How Smart are Smart Products? A story told on Thanks Giving.


Randy's Arc

Randy's Arc

Yesterday’s Story is still fresh in my mind, and I’m still processing how typical Product Development is conducted and how I might  do it.

Here’s my story for Thanks Giving, perhaps your Kitchen is starting to smell heavenly same as ours is, and perhaps you have a moment to read and learn from others versus make the same mistake.

This short article is not for those who know it all.. but if you were one of those people, you wouldn’t be here right? I want to add an experience, or at least share it a second time, and add to it.

Randy A.  buys a new TIG welder for  $3000 or more. I asked him if he wanted help hooking it up…He says… No, I won’t bother you.. it’s got instructions with it.

Several days later I asked.. How’s that machine working? (of course you
know I want to play with it :-)) He Answers:  “Well it’s a multi  mode welder, I did a little arc welding, that was OK.. But the TIG isn’t right, stuff sticking to the tungsten, and the weld looks like crap. (neither of us have a clue how to T.I.G weld bye the way.

I walked over to the machine, started to fondle  the control panel, yes it is possibly a
violation of one of the 10 commandments, not to covet another man’s new equipment.

As I was moving  my hand across the chrome handle, (it’s on wheels) I felt the tingle! Machinists learn to wear better shoes on concrete, and perhaps Randy would never have felt the same thing in his shop.  I was wearing a broken down pair of street shoes, and perhaps they were a little damp?

Wanting to give RA the business, I closed my eyes, and said “Randy
this machine is wired wrong!” His reply? “Bullshit!” “OK, so you want to bet money???”

Just to be a complete Ass, I noticed the jumper cables right behind
Randy on the wall, Randy’s lathe was sitting 2 feet from the TIG, and It had
been installed by an electrician…

I hooked one cable clamp to that chrome handle on the TIG welder, and handed the other to Randy.. I said go ahead and touch it to the lathe…

Randy being somewhat cocksure did, and it drew an arc that scared
the hell out of him, followed by a circuit breaker popping open, we heard it.

It was like religious experience..   


Of course this was followed by removing the piece of sheet metal on the
back of the welder to see how Randy had chosen to wire it.

But I need tell you this is a big name welder and advertised as smart.
It even has diagnostics and runs them every time you start the machine.  It’s also advertised as a 240 VAC single phase machine.

As I looked at the power cable, I saw red, Black, white, and Green

There it was, the red over there on a power input screw… but the black
on the ground screw! Isn’t this just what you might expect an automotive mechanic
to do?

Randy hung his head in shame.. I waited for him to say something.. it
was a long pause………… Finally Randy said “hey, I’ve got some Brewskies in the fridge want one?

Here’s the interesting part…Randy works on parts that can take three days to machine, he normally checks everything three times before going to the next step.. what happened?

That build in diagnostic gave Randy false confidence.. it told him everything was
AOK after he turned  it on.

The first stage of this welder is an inverter, apparently it will use  what ever power it can find to pump up the DC bus, AND then attempt to do the  job with it..

I assume the folks that developed and engineered this equipment knew all
about installing the power cable, and perhaps that’s why they didn’t see a problem… but it appears  there wasn’t the money or the thought to use the on board diagnostics to monitor for major screw ups made by people who had  no clue how to wire it.. But not to monitor for 240 VAC when it’s a 240 VAC machine? wouldn’t you love to know what the diagnostics did monitor?

I may have mentioned the smart battery charger I’m playing with that
will not charge a battery under conditions most consumers expect a charger to work under.  If you put a new battery in a car and leave the lights on over night, the charger will NOT charge the battery…

These two so called  ‘smart devices’ seem to have a similar heritage. It seems there’s plenty of Engineers out there that think they know more about developing products for the consumer than they actually do.

If you were in a position to hire an Engineer.. would you be looking for
the guy that says.. “I’ve finally figured I don’t know enough, and that’s
why I’d pull a group of people together and ask them what they
think?”  I would imagine the people who hire are normally  looking for
Engineers who can work independently, and get the job done, and perhaps they
even reward them for that kind of behavior.

In the software business, there are software engineers that are
typically paid six figure incomes to test every possible combination of input
with every possible set of configurations. AND to produce a report that it was
done and when.  A lot of times the bean counters tell engineering how much of an effort the company can afford, and a line is drawn some where. when the product is  turned over to the public (the real debugging begins!) seems no matter how good the effort, the users find a combination not tested, and then the fun begins.

I think I could offer a most valuable service to those that have
products in development.. I could very quickly put a team of people together
that could find troubles before the products fell into the hands of consumers.  The method to  accomplish this is rather obvious, all one needs to do is consult those who will be using your product, and it’s best you let them play with it before you send it to production.

But as I close.. I’m not sure I’ve got any of this right.. and every day I question what’s going  on around me. On this Thanksgiving day, I am most thankful for my Wife, my Family, good Friends and for the understanding of just how little I really know..

Enjoy your Holiday, COP17 is coming soon.. a group of the cocksure who have all the answers.. I’d love to see this group design a toaster for kitchen use.. I’d expect their result  to cost about  $12,000USD, and to run off compressed air. the user would be expected to get one of those 5hp compressors to run it.

George B.

Have a great Turkey Day..


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