The bright side to the junk cycle is that it is itself another form of failure from which we can learn as engineers. The rapid advance of enabling technologies makes possible better products, if only they would be designed and manufactured. This induces a shorter design cycle, which results in a quicker financial return for the enabling technology thus employed. Despite the junk-product side-effect, the underlying technologies are moved along. When rapid advances in root technology bogs down (usually due to non-technical factors), then they plateau for a while at a more advanced state than if they hadn't been underwritten by junk products.
A severe global economic down-turn, world war, or major social or institutional upheaval would cool off markets, re-instill discipline, lengthen product life, and give engineers time to apply the more advanced state of technological componentry to quality designs. The upward half of the junk-to-quality cycle then commences.
To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design , Henry Petroski, Vintage Books (Random House), 1992, 251 pages; $13 in paperback.
Invention by Design: How Engineers Get from Thought to Thing , Henry Petroski, Harvard University Press, 1996, 242 pages, hardbound.
Dennis Feucht has his own laboratory, Innovatia, on a jungle hilltop in Belize, where he performs electronics research, technical writing, and helps others with product development. He wrote a four-volume book-set on analog circuit design, has completed a book on transistor amplifier design and is working on a book on power electronics.
This article first appeared on EE Times' Planet Analog website.
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