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 premise:
1) Engineers often demonstrate a lack of leadership, which leads to:
2) Engineers tending to be risk-averse, and finally resulting in:
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 environment.
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 abysmal disconnect?
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 performance issues.
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
| Fig. 1. A counterfeit (!) double-row spherical |
|The author |
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 9-781118-041239.