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Welcome to my blog for all things related to business quality (processes, systems and ways of working), products and product quality, manufacturing and operations management.

This blog is a mixture of real-world experience, ideas, comments and observations that I hope you'll find interesting.

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June 2009
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HALT that concrete mixer!

A few years ago I was working with a company that was developing a new, portable, ruggedised test instrument. The CEO was ex-Ericsson and was very keen to apply the sort of portable equipment tests that Ericsson did.

So we bought a concrete mixer. We replaced the internal metal ‘stirrers’ with softer wooden baffles, then put the portable prototypes into it for a few minutes to see what happened. Of course they didn’t all survive intact – there was conspicuous damage to the aluminium casework and some of the plastic parts.

The design engineers were livid! In hindsight I can fully understand why: They felt that it was a gimmick, a completely unreasonable and irrelevant test, a cheap way of ‘having a go at them’. It was an uncalibrated and non-reproducible test that complied with no published standards so meant nothing. 

However, it actually was of real value. It showed us where the weak points of the design were  – the common points of failure of all the units we tested – and allowed us to remove these weak links during the latter stages of the design process, to make the product more robust in the field. Our failure was in not explaining the process well enough – what we were doing had something in common with HALT testing  – see my other posting about HALT – and if we had explained it as such I think we would have gained much greater understanding and appreciation of the technique. Full HALT testing would have been better still.

And it isn’t just Ericsson who do such things – I was amused to see Nokia’s equivalent on the BBC website recently: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/click_online/7991777.stm. See the ‘physical build’ section; their tumble cage is a more sophisticated version of the concrete mixer.

There is great benefit in abusing your products before your customers do. But do explain it properly to the designers and get their buy-in…

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