Business is complicated and full of compromises, whether we like it or not, but some compromises make the whole system fail.
As engineers, we often focus our efforts on the details of a product design. Some engineers specialize in blank-slate design. Others focus on test and quality engineering. Still others provide expert guidance for manufacturing processes. It seems that, no matter what the industry, "almost acceptable" products have become the norm for what we collectively have come to believe is "good."
I'm not saying that every component of every product isn't good. But to me, "product" means my entire experience, from researching for products to selecting candidate solutions to purchasing the chosen product to receiving it. For me, a failure in any part of this supply chain engagement results in, at best, an almost acceptable product.
I've recently encountered a series of almost acceptable products -- not because the items themselves were poorly designed or manufactured, but because other aspects of the product experience were unacceptable.
A year ago, a company with which I was consulting received a sample of a PCIe chassis, backplane, and enclosure. The fit and finish were excellent -- the sheet metal was bright plated, and the seams were welded. This was a great solution for a new design challenge to repackage a research machine into a commercially acceptable enclosure. Based on experience, I thought this enclosure would give us a fighting chance to pass electromagnetic emissions standards for the new machine. We ordered a chassis and enclosure based on the sample unit we'd evaluated. What we received was vastly different from the evaluation unit.
I recently had dinner with executives from the company, and I asked about the change. They were surprised by the difference in what we'd evaluated and what we received. It seems that we had evaluated a Mil-Spec chassis and enclosure, but our understanding was that it was the commercial unit. We subsequently discovered that the salesperson had ordered a commercial evaluation unit, but evidently a Mil-Spec counterpart had been shipped by mistake. The jury is out on this almost adequate product. The executives inform me that the commercial unit with the same essential electronics that we use passes FCC part B. We'll see.
How about another almost adequate product? I recently received a single-board computer with a dual Xeon processor and 48 GB of DDR3 RAM. It's a powerful board that can handle the data it will be required to process. It's pretty nice for a dual-slot board. The only problem is that it isn't really a dual-slot card. Yes, the card itself occupies two slots of the PCIe backplane, but the cabling from the peripherals in the front of the enclosure requires another two slots. Also, perhaps the missed failure in this case is the fact that the custom heat sink requires cooling fans to be placed on top of the heat sink. The supplier's answer? "Customers put a short board next to this card for airflow."
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