In an editorial Engineering Better Engineers,
published in the January 2010 issue of Civil Engineering
News, John Bachner commented on how lack of innovation has
resulted in engineering services becoming commodities. Mr.
Bachners reasoning was essentially based on a three-step
1) Engineers often demonstrate a lack of leadership, which
2) Engineers tending to be risk-averse, and finally
3) Engineering work product being considered little more
than a commodity.
It should be clear that John Bachner forcefully made the
point that communication is inextricably tied to leadership.
Professions that cannot communicate are flawed, and engineers
must learn to communicate. Those that refuse to learn risk
being outflanked by often ruthless advertisers, shameless
self-promoters, and shrewd marketers.
Too much noise, not enough engineering.
In an editorial in Design News (July 2010), Dr.
Geoffrey Orsak, Dean of Engineering at the SMU Lyle School of
Engineering, expressed the view that companies extracting
value from our earth have a responsibility to invest some of
this value into increasing the reliability of these complex
systems. And because no engineering system is ever foolproof,
we better have a good backup plan when oil is released into the
Regarding the 2009 BP/Transocean oil rig explosion and spill
tragedy in the Gulf, we have seen editorials ranging from a
basic accidents happen, so lets just move on
to wholesale condemnations heaped on an entire industry. Must
we always take an adversarial stance? Is everything starkly
black and white?
As to other voices heard in the recent past, a perceptive
few did point out that scenarios called for plugging an
undersea leak with golf balls and rubber tire shards seemed
concocted by executives, not engineers. We also noted that BP
made a presentation at the NPRA Reliability & Maintenance Conference in San
Antonio (May 26, 2010), focusing on the key
foundational elements of a world class reliability program that
were established for BPs largest and most technical refinery in 8 months vs. the typical
industry practice of three years. Two months later,
in early August 2010, BP agreed to pay a record $50.6 million
fine for failing to correct safety hazards at its Texas City,
Texas, oil refinery after a 2005 explosion at
the refinery killed 15 workers. In all
of this, where were the engineers voices? Why this
Buying cheap will impoverish many.
There is a trend to buy commodities from the lowest bidder.
Lowest bidders are often the shrewdest marketers. Its
fair to say that the lowest bidders are rarely the providers of
highest quality products.
At its Technical Press Day in Philadelphia (June 20, 2011),
bearing manufacturer SKF briefed us on a topic with which we
had been acquainted for many decades. In fact, we were
thoroughly familiar with the topic because we had identified
best-of-class (BOC) companies as ones that, among other things,
purchased bearings from highly respected manufacturers only.
Years ago already, these BOCs recognized that manufacturers
with competent application engineering departments were
providing far more than mere commodity products. They passed on
priceless expertise in failure avoidance and became mentors to
the relatively few true reliability professionals. True
reliability pros are defined as the men and women who made it
their lifes ambition to add value to an enterprise.
SKF asked its audience to join together and fight globally
against industrial counterfeiting. Counterfeit products
continue to flood the marketplace worldwide. Fig. 1 is a
counterfeit, and a reliability expert must learn to distinguish
a bogus product from the real thing. There is only one thing
that is obvious in cases of industrial counterfeiting: More
than a brand will be at risk. Many components, such as bearings
and seals, are safety-critical in applications, and their
knockoffs can pose hazards in addition to
The SKF presentation profiled why and how this company is
striving to protect both its brand and its customers from
illegal fakes that can cause real damage in service.
Reliability professionals must agree and actively do their part
in not ever using fakes in their plants. HP
1. A counterfeit (!) double-row spherical
H. P. Bloch is Hydrocarbon
Processings Reliability/Equipment Editor.
A practicing consulting engineer with close to 50
years of applicable experience, he advises process
plants worldwide on failure analysis, reliability
improvement and maintenance cost avoidance
topics. He has authored or co-authored 18 textbooks
on machinery reliability improvement
and over 490 papers or articles dealing with related
subjects. For more, read his book Pump Wisdom:
Problem Solving for Operators and Specialists,
John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey, ISBN