Friday, November 18, 2005

Engineering is simplicity

In a very old Hindi movie, I had once come across a scene in which a textile machine in a plant breaks down, bringing the whole plant to a halt. Unless the service engineer for the machine from the company comes in, there will be no production. Enter the unemployed hero (engineer who is not getting a job…in olden times unemployment was a big issue) who offers to fix it. The boss gives the go ahead and observes that the hero hammers a certain portion of the machine, gets it running and asks for Rs. 100 (big money in olden times). The boss was furious, saying that it is unjustified to ask for so much money for just hammering the machine once. The hero justifies saying that Re. 1 for the hammer blow and Rs. 99 for knowing where to strike.

Of course this story has been oft repeated in textbooks with different characters and situations but all point to the same basic thinking of what engineering is all about. Minimum effort = maximum output. Our job as engineers involves

  1. Continuously improving and simplifying the production system to deliver top quality products with minimum effort, minimum waste and a fast response.
  2. Present simple & accurate interfaces for the end user to use the product to minimize the learning curve, increase the adoption rate and reduce operator errors.
  3. Simplify the serviceability of the product to ensure quick turn around for customer support.

Any of the above mentioned items could take years to achieve and 1 or all of them can easily become the source of competitive advantage for the company (in today’s time I think we need all 3 in place to even survive)

I believe that any problem that you face will have multiple alternative solutions and in your process of choosing the solution to be worked on, please put simplicity of the solution on a high score. A simple element has fewer connections, less deviations, is cohesive and is simply easier to produce, use and maintain.

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