Engineering for a long product life

Last month General Electric unearthed a time capsule buried a hundred years back in the cornerstone of a building.  One of the objects inside was an incandescent light bulb.  They plugged it in and it lit up.  Now that’s engineering.

Not that every companies can claim a product that will work reliability out of the retail pack much less after having been buried for a century. Kudos to GE.  Of course this is a sample size of one and its storage life, not operating life.  But still…

So what does it take to engineer a product that will work reliably for an extended product life?

  • K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple, Stupid): Pretty much what the acronym says–design for simplicity.
    • Note that achieving simplicity is in fact a lot tougher than a really complicated design
  • Run lots of experiments; run lots of tests. Edison is famous for describing that it was not so much that he invented a way to make an  incandescent light bulb, rather that he found thousands of ways to NOT make an incandescent light bulb.
  • Design experiments and tests to investigate orthogonal aspects.
    • Don’t try to design a home run test that clouds the analysis
    • Try to design experiments that will fail–too often engineers try the opposite, to get a pass
    • Learn from all those failures to come up with a design that works
  • Use predictive tools like FMEAs
Hopefully one of my great, great grandkids will one day write about something we designed here at Zebulon Solutions that lasted a hundred years. I kinda doubt it, but it’s a pleasant dream.




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