking out, I will be back later to catch up.


to change the back 3 spark plugs on 2000 era chevy impalas you have to unbolt the engine to tilt it to each rear plugs

stupid or genius,,, as for complexity or nightmare factor most now go to a repair shop,,, and labor rates now up to $100 hr makes a simple task burn a huge hole in one's wallet

I think you are right

Some of it is to make more money on repairs, especially current German engineering. But I think as far as American engineering goes they have not a clue what a car even is but are allowed to design parts for one. I have found the main priority for auto engineering is to make sure nothing from the previous years model will fit the next years model. This is definitely done to sell more parts and is one of the biggest scams of the century. But in trying to make this a priority they forget all the other factors like maintenance. They want us to throw it away and buy a new one just because the spark plugs need to be changed. I could actually make more money as a shop owner if they did not do this.

If I disappear from a discussion please forgive me. My 24-7 business requires me to split mid-sentence to serve them. I am not ducking out, I will be back later to catch up.

Favorite engineer joke

An optimist thinks the glass is half full

A pessimist thinks the glass is half empty

An engineer says that the glass is too big.


...a model that forms basis of something: an example that serves as a pattern or model for something, especially one that forms the basis of a methodology or theory.

Gotta get beyond the paradigm, think outside the box. Sometimes engineers have a hard time with that.

(Both hubby and I are Mechanical Engineers...we have seen very similar scenarios played out many times in industry...definitely UGH! moments.)

The law cannot make a wicked person virtuous…God’s grace alone can accomplish such a thing.
Ron Paul - The Revolution

Setting a good example is a far better way to spread ideals than through force of arms. Ron Paul

There must be something about engineering ...

and tooth paste.

P & G spent millions on marketing and research trying to get people to buy more toothpaste.

One of their flunkies down in packaging said, completely as a joke, "Why don't you just make the opening at the end larger. People will use more and therefore need to buy more."

They tried it and sales jumped 15%.

We need to install one of those fans at the door to the

White House.

That way empty suits like Obama would be blown away by the wind before he could occupy that seat of power.

"Bend over and grab your ankles" should be etched in stone at the entrance to every government building and every government office.

You say empty suit

like you truly believe Obama isn't full of HEY HEY!

Great stuff! Thanks! Reminds me of another funny story

When NASA first started sending up astronauts, they quickly discovered that ballpoint pens would not work in zero gravity. To combat the problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 billion to develop a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface, and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to 300 degrees Celsius.

The Russians used a pencil.

Note: this did not actually happen!!!!

What if the tip of the pencil

What if the tip of the pencil broke and floated off into some electronic equipment causing a malfunction?

People prefer wit and cleverness to due diligence and hard work. No wonder the world is a mess right now...that is why politics is run by con artists and the foolish. People like them because they can relate with their own incompetence...

That was awesome!

Thank you! I can't wait to use that one at work! I talk to and work with some great engineers on a daily basis. I think they'll get a kick out of this!

EDIT: I do wish to point out though, that one of the contributing reasons we in America are falling behind is because we turn out like 60,000 engineers and scientists from our universities each year. China turns out 600,000. (Disclaimer: I read this statistic a few years ago. I might be off by a 0.)

I say

If we vote vor Rand Paul that will never happen.


He's just setting up the fan right now.

.....just a thought.

Old one, but still gold :) We

Old one, but still gold :)
We need this common sense but out-of-box thinking back in people.

scawarren's picture

LOL... good one :)

LOL... good one :)

It is easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled. – Mark Twain