In The Trenches
been traced to improper detail
A ground water leak into a tank
started the Bophol disaster. Falling
foam destroyed the Columbia
space shuttle. Wind loading was
neglected in the Tacoma Narrows
bridge. And on and on and on. It
cannot be overstated that details
determine the fate of any engineer-
This means that you should
never make an engineering change
without — at the very least —
verifying it with the engineer. And
if the engineer objects, listen.
The sad fact is that unilateral administrative engineering changes happen
all too often. Here’s a classic
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Good enough to be the
choice of Panasonic,
Pioneer, NBC, ABC, Ford,
JVC, NASA and thousands
of independent service
In the late 1960s, a new rifle
was being designed for the
American military. It was called
the M- 16. The prototypes worked
very well and the rifle was sent into
At this point, very senior civilian
government people, who had
no experience in engineering or
small arms, decided that chrome
plating the receiver (the place
where the cartridge rests during
firing) was too expensive. The
bureaucratic managers changed
this tiny detail. No chrome plating
was to be used.
The result was that the nonplated receiver pitted and corroded
from the gasses of the gunpowder.
This caused jams and misfires.
Worse, these jams required the whole
rifle to be disassembled to remove
the jammed cartridge.
Naturally, this is not a desirable
thing to happen while under fire in
the jungles in Vietnam. Many
American soldiers died and the M- 16
got a bad reputation until this detail
was “fixed” by chrome plating the
More recently, the space shuttle
Challenger failed because administrators decided to launch in cold
weather in spite of the objections of
the engineers. Simply having the
authority to decide does not make
you decide well.
Locate shorted or leaky
components or conditions
to the exact spot in-circuit
Still cutting up the pcb,
and unsoldering every
part trying to guess at
where the short is?
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thing you can lose is all the time you’re you can locate a shorted part only a quarter of
currently spending on trying to repair all an inch away from a good part. Short can be
those dogs you’ve given up on. from 0 to 150 ohms
CapAnalyzer 88A LeakSeeker 82B
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There are a number of special
code phrases that engineers use that
mean something different than the
actual words. Different companies
and organizations may have different
ones. It’s important to learn and
For example, suppose you ask
an engineer about designing a
product with a certain set of specifications. He may respond with
something like, “Obtaining a proper
frequency response is not trivial.”
“Not Trivial” is a code phrase. It
sounds innocuous but it really means