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Engineers vs. Bean Counters

So I bought a 12 pack of crisp, refreshing Diet Pepsi and a 12 pack of thirst quenching Diet Mountain Dew for the office—you know, the ones that are configured as long rectangles to fit conveniently into your refrigerator—because it’s all about convenience; it’s all about me, the customer. Collecting my things, I see that the end flaps came unglued on one end of the Diet Mountain Dew package, so I held both packages upright. Well, no sooner did I get out the car, the other end blew out and the sodas tumbled to the ground. I hear lots of fizzing. So, I put my other things down on the ground and start collecting the cans. My hands would have been full with everything I had, so I started stuffing cans into my coat pockets, but that strategy would only accommodate four cans. I remembered that I had some grocery bags in the trunk of my car, so I retrieved one. I load the cans into the bag, collect the other 12 pack as well as my other things and I start making my way to the indoors. I got about 20 feet before the bottom blew out of the bag and the sodas, determined to stay on the ground, began falling. I hear fizzing again. As you can imagine, I’m pretty happy at this point and my kind and gentle words reflected this ebullient attitude. Anyway, I put all my things down again, collapsed the fizzing cans underfoot—sans expletive, of course—and discarded the fallen beverages. I then made my way back to the car. To my good fortune, I had another bag: a much sturdier department store bag. I was ecstatic. I made my way back to my diminishing pile of unscathed beverage product and began loading cans again. Success! All packed up and ready to go. So, I collect everything up again and once again continued on my quest to get out of the 12-degree weather and into the inviting warmth of my office. Well, I made it about five steps and the side blew out of bag #2. Fantastic! I was hoping that would happen. Why you ask? Well, because I like to challenge myself in every facet of my life—even in the mundane. Once again, I collect the errant cans and held the bag such that the split side was secure within my grasp. I pick up the rest of the material, and once again, continue on my journey. Five more steps into my trek and the bottom blows out on the second 12-pack. Again, I find myself putting things down and loading cans into an inadequate container. Completing that task, I collect everything up again. I’m holding the bag with the split side secure in my grasp and the second 12-pack I have cradled in my arm in a vertical position. To my surprise, after only 12 minutes of dropping cans, picking up cans, dropping cans, picking up cans, etc., I am finally able to get into my office. Amazingly, it only took twelve times longer than normal! As an added bonus, I had 21 out of 24 cans in consumable condition! Obviously, that’s a much higher number than I would expect to have survived during a trip from my car to my office on a normal day.

So what does this have to do with engineers and bean counters? That’s simple. Engineers are responsible for the quality of the products they design and their company ultimately produces. In this case, it’s not the actual product that’s found lacking; it’s the product’s packaging and the tool used to transport said product. It’s inexcusable that a product’s container virtually collapses under its own weight. Having not the ability to withstand the rigors of actually lifting a product for movement elsewhere—stressful as that may be—is design failure, pure and simple.

Bean counters most assuredly share in the blame, as they will almost always sacrifice quality for margin. Moreover, in a concerted effort to shave off even the most minute cost from producing a product, they will target a component of a product’s manufacture that they believe is superfluous—like glue to hold it together—and they will strong arm engineering until they capitulate to their Stalinist demands. For the most part, there’s no doubt that engineers are more than capable of producing quality products. There’s no shortage of brainpower in the private sector. Like the products they design, the system collapses when milquetoast engineers gather up their years of training and experience and, along with their balls, set those crucial components aside, cowering in fear of the bottom line and the cycloptic suits  who wield it like a weapon. Under this paradigm, product obsolescence begins before its purchase.

So, what engineering ingenuity would be required to resolve this crumbling carton issue? —Apply the necessary amount of glue to the carton’s end flap. And what insurmountable barrier stands between task and success? —Cost. Well, make that cost and balls, or lack thereof, rather (you may have noticed that missing the critical link between man and balls is a dominant theme in this work). Apparently, it takes the balls of Zeus to wage a battle of principle for what is right and what is necessary, even with something so mundane as gluing a package together.