First Hand Confessions of a Product EngineerSubmitted by salberty on Wed, 04/02/2014 - 14:27
I'm writing this post in response to the article posted here at the DP titled 3 Secrets of Engineering Being Used to Keep You Poor
I am a product development engineer so I thought maybe I could offer some first-hand insights to the process of developing your products.
Throughout my career (actually, I left a couple years ago to start my own business), the products I've worked on included refrigerators, office furniture and filing cabinets, and most recently consumer outdoor power equipment like lawn mowers, weed trimmers, etc.
My duties have ranged from designing products, testing products, setting up manufacturing processes, and manufacturing quality control. Much of my work was done overseas (supplier development engineering, which is pretty much all the same engineering duties except you get to be treated like the customer).
OK, so now comes the brutal truth:
The whole goal of my job was very simple: to maximize company profits.
There, I said it. What a load off!
Now, wait until you hear about HOW engineers do this...
For an engineer to maximize profits, he must develop products with minimal cost and maximum sales price (we often use the buzz-word "value added"). Also, development time should be minimized so the company can start earning those profits asap..."time is money" you know.
So, how do we design products that minimize cost and maximize value? Get ready for a shock:
To minimize COST the product should be:
- safe (lawsuits can end a company)
- easy to manufacture
- minimal material cost
- use standard parts and common materials
- small container size (minimize shipping cost)
- reliable (returns and warranty claims are a HUGE cost. Also, poor quality will hurt future sales)
To maximize VALUE a product should be:
- easy to use
- contain features the customer actually wants and is willing to pay for
- aesthetically pleasing
You'll notice that Safe and Reliable are especially important, because they both help REDUCE cost and INCREASE value added to the product.
That's it. There is no conspiracy. There is no trick. You're not being hoodwinked.
Just hundreds of thousands of hours going into making your stuff as good as it can be for the lowest possible cost.
Don't believe it? Well try this:
Just look at something. Anything. Maybe the monitor or device you're using now to read my post. Your relationship with the engineer that designed it for you went something like this:
You demanded to have it and demanded him to design it for you (which he did).
You didn't tell him what you wanted.
You didn't tell him when you wanted it.
You didn't give him any specifics on what you wanted it to do, or didn't want it to do.
You didn't tell him how much you wanted to spend on it.
You wanted it to be the best possible product.
You wanted it to be the lowest possible price.
If whatever the engineer provided didn't meet your needs you refused to do business with him.
If you DID buy it and weren't satisfied, you would fire him by not buying his brand in the future.
That's your relationship with your engineer. And it's a great thing!
This cutthroat competition is what leads to product improvement over time. If engineers try to skimp to save a buck, the market won't want their stuff. If engineers over design something so it costs more than the customer wants to spend, the market won't want their stuff.
Product Engineering is pretty much the science of finding the perfect sweet spot of quality and cost.
And it works too, the proof is in the puddin': Stuff gets BETTER and CHEAPER over time!
Take cars for example. In EVERY way, cars are better now than they were 30 years ago.
-more fuel efficient
-more comfortable to drive
-easier to maintain
oh yeah, they're CHEAPER too. When you measure either the amount of man hours needed to build a car, OR the amount of hours needed to work at an average wage to be able to afford a car of similar class, cars are cheaper.
Now I would never hold Cars as a pinnacle example of good industry policy. The auto industry has long been a center of cronyism and protectionism and over-regulation. But think about that! Isn't that then a real testament to the engineers? Even in those awful market conditions manipulated by government, that cars are STILL getting better.
Look at a more unregulated product (electronics for example) to really see the type of improved quality and reduced cost that engineers are truly capable of.
Lastly, here's some figures from "The Rational Optimist" by economist Matt Ridley. It's the amount of hours an average person needs to work at their job to be able to afford 1 hour of reading light:
1750 BC - 52 hours of work (sesame oil lamp)
1800 AD - 6 hours of work (tallow candle)
1880 AD - 15 minutes of work (kerosene lamp)
1950 AD - 8 seconds (conventional filament bulb)
2012 AD - 0.5 seconds (18W compact-fluorescent bulb)
What profession do you think made that happen? I can tell you one thing: it's not the accountants. Haha.