November 7, 2018

One of the things I like to do with my posts is deliver information you can use in your daily life. “Stuff” that just mike make a difference.  I certainly hope this one does.    Some of the information you will read is taken from Consumer Reports Magazine and Design News Daily Magazine.

Consumer Reports recently published information regarding the reliability of automobiles offered for sale in the United States.  They drew their conclusions from owner surveys of more than five hundred thousand (500,000) people. The surveys look at numerous problem areas including engine, transmission, suspension, cooling, electrical, climate, brakes, exhaust, paint, trim, noises, leaks, power equipment, and in-car electronics, among others.  We will highlight now those automobiles considered to be the most unreliable.  This list may surprise you as it did me.

I would say that if you are looking for new wheels you heed the information given by Consumer Magazine.  They accept no advertisements and generally conduct their research by interviewing consumers and actually testing the products they report on.

I want us to consider a “what-if” scenario.  You are thirty-two years old, out of school, and have finally landed a job you really enjoy AND you are actually making money at that job. You have your expenses covered with “traveling money” left over for a little fun.  You recently discovered the possibility that Social Security (SS), when you are ready to retire, will be greatly reduced if not completely eliminated. You MUST start saving for retirement and consider SS to be the icing on the cake if available at all.  QUESTION: Where do you start?  As you investigate the stock markets you find stocks seem to be the best possibility for future income.  Stocks, bonds, “T” bills, etc. all are possibilities but stocks are at the top of the list.

People pay plenty of money for consulting giants to help them figure out which technology trends are fads and which will stick. You could go that route, or get the same thing from the McKinsey Global Institute’s in-house think-tank for the cost of a new book. No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Global Forces Breaking All the Trends, was written by McKinsey directors Richard Dobbs, James Manyika, and Jonathan Woetzel, and offers insight into which developments will have the greatest impact on the business world in coming decades. If you chose stocks, you definitely want to look at technology sectors AND consider companies contributing products to those sectors.  The following list from that book may help.  Let’s take a look.

Below, we’re recapping their list of the “Disruptive Dozen”—the technologies the group believes have the greatest potential to remake today’s business landscape.



The book’s authors predict that the price of lithium-ion battery packs could fall by a third in the next 10 years, which will have a big impact on not only electric cars, but renewable energy storage. There will be major repercussions for the transportation, power generation, and the oil and gas industries as batteries grow cheaper and more efficient.  Battery technology will remain with us and will contribute to ever-increasing product offerings as time goes by.  Companies supplying this market sector will only increase in importance.



As super computers make the enormously complicated process of genetic analysis much simpler, the authors foresee a world in which “genomic-based diagnoses and treatments will extend patients’ lives by between six months and two years in 2025.” Sequencing systems could eventually become so commonplace that doctors will have them on their desktops.  This is a rapidly growing field and one that has and will save lives.

Material Science


The ability to manipulate existing materials on a molecular level has already enabled advances in products like sunglasses, bike frames, and medical equipment. Scientists have greater control than ever over nanomaterials in a variety of substances, and their understanding is growing. Health concerns recently prompted Dunkin’ Donuts to remove nanomaterials from their food. But certain advanced nanomaterials show promise for improving health, and even treating cancer. Coming soon: materials that are self-healing, self-cleaning, and that remember their original shape even if they’re bent.

Self-Driving or Autonomous Automobiles


Autonomous cars are coming, and fast. By 2025, the “driverless revolution” could already be “well underway,” the authors write. All the more so if laws and regulations in the U.S. can adapt to keep up. Case in point: Some BMW cars already park themselves. You will not catch me in a self-driving automobile unless the FED and the auto maker can assure me they are safe.  Continuous effort is being expended to do just that.  These driverless automobiles are coming and we all may just as well get used to it.

Alternate Energy Solutions


Wind and solar have never really been competitive with fossil fuels, but McKinsey predicts that status quo will change thanks to technology that enables wider use and better energy storage. In the last decade, the cost of solar energy has already fallen by a factor of 10, and the International Energy Agency predicts that the sun could surpass fossil fuels to become the world’s largest source of electricity by 2050.  I might include with wind and solar, methane recovery from landfills, biodiesel, compressed natural gas, and other environmentally friendly alternatives.

Robotic Systems


The robots are coming! “Sales of industrial robots grew by 170% in just two years between 2009 and 2011,” the authors write, adding that the industry’s annual revenues are expected to exceed $40 billion by 2020. As robots get cheaper, more dexterous, and safer to use, they’ll continue to grow as an appealing substitute for human labor in fields like manufacturing, maintenance, cleaning, and surgery.

3-D Printing


Much-hyped additive manufacturing has yet to replace traditional manufacturing technologies, but that could change as systems get cheaper and smarter. “In the future, 3D printing could redefine the sale and distribution of physical goods,” the authors say. Think buying an electric blueprint of a shoe, then going home and printing it out. The book notes that “the manufacturing process will ‘democratize’ as consumers and entrepreneurs start to print their own products.”

Mobile Devices


The explosion of mobile apps has dramatically changed our personal experiences (goodbye hookup bars, hello Tinder), as well as our professional lives. More than two thirds of people on earth have access to a mobile phone, and another two or three billion people are likely to gain access over the coming decade. The result: internet-related expenditures outpace even agriculture and energy, and will only continue to grow.

Artificial Intelligence


It’s not just manufacturing jobs that will be largely replaced by robots and 3D printers. Dobbs, Manyika, and Woetzel report that by 2025, computers could do the work of 140 million knowledge workers. If Watson can win at “Jeopardy!” there’s nothing stopping computers from excelling at other knowledge work, ranging from legal discovery to sports coverage.


The Internet of Things (IoT)


Right now, 99% of physical objects are unconnected to the “internet of things.” It won’t last. Going forward, more products and tools will be controlled via the internet, the McKinsey directors say, and all kinds of data will be generated as a result. Expect sensors to collect information on the health of machinery, the structural integrity of bridges, and even the temperatures in ovens.

Cloud Technology


The growth of cloud technology will change just how much small businesses and startups can accomplish. Small companies will get “IT capabilities and back-office services that were previously available only to larger firms—and cheaply, too,” the authors write. “Indeed, large companies in almost every field are vulnerable, as start-ups become better equipped, more competitive, and able to reach customers and users everywhere.”

Oil Production


The International Energy Agency predicts the U.S. will be the world’s largest producer of oil by 2020, thanks to advances in fracking and other technologies, which improved to the point where removing oil from hard-to-reach spots finally made economic sense. McKinsey directors expect increasing ease of fuel extraction to further shift global markets.  This was a real surprise to me but our country has abundant oil supplies and we are already fairly self-sufficient.

Big Data


There is an ever-increasing accumulation of data from all sources.  At no time in our global history has there been a greater thirst for information.  We count and measure everything now days with the recent election being one example of that very fact.  Those who can control and manage big data are definitely ahead of the game.

CONCLUSION:  It’s a brave new world and a world that accommodates educated individuals.  STAY IN SCHOOL.  Get ready for what’s coming.  The world as we know it will continue to change with greater opportunities as time advances.  Be there.  Also, I would recommend investing in those technology sectors that feed the changes.  I personally don’t think a young investor will go wrong.

Data for this post was taken from the following sources: 1.) Design News Daily, and 2.) Those references given on the individual slides.

I have been a “blue-collar” working engineer since graduation in 1966.  I think it’s a marvelous profession and tremendously rewarding.  I also find that engineering is one of the most trusted professions.  When you are designing a bridge, a machine, a biomedical device, etc. there is little room for PC.   Being politically correct will get you a bum design.  You design towards accomplishing an objective or satisfying a consume needs.  Also, you can’t talk your way into success.  You have to perform at every phase of the engineering program.  There are processes in place that aid our efforts along the way.  Some of these are as follows:

  • Six Sigma
  • Design for Six Sigma
  • QFD or Quality Functional Deployment
  • FMEA or Failure Mode Effect Analysis
  • Computational Fluid Dynamics
  • Reliability Engineering
  • HALT—Highly Accelerated Laboratory Testing
  • Engineering Reliability

There are others depending upon the branch of engineering in question.  There are also a large number of computer programs specifically written for each engineering discipline.

With that being the case, what would you say are the highest paying engineering salary levels by discipline?  You might be surprised.  I was.  The following slides basically speak for themselves and represent entry level, mid-level and high-paying salaries for graduate engineers.  Let’s take a look at the top ten (10).


I’m not surprised at biomedical engineering being in the top ten.  There is a huge demand for “bio-engineers” due to rapid advances in technology and significant needs relative to non-invasive medical investigations.

The next one, Civil Engineering, does surprise me a little although we live with a crumbling infrastructure.  Much more needs to be accomplished to redesign, replace and upgrade our roads, dams, bridges, levees, etc etc.  We are literally falling apart.CIVIL

The next two should not surprise anyone.  IT is driving innovation in our time and the need for computer programmers, hardware engineers and software engineers will only increase as time goes by.



Chemical engineering has always been one of the top engineering disciplines.  CEs can apply their “trade” to an extremely large number of endeavors.



During my time EEs were the highest paying jobs.  They still are.

Years ago, environmental engineering was included in the CE discipline. Today, it is important enough to stand alone and provide excellent salary levels.



Geology and Mining engineering has taken off in recent years due to needs brought about by the oil industry.  More than ever, new sources of natural gas and oil are needed.  The term fracking was unknown ten and certainly twenty years ago.

Material Science is one of the most fascinating areas of investigation undertaken in today’s engineering world.  Composite structures, “additive” manufacturing, adhesives, and a host of other areas of materials engineering are producing needs throughout the profession.

Materials Science



I am a mechanical engineer and greatly enjoy the work I do in designing work cells to automate manufacturing and assembly processes.  The field is absolutely wide open.

I hope you enjoy this very brief look at the top ten disciplines.  I also hope you will be encouraged to show this post to you children and grandchildren.  Explain what engineers do and how our profession benefits mankind.


August 5, 2014

The following post is taken from a PDHonline course this author has written for professional engineers. The entire course may be found from  Look for Introduction to Reliability Engineering.


One of the most difficult issues when designing a product is determining how long it will last and how long it should last.  If the product is robust to the point of lasting “forever” the price of purchase will probably be prohibitive compared with competition.    If it “dies” the first week, you will eventually lose all sales momentum and your previous marketing efforts will be for naught.   It is absolutely amazing to me as to how many products are dead on arrival.  They don’t work, right out of the box. This is an indication of slipshod design, manufacturing, assembly or all of the above.  It is definitely possible to design and build quality and reliability into a product so that the end user is very satisfied and feels as though he got his money’s worth.     The medical, automotive, aerospace and weapons industries are certainly dependent upon reliability methods to insure safe and usable products so premature failure is not an issue.  The same thing can be said for consumer products if reliability methods are applied during the design phase of the development program.  Reliability methodology will provide products that “fail safe”, if they fail at all.  Component failures are not uncommon to any assembly of parts but how that component fails can mean the difference between a product that just won’t work and one that can cause significant injury or even death to the user. It is very interesting to note that German and Japanese companies have put more effort into designing in quality at the product development stage.  U.S. companies seem to place a greater emphasis on solving problems after a product has been developed.  [5]   Engineers in the United States do an excellent job when cost reducing a product through part elimination, standardization, material substitution, etc but sometimes those efforts relegate reliability to the “back burner”.  Producibility, reliability, and quality start with design, at the beginning of the process, and should remain the primary concern throughout product development, testing and manufacturing.


There seems to be general confusion between quality and reliability.  Quality is the “totality of features and characteristics of a product that bear on its ability to satisfy given needs; fitness for use”.  “Reliability is a design parameter associated with the ability or inability of a product to perform as expected over a period of time”.  It is definitely possible to have a product of considerable quality but one with questionable reliability.  Quality AND reliability are crucial today with the degree of technological sophistification, even in consumer products.  As you well know, the incorporation of computer driven and / or computer-controlled products has exploded over the past two decades.  There is now an engineering discipline called MECHATRONICS that focuses solely on the combining of mechanics, electronics, control engineering and computing.  Mr. Tetsuro Mori, a senior engineer working for a Japanese company called Yaskawa, first coined this term.  The discipline is also alternately referred to as electromechanical systems.  With added complexity comes the very real need to “design in” quality and reliability and to quantify the characteristics of operation, including the failure rate, the “mean time between failure” (MTBF ) and the “mean time to failure” ( MTTF ).  Adequate testing will also indicate what components and subsystems are susceptible to failure under given conditions of use.  This information is critical to marketing, sales, engineering, manufacturing, quality and, of course, the VP of Finance who pays the bills.

Every engineer involved with the design and manufacture of a product should have a basic knowledge of quality and reliability methods and practices.


I think it’s appropriate to define Reliability and Reliability Engineering.  As you will see, there are several definitions, all basically saying the same thing, but important to mention, thereby grounding us for the course to follow.

“Reliability is, after all, engineering in its most practical form.”

James R. Schlesinger

Former Secretary of Defense

“Reliability is a projection of performance over periods of time and is usually defined as a quantifiable design parameter.  Reliability can be formally defined as the probability or likelihood that a product will perform its intended function for a specified interval under stated conditions of use. “

John W. Priest

Engineering Design for Producibility and


“ Reliability engineering provides the tools whereby the probability and capability of an item performing intended functions for specified intervals in specified environments without failure can be specified, predicted, designed-in, tested, demonstrated, packaged, transported, stored installed, and started up; and their performance monitored and fed back to all organizations.”


“Reliability is the science aimed at predicting, analyzing, preventing and mitigating

failures over time.”

John D. Healy, PhD

“Reliability is —blood, sweat, and tears engineering to find out what could go wrong —, to organize that knowledge so it is useful to engineers and managers, and then to act

on that knowledge”

Ralph A. Evans

“The conditional probability, at a given confidence level, that the equipment

will perform its intended function for a specified mission time when operating

under the specified application and environmental stresses. “

The General Electric Company

“By its most primitive definition, reliability is the probability that no failures will occur in a given time interval of operation.  This time interval may be a single operation, such as a mission, or a number of consecutive operations or missions.  The opposite of reliability is unreliability, which is defined as the probability of failure in the same time interval “.

Igor Bazovsky

“Reliability Theory and Practice”

Personally, I like the definition given by Dr. Healy although the phrase “performing intended functions for specified intervals in specified environments “ adds a reality to the definition that really should be there. Also, there is generally associated with reliability data a confidence level.  We will definitely discuss confidence level later on and how that factors into the reliability process.   Reliability, like all other disciplines, has its own specific vocabulary and understanding “the words” is absolutely critical to the overall process we wish to follow.


The main goal of reliability engineering is to minimize failure rate by maximizing MTTF.  The two main goals of design for reliability are:

  • Predict the reliability of an item; i.e. component, subsystem and system ( fit the life model and/or estimate the MTTF or MTBF )
  • Design for environments that promote failure. [10] To do this, we must understand the KNPs and the KCPs of the entire system or at least the mission critical subassemblies of the system.

The overall effort is concerned with eliminating early failures by observing their distribution and determining, accordingly, the length of time necessary for debugging and methods used to debug a system or subsystem.    Further, it is concerned with preventing wearout failures by observing the statistical distribution of wearout and determining the preventative replacement periods for the various parts.  This equates to knowing the MTTF and MTBF.   Finally, its main attention is focused on chance failures and their prevention, reduction or complete elimination because it is the chance failures that most affect equipment reliability in actual operation.  One method of accomplishing the above two goals is by the development and refinement of mathematical models.   These models, properly structured, define and quantify the operation and usage of components and systems.


No mechanical or electromechanical product will last forever without preventative maintenance and / or replacing critical components.  Reliability engineering seeks to discover the weakest link in the system or subsystem so any eventual product failure may be predicted and consequently forestalled.   Any operational interruption may be eliminated by periodically replacing a part or an assembly of parts prior to failure.  This predictive ability is achieved by knowing the meantime to failure (MTTF) and the meantime between failures (MTBF) for “mission critical” components and assemblies.   With this knowledge, we can provide for continuous and safe operation, relative to a given set of environmental conditions and proper usage of the equipment itself.  The test, find, fix (TAAF of TAAR) approach is used throughout reliability testing to discover what components are candidates for continuous “preventative maintenance” and possibly ultimate replacement.  Sometimes designing redundancy into a system can prolong the operational life of a subsystem or system but that is generally costly for consumer products.  Usually, this is only done when the product absolutely must survive the most rigorous environmental conditions and circumstances.  Most consumer products do not have redundant systems.   Airplanes, medical equipment and aerospace equipment represent products that must have redundant systems for the sake of continued safety for those using the equipment.  As mentioned earlier, at the very worst, we ALWAYS want our mechanism to “fail safe” with absolutely no harm to the end-user or other equipment.  This can be accomplished through engineering design and a strong adherence to accepted reliability practices.  With this in mind, we start this process by recommending the following steps:

  • Establish reliability goals and allocate reliability targets.
  • Develop functional block diagrams for all critical systems
  • Construct P-diagrams to identify and define KCPs and KNPs
  • Benchmark current designs
  • Identify the mission critical subsystems and components
  • Conduct FMEAs
  • Define and execute pre-production life tests; i.e. growth testing
  • Conduct life predictions
  • Develop and execute reliability audit plans

It is appropriate to mention now that this document assumes the product design is, at least, in the design confirmation phase of the development cycle and we have been given approval to proceed.  Most NPI methodologies carry a product though design guidance, design confirmation, pre-pilot, pilot and production phases.  Generally, at the pre-pilot point, the design is solidified so that evaluation and reliability testing can be conducted with assurance that any and all changes will be fairly minor and will not involve a “wholesale” redesign of any component or subassembly.  This is not to say that when “mission critical components” fail we do not make all efforts to correct the failure(s) and put the product back into reliability testing.  At the pre-pilot phase, the market surveys, consumer focus studies and all of the QFD work have been accomplished and we have tentative specifications for our product.  Initial prototypes have been constructed and upper management has “signed off” and given approval to proceed into the next development cycles of the project.  ONE CAUTION:  Any issues involving safety of use must be addressed regardless of any changes becoming necessary for an adequate “fix”.  This is imperative and must occur if failures arise, no matter what phase of the program is in progress.

Critical to these efforts will be conducting HALT and HAST testing to “make the product fail”.  This will involve DOE (Design of Experiments) planning to quantify AND verify FMEA estimates. Significant time may be saved by carefully structuring a reliability evaluation plan to be accomplished at the component, subsystem and system levels.  If you couple these tests with appropriate field-testing, you will develop a product that will “go the distance” relative to your goals and stay well within your SCR (Service Call Rate) requirements.  Reliability testing must be an integral part of the basic design process and time must be given to this effort.  The NPI process always includes reliability testing and the assessment of those results from that testing.  Invariability, some degree of component or subsystem redesign results from HALT or HAST because weaknesses are made known that can and will be eliminated by redesign.  In times past, engineering effort has always been to assign a “safety factor” to any design process.  This safety factor takes into consideration “unknowns” that may affect the basic design.  Unfortunately, this may produce a design that is structurally robust but fails due to Key Noise Parameters (KNPs) or Key Control Parameters (KCPs).


As you might expect, this is a “lick and a promise” relative to the subject of reliability.  It’s a very complex subject but one that has provided remarkable life and quality to consumer and commercial products.   I would invite you to take a look at the literature and further your understanding of the “ins and outs” of the technology.  As always, I welcome your comments.


January 5, 2014

The idea for this post comes from “Plant Engineering”, May 2013 publication.

If you are in the engineering profession you know that counterfeiting of components and assemblies is a huge problem for tier one suppliers and end users.   Counterfeiting of well-known brands and products is a growing problem estimated to be between five and seven percent (5%–7%) of world trade.  This represents approximately $600 billion (yes with a “B”) each year.  Some months ago the Machine Design Magazine published an article highlighting this issue with fasteners imported into this country.    Many of these fasteners did not meet standards and specifications required by companies and agencies doing the purchasing.  The life expectance was, in some cases, greatly diminished and premature failure under load was a huge factor.  The Department of Defense (DOD) was greatly concerned and started requiring much closer incoming inspections for fasteners purchased from overseas suppliers.    Counterfeit health and safety products such as electrical and electronic assemblies now occupy second place after pharmaceuticals on the list of those most frequently seized by U.S. Customs.   Electrical products with off-quality assembly and “bogus” components can overheat causing fires, shock hazards and other significant safety problems.  These illegal products do not need to comply with performance and safety specifications and they many times are not tested and approved through a third party agency.

By definition, a counterfeit is a product, service, or package for a product that uses, without authorization, the trademark, service mark, or copyright of another intended to deceive prospective customers into believing the product or service is genuine.  This makes detecting the difference between a counterfeit and authentic product very difficult.

The following list of seven (7) tips may aid your efforts in avoiding counterfeit components and products:

  • BUY AUTHENTIC—The very best way to avoid counterfeit products is to make purchases from the manufacturer’s authorized distribution network or resellers.  Traceability can then be assured.
  • VERIFY AUTHENTICATION—When possible, use tools provided by the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) to verify products are authentic.  This includes UL, ETL, CE, NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers’ Association) etc. certification.  It probably also includes in the advertised package 1.) Owners’ manual or use and care guide, 2.) Warranty card, 3.) Installation instructions, 4.) Contact numbers for problems that may arise during use, 5.)  Web site for additional information and customer support.
  • SCRUTINIZE LABELS AND PACKAGING—Check for certification marks on the packaging and avoid products lacking any identifying branding or labels.  Be very leery of additional markings or labeling not applied by the OEM.   Look for poorly labeled products and date codes obviously in error or out of date.
  • AVOID “BARGAINS”—If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.  Make comparisons with other products of the same type.  In other words—shop the product.  Use the Internet to research the product prior to purchase.  It is not a bad idea to call the manufacturer is questions of authenticity arise.
  • PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO PRODUCTS PURCHASED—You MUST look the product over to determine if in your own mind the quality of workmanship is what you would expect from a “brand-name” manufacturer.  Be cautions of products that seem cheap and poorly assembled.
  • MAKE SURE EVERYTHING IS THERE—Counterfeit products often don’t include supplementary materials such as owner’s manual or product registration cards.  Sometimes, even parts are missing.
  • REPORT SUSPECTED COUNTERFEITS—Contact the brand owner and let them know you suspect a counterfeit product has been purchased.  Let them “chase” the imposter.  This action could insure the product is removed from the marketplace.

If you are buying online, I would definitely ask associates and wholesalers for recommendations relative to the products advertised.  Their misfortune once known could save you time and trouble and most of all provide safety for the end-users.

Any comments you might have will be greatly appreciated.


November 16, 2013

The following discussion on failure mode effect analysis was published through and written by this author.  In the “world of reliability engineering” this process is extremely valuable in determining those components and sub-assemblies that may fail and may fail early in their life.  This one is a little “off the wall” but hope you enjoy it anyway.

Failure Mode and Effect Analysis is the cornerstone of the reliability engineering process. It is a methodology for analyzing potential reliability problems early in the development cycle.   It is a technique to identify potential failure modes, determine their effect on the operation of the product and identify actions to mitigate the failures.   With this being the case, an engineer can “design out” components or modify those components to make them more robust relative to the operational conditions that will be encountered during use.  Please note that FMEAs are always conducted after critical subassemblies are identified.  There are several types of FMEAs, as follows:

  • System—focuses on global system functions
  • Design-focuses on components and subsystems
  • Process focuses on manufacturing and assembly processes
  • Service focuses on service functions
  • Software-focuses on software functions

We look at, and rate, three areas: severity, probability of occurrence and the ability to detect the specific failure.  There is a very simple template that will capture the possible failure modes and designate actions to be taken at a later date.  An example of that template is as follows:

FMEA Template


The “header” for the template would show the Product Name, the Date, the System or Subsystem Name, the Name of the Design Leader and the Revision Number.

The process of conducting a FMEA for any product is as follows:

  1. Assemble a team of individuals who have product knowledge.  These people should come from the following disciplines: a.) design engineering, b.) manufacturing, c.) service, d.) quality, e.) repair.
  2. Make sure the  Failure Block Diagrams (FBDs)  and “P”-Diagrams are available to adequately represent the system, subsystem or component.
  3. Construct the FMEA template or work sheet.
  4. Convene the team to identify the possible failure modes and assign importance to the severity, probability of occurrence and the probability of detecting the failure. Generally, the rating system goes from one (1) to ten (10) with ten being the most severe and creating the greatest operational issues.  A recommendation from Mr. Stephen Curtis posted on the Six web site recommends the following classifications for the three- line items:
  5. CATEGORIESMultiply the assigned numbers for severity, occurrence and detection together for a final score and record that score for later use.  A score of 1,000 would indicate a failure that should definitely be addressed and one that would be coded as a “red” item.  Red items must be fixed before pre-pilot builds occur and certainly before pilot runs occur.  Some companies designate any score above 600 as a “red” item.
  6. For each failure mode, identify what you feel to be the “root cause” of the failure.  This will take experience and you may wish to consult the services of field technicians for their comments relative to product use and problem areas.
  7. Describe the effects of those failure modes; i.e. injury to user, interoperability of product, improper appearance of product, degraded performance, noise, etc.
  8. Determine what must be the initial recommended action.  This is done for each failure mode.
  9. Assign responsibility for addressing the “fix”.
  10. Assign a “get well” date
  11. .Before adjourning, establish a time to reconvene for a status on the failures and the “fixes”.Before adjourning, establish a time to reconvene for a status on the failures and the “fixes”.

This is a marvelous tool for reliability practitioners and engineers of all “stripes”.  One used by  manufacturers and designers in every branch of engineering and technology.  Hope you enjoy this one.



March 25, 2012


The following resources were used in writing this document:

  • “Scientists Battle Space Debris Threat”: CBS News, 23 April 2011
  • “Space Debris”: Wikipedia
  • “Space Junk Endangers NASA Satellites”: Elizabeth Montalbano, Information Week, 2 September 2011
  • “Space Junk Janitors Should Sweep Up 5 Dead Satellites”: Biology & Nature, 27 February 2012
  • “Space Junk to Triple by 2030”: Lenord Davis,, 9 May 2011

I can’t stand dirt.  Dirty house, dirty car, dirty office, and I am making some changes.  Fortunately, my wife is a “neatnick”.  She also—CAN’T STAND DIRT.  To further demonstrate the point, one evening, just before sundown, she looked through our den windows towards the setting sun and pronounced “we WILL clean these filthy windows inside and outside tomorrow”.  I felt her “pane”.  (Pardon the clever play on words!)  Dirt is one thing, but I’m OK with a little clutter.  I have several editions of Machine Design, Design News, Science and Technology, etc. sitting around waiting on the spirit to move me towards picking them up to read.  The older ones I consider collector’s items.  This is perhaps the only way I cannot be considered a hoarder.  

The tiny blue dot we live on does have a significant problem with clutter SPACE JUNK–  I will demonstrate as follows:

The digital photograph above shows the approximate position of debris remaining as a result of exploits in space, both ours and other countries, having the technology to launch rockets that carry payloads.  Perhaps a more enlightening JPEG, given below, will be more helpful and further illustrate the issue faced by NASA and other space-related agencies.   Please keep in mind all objects are moving. None are stationary; consequently, any depiction of position must be an estimate of position. 

It has been estimated by Hugh Lewis from The University of Southampton that over this decade, there could be as much as a fifty percent (50%) increase in debris.  Already, the International Space Station has had to fire thrusters to avoid moving “garbage” orbiting earth.  The result would have been disastrous had this action not been taken.  Some experts from NASA and within several university systems state we have already reached the “tipping point” and corrections would be virtually impossible and remarkably expensive.   NASA estimates there are at least 500,000 pieces of debris orbiting earth and some of that debris is moving at 17,500 miles per hour.  Of course, any “strike” at these speeds could produce life-threating damage to personnel and systems.   Damage such as the one shown below could absolutely destroy delicate equipment and seriously injure, if not kill, astronauts.

The overwhelming number of particles are smaller than one centimeter; i.e., 0.39 inches, but others are of considerable size.  Estimates are as follows:

  • 1,500 pieces of debris weighing more than 100 Kg or 200 pounds
  • 19,000 pieces of debris measuring between 1 to 10 centimeters; 3.9 inches
  • An unestimated number of particles, mostly dust and paint “chips” resulting from collisions that have occurred with larger objects also orbiting.  Some “guesses” put that number into the millions.

For the most part, the debris can be categorized as follows:

  • Jettisoned garbage from manned spacecraft, purposefully disposed of into lower earth orbit
  • Lost equipment; i.e. cameras, tools, measuring devices, fabric hold-down straps, nuts, bolts, cotter pins, etc.
  • Debris from collisions tearing apart structures either jettisoned or lost
  • Rocket boosters that orbit yet remain in space.  Some, over time, experience decaying orbits, eventually falling to earth. 
  • Satellites that no longer function but still orbit in LEO (Low Earth Orbit) or HEO (High Earth Orbit). Generally satellites operate between 435 to 800 miles above the earth.  When these satellites “die”, they do not accomplish reentry but simply stay aloft as dormant objects.  Think of the number of telecommunication devices now orbiting the earth.    Most will eventually fade and no longer fulfill their purpose, being replaced with newer technology. 

With an ever increasing number of launches, engineers and scientists are designing into their products, systems that will provide for ultimate reentry when that system or component performs its function.   Let’s assume a satellite has performed properly for nine years but now is dormant due to programmed obsolescence.  What if, pulse jets could fire altering trajectory and orbit so reentry could be possible?  If that reentry could be a controlled, one “chunk” of debris would be eliminated; consequently, eliminating possible damage to other orbiting bodies or future launches.  This is the current mind-set being explored.

With at least fifty nations participating within the space environment, the amount of debris can only lessen but not be eliminated.  At the present time, over 20,000 pieces of debris are being tracked from facilities such as the one below:

Facilities such as this can at least estimate collisions and, more importantly, any debris that may be in a decaying orbit that will eventually create reentry into earth’s atmosphere.  Over the past ten to fifteen years several large pieces of debris have reentered although most fall into our oceans or uninhabited land.   It becomes ever so critical to remain aware of location to preclude injury on the ground or provide successful future launches.  Several government agencies, as well as universities, have undertaken programs to explore methodologies to reclaim or at least deflect debris that might be potentially dangerous.   Monetary estimates, technical risk and overall complexities of design are significant, and we seem to be a long way from even mounting demonstration programs that will indicate possible success.  This is one area that will be fascinating to watch over the next twenty years.  Stay tuned.


Data for this document was taken from “Machine Design”, April 21, 2011.  The comments relative to the data are mine. Sometimes stinging but definitely mine.

Every year the “Machine Design” magazine publishes a salary survey for practicing engineers and engineering managers.    This survey provides basic compensation averages for various engineering disciplines relative to geographic locations within the United States.   This year, 1126 respondents answered the questionnaire providing the basis for comparison.    We have good news in that engineering salaries and employment rates were on the upswing and certainly better than 2010. At this writing, the unemployment rate was approximately 8.8% with engineering unemployment around 7%. The average engineering salary, for all disciplines, was $83,767.00.  This figure is approximately 4% higher than the $80,760 for the 2010 year.    Salaries rose for 56% of the respondents with the majority receiving between 1% and 5% increases.  Only 6% experienced a salary drop.  Let us take a look at salary averages by job title:

  • System Engineers:: $78K
  • System Engineering Managers:: $81K
  • Senior Engineer::$90K
  • Consulting Engineer:: $82K
  • Department Head::$115K
  • Project Engineer::$70K
  • Team Leader::$111K
  • Software Engineer::$70K
  • Software Manager::$120K
  • Manufacturing Engineer::$70K
  • Manufacturing Manager::$70K
  • CEO, President, Owner::$114K
  • QC, Evaluation Engineer::$65K
  • R&D Director::$100K
  • Test Technician::$65K
  • VP of Engineering::$112K

Please keep in mind that these are composite averages for all engineering disciplines.  Now let’s look at what specialties and regions get the big bucks.


  • Computer and IT Technology::$90K
  • Electrical Equipment & Component:: $82K
  • Fabricated Metal  Manufacturing::$82K
  • Machinery Manufacturing::$79K
  • Medical Equipment::$95K
  • Transportation Equipment::$81K

Several states in the New England area win the blue ribbon for highest regional salaries:


  • New York and Pennsylvania::$80K
  • Intermountain States::$81K
  • VT, MASS, RI, NH::$99K
  • Pacific Coast States::$90K
  • Coastal Southeast::$80K
  • Southeast and Southwest::$81K

I am stating the obvious when I say engineering is not the highest paying profession on the planet.  I am stating, as a working engineer, that it is the most rewarding profession on the planet.  (Of course I’m more than a little biased in that opinion.) It can be a very very exciting way to earn a living simply due to the act of continuous discovery.  The big “downer” is the movement of R&D, manufacturing and invention “offshore”.  There will come a time when our great country will realize that we can no longer do anything.  Look at the technology that has “drifted away” over the past two decades:

  • Textiles
  • Leather goods; i.e. shoes, belts, handbags, etc.
  • Production of electronic “chips”
  • Memory devices and storage
  • Cameras
  • Sound equipment, i.e. tuners, amps, speakers, etc
  • Television sets
  • DVDs
  • Toys
  • Tools and dies

The list does go on and on.  We are even in the process of relinquishing our dominance relative to manned space craft.  In a few weeks we will be relying on the Soviets to haul equipment and people to the space station.   Next will come medical equipment, then publishing, then legal—the list goes on and on.  For the very first time in our country’s history, the number of government employees (22 million) exceeds the number of manufacturing jobs.  We are moving into an era in which it will be necessary to talk a good game instead of play a good game.   Who knows, maybe we are there already.


December 7, 2010


This past Saturday a very short article appeared in our Chattanooga Times Free Press, page A4, 5th column

“Unmanned U.S. Spacecraft Returns After 7-Month Trip”.

Seven months ago the DoD lunched the very first unmanned spacecraft to fly outside the Earth’s atmosphere.  The X37B slipped out of orbit and landed safely at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California this past Friday.  The stubby-winged robotic aircraft began re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere and landed successfully at 0116 hrs PST (Pacific Standard Time).  The mission was secret and the “official” purpose was to test the aircraft itself.  I was born at night but not last night consequently, I suspect there was more to the voyage than we need to know.

My comments do not address the secrecy of the mission but the marvelous engineering that made this mission a resounding success.  Can you imagine the remarkable complexity such an endeavor would bring?  I was a lowly Captain in the USAF Logistics Command and worked on the missile that fired the Gemini crews so I have an appreciation for the split-second timing and planning that must be accomplished for success.  I know that all engineering disciplines had to be in play to bring this project to completion.  Mechanical, electrical, civil, engineering physics, etc etc—all were needed and used.   I am also amazed that communications were maintained throughout the entire seven months—ASTOUNDING!!!     I can’t walk from my front porch to the mail box without my cell phone dropping out fifteen times.  ( DoD must not use Virgin Mobile. )

 It takes smart, trained, energized, optimistic, hard-working engineers and scientists to pull something like this off.  You don’t make this happen with high school drop-outs.  Drop-outs will not find themselves as members of a DoD or NASA team. You are not allowed to write code that would affect trajectory and a flight plaths with merely a high school degree and certainly not as a drop-out.   It is a national tragedy that approximately 30 % of high school students choose to drop out before graduation.

I think what we have just witnessed is a forecast of things to come.  “The Rise of the Machines”—OK, maybe not but, more unmanned flights-definitely!  The technology involved and project management are just stunning. I think we need to keep this story alive so high school students, and even grammar school students, realize that engineering is a most exciting profession and there are still jobs available—even in our country.  The best is yet to come.


October 22, 2010


Merriam-Webster defines language as “A systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures or marks having understood meanings.”  The operative words in this definition are ‘means of communicating’ and ‘understood meanings’.  There are 116 different “official” languages spoken on our planet today but 6900 languages AND dialects. The difference between a language and a dialect can be somewhat arbitrary so care must be taken when doing a “count”.  English, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Spanish etc, all have specific and peculiar dialects; not to mention slang words and expressions so the discernment between a language and a dialect may be somewhat confusing to say the least.. 

The book of Genesis (Genesis 11: vs. 1-9) recounts a period of time, during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, when an attempt was made, by mankind, to become equal with God and that one language was spoken by all the people.  We are told that the attempt was not met with too much favor and God was pretty turned off by the whole thing.  Go figure!    With this being the case, He, decided to confound their language so that no one understood the other.  This, as you might expect, lead to significant confusion and a great deal of “babbling” resulted.  (Imagine a session of our United States Congress.)  Another significant result was the dispersion of mankind over the earth—another direct result from their unwise attempt.  This dispersion of the populace “placed” a specific language in a specific location and that “stuck”. 

Regardless of the language spoken, the very basic components of any language are similar; i.e. nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, etc.  You get the picture. The use and structure of these language elements within a sentence do vary.  This fact is the essence of a particular language itself. 

Would mankind not benefit from a common language?  Would commerce not be greatly simplified if we could all understand each other? Think of all the money saved if everything written and everything spoken—every road sign and every label on a can of soup—could be read by 6.8 billion people.  Why oh why have we not worked towards that over the centuries as a collective species.  Surely someone has had that thought before.  OK, national pride, but let’s swallow our collective egos and admit that we would be well-served by the movement, ever so gradual, towards one universal language.  Let me backup one minute.  We do have one example of a world-wide common language—


Like all other languages, it has its own grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and word order, synonyms, negations, conventions, abbreviations, sentence and paragraph structure.  Those elements do exist AND they are universal.  No matter what language I speak, the formula for the area of a circle is A=π/4 (D)²

  • π  =  3.14159 26535 89793
  • log(10)e  =  0.43429 44819 03252
  • (x+y)(x-y)  =  x²-y²
  • R(1),R(2)  =  [-b ± ( b²-4ac)]^0.5/2a
  • The prime numbers are 2,3,5,7,11,13,17,19,23,29,31,37—You get the picture.
  • sinѲcscѲ = 1

 Mathematics has developed over the past 2500 years and is really one of the very oldest of the “sciences”. One remarkably significant development was the use of zero (0)—which has only been “in fashion” over the past millennium.  Centuries ago, men such as Euclid and Archimedes made the following discoveries and the following pronouncements:

If a straight line be cut at random, the square on the whole is equal to the squares on the segments and twice the rectangle contained by the segments. (Euclid, Elements, II.4, 300 B.C.) This lead to the formula:  (a + b)2 = a2 + b2 + 2ab

The area of any circle is equal to a right-angled triangle in which one of the sides about the right angle is equal to the radius, and the other to the circumference, of the circle. (Archimedes, Measurement of a Circle, (225 B.C.)  Again, this gives us the following formula: 

A = 2pr·r/2 = pr 2 

These discoveries and these accompanying formulas work for ANY language we might speak. Mathematics then becomes the UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE.

With that being the case, why do we not introduce the “Language of Mathematics” to our middle-school and high school pupils?  Is any school district doing that?  I know several countries in Western Europe started this practice some years ago with marvelous results.  This “language” is taught prior to the introduction of Algebra and certainly prior to Differential Equations.  It has been proven extremely effective and beneficial for those students who are intimidated by the subject.  The “dread” melts away as the syntax and structure becomes evident.  Coupled with this introduction is a semester on the great men and women of mathematics—their lives, their families, were they lived, what they ate, what they smoked, how they survived on a math teacher’s salary.  These people had lives and by some accounts were absolutely fascinating individuals in their own right.  Sir Isaac Newton invented calculus, was a real grouch, a real pain in the drain AND, had been jilted in his earlier years.  Never married, never (again) even had a girlfriend, etc etc.  You get the picture.  The greatest mathematicians of all time are said to be the following:

Isaac Newton

Carl F. Gauss


Leonhard Euler


  Bernhard Riemann

Henri Poincaré

David Hilbert

Joseph-Louis Lagrange

Gottfried W. Leibniz

  Alexander Grothendieck

Pierre de Fermat

Niels Abel

Évariste Galois

John von Neumann

Srinivasa Ramanujan

Karl W. T. Weierstrass


René Déscartes

Augustin Cauchy

  Carl G. J. Jacobi

Hermann K. H. Weyl

Peter G. L. Dirichlet

Leonardo `Fibonacci’

Georg Cantor

  Arthur Cayley

Emma Noether

Eudoxus of Cnidus

Muhammed al-Khowârizmi

Pythagoras of Samos

What do we really know about these guys?  Do we ever study them when we use their wonderful work?  I think not.  I honestly believe the study would be much more enjoyable IF we knew something about the men and women making the contributions they did.   Think about it.  PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!

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