Engineering failure is useful: Page 5 of 5

February 19, 2016 //By Peter Clarke
Engineering failure is useful
Dennis Feucht discusses the works of the engineering author Henry Petroski and what he had to say about failure.
treasure-trove the failure reports hidden in insurance company files would be, consumer electronics (as the other extreme) unabashedly drives onward, strewing in its trail landfill-sized piles of broken products like a chase scene in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. 

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. 

Related links and articles:

From electronics to maths and money madness

The cult of DSPism

Richard Feynman and homomorphic filtering

The engineering desk-to-bench ratio

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