Process Optimisation, business growth, product development, business improvement practices, engineering solutions

Is Process Optimisation Killing Your Business?

Part 1

Nicholas Hill, Plextek

By: Nicholas Hill

CEO

26th May 2020

5 minute read

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Do you travel light, or do you go prepared for any eventuality? I’ve always loved travelling, particularly when I can get off the beaten track. Although the concept of travelling light really appeals to me, perhaps because of my engineering training I like to be very organised and prepared. Over many years I’ve built up a checklist of things to take, categorised by the type of trip. Anytime I’ve found I needed something that I hadn’t taken, I would add it to the checklist when I got back. Over time the list grew and grew, and while I’m genuinely prepared for anything, I’m saddled with a large and heavy bag to carry all that gear. That makes it harder to move from place to place and so discourages ad hoc changes to plan. I might feel that a single night detour to some interesting location would be fun to do but am put off at the thought of all that packing and unpacking. I’m unable to do some of the things that I liked to travel for in the first place.

As a medium-sized innovation and technology consultancy, one of the things that our customers particularly value is our ability to work at pace. We can pick up an assignment, put a team onto it, brainstorm ideas, develop those ideas, do some modelling, get prototypes or technology demonstrators made for evaluation typically much faster than our customer could. And we can keep up that pace through the detail design and introduction to manufacture phases. That might be important because a window of opportunity is limited, or because a hard deadline is looming.

In the latter stages of the design cycle – detail design, production engineering and manufacture – another set of drivers join the need for pace. These typically fall under the ‘quality’ banner and include processes to manage rigour, verification, traceability, repeatability, integrity, and so on. As we have grown we have embedded established systems and processes such as ISO9001 and ISO13485 into the company to support the needs of these drivers. One of the attributes of these systems is a constant drive for process improvement and optimisation. On the whole, this is good, but if left unchecked it leads to a steady accretion of further process. Furthermore, some of our clients, particularly those in the defence and aerospace sectors, require a further range of stringent process so that we can satisfy the requirements of their own internal systems.

A seemingly unavoidable side effect of this drip, drip of additional process and control is a pace-limiting friction on everything that we do. The 400m sprint that we were so good at has turned into the 400m hurdles. And here’s the irony: we are in danger of losing one of the very things that our customers liked us for in the first place – our ability to work faster and more flexibly than they can. Are we producing the optimal engine to deliver a service that is not actually fit for purpose?

What follows are some hopefully useful observations that have come out of our experiences in this area in recent years.

THE PRESSURES

Let’s examine the pressures on an engineering technology business that might restrict its ability to work at pace in a bit more detail.

One set of pressures derive from developing products that are critical in some way, particularly those that have a health and safety impact. Most aerospace products and many transport products must be able to demonstrate very high levels of reliability and availability and operate over a wide range of adverse environmental conditions. Many healthcare products must show high levels of repeatability and integrity. Some of these requirements place demands on the manufacturing and production process, whereas others place demands on the design process. For example, it may be necessary to demonstrate that the design can tolerate every combination of component tolerance variability and still perform as required. Any time the design changes this analysis must be done again, so a process will be needed to ensure that it has. A typical development project for a product of this type will be littered with checklists, design reviews, process gates and carefully crafted documentation.

A completely different set of process accrues from business improvement practices. In simple terms, this is about a desire to identify and capture the most efficient or effective way of working and then follow this approach on every project. This encompasses a wide range of drivers, from avoiding underselling to avoiding project over-runs, from keeping to timescales and minimising rework to improving profits. Project managers and team members are all individuals, so if left to their own devices may approach each project in a different way. Embedding process and rules can provide helpful guidance that ensures all projects follow an optimal path. When something doesn’t go according to plan, the situation is reviewed and process changes are made that will attempt to prevent a recurrence. Although the recent rework of ISO9001 has changed its focus towards risk management, for most of its life it has been all about encoding process like this into a business.

The third set of drivers comes from business growth. As anyone who has worked at a start-up or small SME will know, job roles can be very vaguely defined. A small team can effectively share out the work that needs to be done in an ad hoc fashion without important stuff dropping through the cracks. As an organisation grows, communication gets harder and friction increases. There is a real danger that two individuals, or none, take on a particular task. Neither of these is a welcome outcome, so staff need to know where their responsibilities start and end in a much more precisely defined way. To address this issue, organisations will split into teams and groups with bounded responsibilities and won’t take on tasks that don’t fall within their scope. Job descriptions become specific. Training will become more formalised and staff may need ‘certificates of competence’ so that managers can be sure they have the necessary training to take on the assigned task.

In Part 2 of this blog I’ll be describing some of the less desirable side effects that this increase in the process can have, how it can have a negative impact on your business, and most importantly, what to do to prevent it.

Do you travel light, or do you go prepared for any eventuality? I’ve always loved travelling, particularly when I can get off the beaten track. Although the concept of travelling light really appeals to me, perhaps because of my engineering training I like to be very organised and prepared. Over many years I’ve built up a checklist of things to take, categorised by the type of trip. Anytime I’ve found I needed something that I hadn’t taken, I would add it to the checklist when I got back. Over time the list grew and grew, and while I’m genuinely prepared for anything, I’m saddled with a large and heavy bag to carry all that gear. That makes it harder to move from place to place and so discourages ad hoc changes to plan. I might feel that a single night detour to some interesting location would be fun to do but am put off at the thought of all that packing and unpacking. I’m unable to do some of the things that I liked to travel for in the first place.

As a medium-sized innovation and technology consultancy, one of the things that our customers particularly value is our ability to work at pace. We can pick up an assignment, put a team onto it, brainstorm ideas, develop those ideas, do some modelling, get prototypes or technology demonstrators made for evaluation typically much faster than our customer could. And we can keep up that pace through the detail design and introduction to manufacture phases. That might be important because a window of opportunity is limited, or because a hard deadline is looming.

In the latter stages of the design cycle – detail design, production engineering and manufacture – another set of drivers join the need for pace. These typically fall under the ‘quality’ banner and include processes to manage rigour, verification, traceability, repeatability, integrity, and so on. As we have grown we have embedded established systems and processes such as ISO9001 and ISO13485 into the company to support the needs of these drivers. One of the attributes of these systems is a constant drive for process improvement and optimisation. On the whole, this is good, but if left unchecked it leads to a steady accretion of further process. Furthermore, some of our clients, particularly those in the defence and aerospace sectors, require a further range of stringent process so that we can satisfy the requirements of their own internal systems.

A seemingly unavoidable side effect of this drip, drip of additional process and control is a pace-limiting friction on everything that we do. The 400m sprint that we were so good at has turned into the 400m hurdles. And here’s the irony: we are in danger of losing one of the very things that our customers liked us for in the first place – our ability to work faster and more flexibly than they can. Are we producing the optimal engine to deliver a service that is not actually fit for purpose?

What follows are some hopefully useful observations that have come out of our experiences in this area in recent years.

THE PRESSURES

Let’s examine the pressures on an engineering technology business that might restrict its ability to work at pace in a bit more detail.

One set of pressures derive from developing products that are critical in some way, particularly those that have a health and safety impact. Most aerospace products and many transport products must be able to demonstrate very high levels of reliability and availability and operate over a wide range of adverse environmental conditions. Many healthcare products must show high levels of repeatability and integrity. Some of these requirements place demands on the manufacturing and production process, whereas others place demands on the design process. For example, it may be necessary to demonstrate that the design can tolerate every combination of component tolerance variability and still perform as required. Any time the design changes this analysis must be done again, so a process will be needed to ensure that it has. A typical development project for a product of this type will be littered with checklists, design reviews, process gates and carefully crafted documentation.

A completely different set of process accrues from business improvement practices. In simple terms, this is about a desire to identify and capture the most efficient or effective way of working and then follow this approach on every project. This encompasses a wide range of drivers, from avoiding underselling to avoiding project over-runs, from keeping to timescales and minimising rework to improving profits. Project managers and team members are all individuals, so if left to their own devices may approach each project in a different way. Embedding process and rules can provide helpful guidance that ensures all projects follow an optimal path. When something doesn’t go according to plan, the situation is reviewed and process changes are made that will attempt to prevent a recurrence. Although the recent rework of ISO9001 has changed its focus towards risk management, for most of its life it has been all about encoding process like this into a business.

The third set of drivers comes from business growth. As anyone who has worked at a start-up or small SME will know, job roles can be very vaguely defined. A small team can effectively share out the work that needs to be done in an ad hoc fashion without important stuff dropping through the cracks. As an organisation grows, communication gets harder and friction increases. There is a real danger that two individuals, or none, take on a particular task. Neither of these is a welcome outcome, so staff need to know where their responsibilities start and end in a much more precisely defined way. To address this issue, organisations will split into teams and groups with bounded responsibilities and won’t take on tasks that don’t fall within their scope. Job descriptions become specific. Training will become more formalised and staff may need ‘certificates of competence’ so that managers can be sure they have the necessary training to take on the assigned task.

In Part 2 of this blog I’ll be describing some of the less desirable side effects that this increase in the process can have, how it can have a negative impact on your business, and most importantly, what to do to prevent it.

What Does Perfect Remote Communication Look Like to You?

By: Polly Britton

Project Engineer, Product Design

7th May 2020

3 minute read

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With the recent abrupt move to a near 100% virtual workplace, Product Designer, Polly Britton, looks at what the far future may look like for human interactions across physical distances:

In the Isaac Asimov novel, The Naked Sun, the planet of Solaria is so sparsely populated that humans living there can only visit each other by holograms of themselves into each other’s homes. The projections look and sound so realistic it is as if the people are in the same room together. (If you’ve ever watched Star Trek, the ‘Holodeck’ showed a similar technology, but they never used it to communicate.) The illusion is so convincing that the Solarians feel no need at all to meet each other in person and find the whole concept quite foreign.

This is the standard of technology I imagine when thinking of remote communication in the future. With ever-increasing Internet speeds, high-resolution displays, and 3D surround sound, it’s a standard we could easily approach within my lifetime. It makes me wonder at what point between now and then will the technology be good enough to replace more of our long-distance journeys, and then our shorter distance commutes? It’s easy to imagine the potential benefits of this kind of technology replacing expensive business trips and tedious commuting, but to what extent will it replace our social interactions too?

What are we getting from these interactions in ‘meet-space’ (or ‘meat-space’) that is worth spending hours travelling to a physical point in space that we occupy together? In addition to the time spent, we have to consider the financial & environmental impacts of that physical journey, not to mention health risks from current and future germs.

There is certainly a multitude of signals we send consciously and unconsciously with our subtle body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice, that cannot be communicated remotely using current technology. There is no way to offer a handshake or a cup of tea. Even making eye contact is impossible using the technology most people use. To look at the eyes of the person you are talking to, you have to look away from the lens of your camera, which will give the impression that you are not looking at their eyes. To give the impression of eye contact you can look directly at the camera lens, but it feels unnatural and you can’t actually watch the person you’re pretending to look at. It could be worth investing in a system though that supports eye to contact – a new study led by Tampere University in Finland found that eye contact during video calls (or the illusion of it) can elicit similar psychophysiological responses to those triggered by genuine, in-person eye contact. It suggests that a system enabling natural eye contact during a video call could go a long way to making the interaction ‘feel’ real. This is just one problem to overcome on the way to the gold standard described in The Naked Sun.

With so many people now working from home and withdrawing from social meetings, we might see a sudden revolution in communication technology, and the way we use it. It may be enough to get us to cut down on our meat-space interactions permanently, saving us all the expenses that come with travelling.

But even with a perfect communication system like in The Naked Sun, would we not still want to visit the consultancy designing our product, and the factory manufacturing it? Would we still take a long car journey or flight to visit our families at Christmas? There is no replacement for the tactile experience of a handshake or hug, or sharing food together.

Businesses and individuals need to balance that financial/health/environmental tension against their desire for physical interactions and I would suggest that we need our technology to advance much further than it currently has in order to create a big step change in consumer behaviour.

Although we can’t know what the future holds for us, I think it’s safe to say communication technology will continue to become a larger part of our lives as it develops. It will be interesting to see which advances make the biggest difference – virtual Reality, 360-degree cameras, high fidelity audio, or perhaps some new software features that improves user interface. The advances that change our lives the most are often surprising and aren’t predicted by science fiction at all.

What are your thoughts? We would love to hear from you.

With the recent abrupt move to a near 100% virtual workplace, Product Designer, Polly Britton, looks at what the far future may look like for human interactions across physical distances:

In the Isaac Asimov novel, The Naked Sun, the planet of Solaria is so sparsely populated that humans living there can only visit each other by holograms of themselves into each other’s homes. The projections look and sound so realistic it is as if the people are in the same room together. (If you’ve ever watched Star Trek, the ‘Holodeck’ showed a similar technology, but they never used it to communicate.) The illusion is so convincing that the Solarians feel no need at all to meet each other in person and find the whole concept quite foreign.

This is the standard of technology I imagine when thinking of remote communication in the future. With ever-increasing Internet speeds, high-resolution displays, and 3D surround sound, it’s a standard we could easily approach within my lifetime. It makes me wonder at what point between now and then will the technology be good enough to replace more of our long-distance journeys, and then our shorter distance commutes? It’s easy to imagine the potential benefits of this kind of technology replacing expensive business trips and tedious commuting, but to what extent will it replace our social interactions too?

What are we getting from these interactions in ‘meet-space’ (or ‘meat-space’) that is worth spending hours travelling to a physical point in space that we occupy together? In addition to the time spent, we have to consider the financial & environmental impacts of that physical journey, not to mention health risks from current and future germs.

There is certainly a multitude of signals we send consciously and unconsciously with our subtle body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice, that cannot be communicated remotely using current technology. There is no way to offer a handshake or a cup of tea. Even making eye contact is impossible using the technology most people use. To look at the eyes of the person you are talking to, you have to look away from the lens of your camera, which will give the impression that you are not looking at their eyes. To give the impression of eye contact you can look directly at the camera lens, but it feels unnatural and you can’t actually watch the person you’re pretending to look at. It could be worth investing in a system though that supports eye to contact – a new study led by Tampere University in Finland found that eye contact during video calls (or the illusion of it) can elicit similar psychophysiological responses to those triggered by genuine, in-person eye contact. It suggests that a system enabling natural eye contact during a video call could go a long way to making the interaction ‘feel’ real. This is just one problem to overcome on the way to the gold standard described in The Naked Sun.

With so many people now working from home and withdrawing from social meetings, we might see a sudden revolution in communication technology, and the way we use it. It may be enough to get us to cut down on our meat-space interactions permanently, saving us all the expenses that come with travelling.

But even with a perfect communication system like in The Naked Sun, would we not still want to visit the consultancy designing our product, and the factory manufacturing it? Would we still take a long car journey or flight to visit our families at Christmas? There is no replacement for the tactile experience of a handshake or hug, or sharing food together.

Businesses and individuals need to balance that financial/health/environmental tension against their desire for physical interactions and I would suggest that we need our technology to advance much further than it currently has in order to create a big step change in consumer behaviour.

Although we can’t know what the future holds for us, I think it’s safe to say communication technology will continue to become a larger part of our lives as it develops. It will be interesting to see which advances make the biggest difference – virtual Reality, 360-degree cameras, high fidelity audio, or perhaps some new software features that improves user interface. The advances that change our lives the most are often surprising and aren’t predicted by science fiction at all.

What are your thoughts? We would love to hear from you.

Opinion Interview: Huawei and the UK 5G Infrastructure Debate.

By: Shahzad Nadeem

Head of Smart Cities

23rd April 2020

3 minute read

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The Internet of Things is the bedrock of smart, connected and secure cities. A network of sensing and communication technologies enables the collection and analysis of data, making life easier and more efficient for everyone. 5g is an integral part of this ecosystem.

Shahzad, Head of Smart Cities, has extensive international experience of working in the telecoms market and we interviewed him to give his opinion on the current Huawei debate in the news this week:

Q: Shahzad, are the proposed restrictions realistic?

A: Huawei to be restricted to ‘non-core’ part of 5G infrastructure and 35% of market share may seem unrealistic when Huawei is the major supplier into Vodafone, BT/EE and O2 current mobile network infrastructure, but it is achievable as it is not too late for 5G deployments in the UK. As a matter of fact, BT has decided to start removing the already deployed Huawei equipment from its LTE / 4G network.

Q: Is there a history of challenging mobile infrastructure companies?

A: I remember the days when Vodafone used to be Ericsson and Nokia based infrastructure and nobody could dare challenge the commercial grip that they had.

Q: What is the recipe for Huawei’s success in Europe so far?

A: Huawei’s disruptive entrance in the market with very low-cost equipment and support to a level that they built parts of networks at their own expense was just overwhelming and surprising for the market. A gradual, low cost, less risk and shared ownership based marketing brought Huawei in the forefront in Europe and now they stand as a force to reckon with.

Q: Do you think the proposed restrictions will work?

Q: Huawei’s contribution to the UK economy so far and the potential for further contribution is quite evident. The decision for letting them carry on with restrictions seems a good compromise but a bold step in the backdrop of US sanctions. 

Shahzad specialises in smart cities, mobile networks, MNOs, MVNOS, MVNEs, wholesale, m2m and IoT. If you would like to comment or discuss this topic further, please get in touch.

The Internet of Things is the bedrock of smart, connected and secure cities. A network of sensing and communication technologies enables the collection and analysis of data, making life easier and more efficient for everyone. 5g is an integral part of this ecosystem.

Shahzad, Head of Smart Cities, has extensive international experience of working in the telecoms market and we interviewed him to give his opinion on the current Huawei debate in the news this week:

Q: Shahzad, are the proposed restrictions realistic?

A: Huawei to be restricted to ‘non-core’ part of 5G infrastructure and 35% of market share may seem unrealistic when Huawei is the major supplier into Vodafone, BT/EE and O2 current mobile network infrastructure, but it is achievable as it is not too late for 5G deployments in the UK. As a matter of fact, BT has decided to start removing the already deployed Huawei equipment from its LTE / 4G network.

Q: Is there a history of challenging mobile infrastructure companies?

A: I remember the days when Vodafone used to be Ericsson and Nokia based infrastructure and nobody could dare challenge the commercial grip that they had.

Q: What is the recipe for Huawei’s success in Europe so far?

A: Huawei’s disruptive entrance in the market with very low-cost equipment and support to a level that they built parts of networks at their own expense was just overwhelming and surprising for the market. A gradual, low cost, less risk and shared ownership based marketing brought Huawei in the forefront in Europe and now they stand as a force to reckon with.

Q: Do you think the proposed restrictions will work?

Q: Huawei’s contribution to the UK economy so far and the potential for further contribution is quite evident. The decision for letting them carry on with restrictions seems a good compromise but a bold step in the backdrop of US sanctions. 

Shahzad specialises in smart cities, mobile networks, MNOs, MVNOS, MVNEs, wholesale, m2m and IoT. If you would like to comment or discuss this topic further, please get in touch.

Coronavirus and the Flat Earth Society

By: Dr. Nigel Whittle

Head of Medical & Healthcare

14th April 2020

3 minute read

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I have recently become fascinated by the world of Flat Earth believers.  Once a belief in a flat earth (or a hollow earth) was largely the preserve of cranks, perhaps the same people who would write long missives to prominent scientists (as happened regularly to my PhD supervisor) in spidery green-inked handwriting, explaining how cancer was the result of ‘bad vibrations caused by oscillations in the primary aether’.  Why am I interested? Well, the world has become a much nuanced environment; gone are the days of black & white, truth & lies, facts & non-facts.  To some extent this is a good thing, as simplistic explanations are rarely correct, particularly in the complex world that we inhabit. But when reality becomes divided into facts and ‘alternative facts’, surely something has gone wrong with our thought processing?

So, Flat Earth?  I’ll go out on a limb here and say that this is pure nonsense. The world isn’t flat, there is no uncertainty, no nuance, and there is a mountain of evidence generated over the past 2,000 years that incontrovertibly proves the earth is a spinning globe. So why do people persist in the belief, and why does there seem to be an increasing interest in the subject?

interest in flat earth society,

The commonest retort from Flat Earthers is to “do your own research” and the truth will be revealed. And by conducting bad experiments or by cherry-picking data it is possible to come up with some surprising results. But for the most part, ‘doing your own research’ means looking at YouTube videos made by other Flat Earthers.  And that is the crux of the issue, not so much a distrust of mainstream science, but an inability to understand how science works.  Newton said that he was “standing on the shoulders of giants”, and each increment of science is built on a previous discovery. Richard Feynman said that “science isn’t hard, there is just a lot of it”. Anybody who wants to criticise or comment on a scientific issue needs to have some basic understanding of science. It’s not enough to say “the world is flat because I can’t feel it spinning”; arguments from personal incredulity carry no weight.

So what does this have to do with Coronavirus, you are asking? You may be aware, and if you aren’t you soon will be, of an increasing belief that Covid-19 is caused by the roll-out of 5G networks. You may have heard of people in the UK attempting to burn down 5G towers, but you probably aren’t aware that the £20 note has a picture of a 5G mast underneath an image of a coronavirus.  Have a look, that can’t be coincidence, surely?  Well, yes.  And the infection began in Wuhan soon after the roll-out of a 5G network in that Chinese city, right? Well, no.

Obviously this is all nonsense, and carries the same weight as a belief in a Flat Earth.  A review in 2005 based on a study of more than 1,300 peer-reviewed studies on the biological effects of radio frequencies declared that those commonly used for 5G transmission posed “no adverse health effects” aside from the heat produced by wireless devices.

But my point is that we live in a world where, despite a supposed distrust of experts, everyone has become an armchair expert.  But ‘experts’ who have no understanding of the science and with no comprehension of how science works. The internet has provided unparalleled access to knowledge but sadly most people just choose to skim the surface, ignoring the vastness of scientific understanding that underpins our whole society.

Is there a solution? Better management of the internet may be one answer, so that people aren’t slowly constricted by a cocoon of like-minded ideas – YouTube and Facebook have huge responsibilities here that they regularly shirk. Better teaching of science to show the progression and development of ideas through the years has to be important. But ultimately it is up to ourselves to challenge unscientific attitudes, to confront unsubstantiated rumours whenever we hear them, and most of all to promote science as the best tool we have to help mankind.

What are your thoughts? We would love to hear from you.

I have recently become fascinated by the world of Flat Earth believers.  Once a belief in a flat earth (or a hollow earth) was largely the preserve of cranks, perhaps the same people who would write long missives to prominent scientists (as happened regularly to my PhD supervisor) in spidery green-inked handwriting, explaining how cancer was the result of ‘bad vibrations caused by oscillations in the primary aether’.  Why am I interested? Well, the world has become a much nuanced environment; gone are the days of black & white, truth & lies, facts & non-facts.  To some extent this is a good thing, as simplistic explanations are rarely correct, particularly in the complex world that we inhabit. But when reality becomes divided into facts and ‘alternative facts’, surely something has gone wrong with our thought processing?

So, Flat Earth?  I’ll go out on a limb here and say that this is pure nonsense. The world isn’t flat, there is no uncertainty, no nuance, and there is a mountain of evidence generated over the past 2,000 years that incontrovertibly proves the earth is a spinning globe. So why do people persist in the belief, and why does there seem to be an increasing interest in the subject?

interest in flat earth society,

The commonest retort from Flat Earthers is to “do your own research” and the truth will be revealed. And by conducting bad experiments or by cherry-picking data it is possible to come up with some surprising results. But for the most part, ‘doing your own research’ means looking at YouTube videos made by other Flat Earthers.  And that is the crux of the issue, not so much a distrust of mainstream science, but an inability to understand how science works.  Newton said that he was “standing on the shoulders of giants”, and each increment of science is built on a previous discovery. Richard Feynman said that “science isn’t hard, there is just a lot of it”. Anybody who wants to criticise or comment on a scientific issue needs to have some basic understanding of science. It’s not enough to say “the world is flat because I can’t feel it spinning”; arguments from personal incredulity carry no weight.

So what does this have to do with Coronavirus, you are asking? You may be aware, and if you aren’t you soon will be, of an increasing belief that Covid-19 is caused by the roll-out of 5G networks. You may have heard of people in the UK attempting to burn down 5G towers, but you probably aren’t aware that the £20 note has a picture of a 5G mast underneath an image of a coronavirus.  Have a look, that can’t be coincidence, surely?  Well, yes.  And the infection began in Wuhan soon after the roll-out of a 5G network in that Chinese city, right? Well, no.

Obviously this is all nonsense, and carries the same weight as a belief in a Flat Earth.  A review in 2005 based on a study of more than 1,300 peer-reviewed studies on the biological effects of radio frequencies declared that those commonly used for 5G transmission posed “no adverse health effects” aside from the heat produced by wireless devices.

But my point is that we live in a world where, despite a supposed distrust of experts, everyone has become an armchair expert.  But ‘experts’ who have no understanding of the science and with no comprehension of how science works. The internet has provided unparalleled access to knowledge but sadly most people just choose to skim the surface, ignoring the vastness of scientific understanding that underpins our whole society.

Is there a solution? Better management of the internet may be one answer, so that people aren’t slowly constricted by a cocoon of like-minded ideas – YouTube and Facebook have huge responsibilities here that they regularly shirk. Better teaching of science to show the progression and development of ideas through the years has to be important. But ultimately it is up to ourselves to challenge unscientific attitudes, to confront unsubstantiated rumours whenever we hear them, and most of all to promote science as the best tool we have to help mankind.

What are your thoughts? We would love to hear from you.

There’s a Hole in My Bucket… Is There? Then Maybe You Didn’t Specify Your Bucket Properly.

By: David Eliston
Senior Consultant, Product Design

8th April 2020

3 minute read

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We all know that when we buy something, we want the best we can get for the price. The same is true for engineers specifying products. The problem is that there isn’t really a ‘best’. There’s only ever something that will meet, or preferably, exceed your requirements under a specific set of criteria.

For example, when there’s a requirement for a product or piece of equipment to have to operate outside in all weathers it’s sensible to want to make it waterproof. The decision then is “How waterproof does it have to be”? The natural environment isn’t quite as well controlled as a test lab, so it’s understandable to want to add an element of safety to the waterproofness rating and over-specify it; say, by increasing an IPX5 requirement to IPX6 or an IPX6 requirement to IPX7. Unfortunately, this isn’t always a valid approach. The test conditions for IPX6 and IPX7 are quite different and IP X7 isn’t necessarily better (or more “waterproof”) than IPX6.

The water ingress part of the test for IPX6 demands that powerful water jets from all directions for 3 minutes cause no harm to the product. The test for IPX7 is that immersion under 1m of water for 30 minutes causes no harm. These are two completely different tests. The water jet test blasts 100 litres of water per minute on to the device under test and could force water through seal interfaces. A typical home shower flows more like 10 litres a minute by way of comparison. The IPX7 immersion test under 1m of water only applies the pressure from the head of water. But that doesn’t mean it’s a lower spec test either. It’s just different.

When designing a product to meet an IPX5 or IPX6 test, the engineer might put flanges or shrouds around vulnerable areas to prevent the direct impact of the jet forcing water through the sealing interface. But these mitigations wouldn’t help with the IPX7 test, as the water pressure will be more or less equal on all surfaces and seals regardless of this. So does this mean that IPX7 is harder to achieve than IPX6?

Imagine we were trying to seal the lid onto a plastic sandwich container with a rubber seal. The pressure from the 1 metre head of water over the surface area of the lid would be giving additional compression to the seal and actually help to keep the container watertight. So does this mean IPX7 is easier to achieve than IPX6 then? If the test doesn’t represent the intended environment, then the test method is distorting the results you are getting and could be causing the designer to make inappropriate choices.

The message is, understand what the environment is and specify product requirements and tests accordingly. This gives the designer the freedom to use their knowledge and experience to best effect rather than designing to an artificial set of product needs.

And if your bucket still leaks…Then don’t try to fix it with straw.

We all know that when we buy something, we want the best we can get for the price. The same is true for engineers specifying products. The problem is that there isn’t really a ‘best’. There’s only ever something that will meet, or preferably, exceed your requirements under a specific set of criteria.

For example, when there’s a requirement for a product or piece of equipment to have to operate outside in all weathers it’s sensible to want to make it waterproof. The decision then is “How waterproof does it have to be”? The natural environment isn’t quite as well controlled as a test lab, so it’s understandable to want to add an element of safety to the waterproofness rating and over-specify it; say, by increasing an IPX5 requirement to IPX6 or an IPX6 requirement to IPX7. Unfortunately, this isn’t always a valid approach. The test conditions for IPX6 and IPX7 are quite different and IP X7 isn’t necessarily better (or more “waterproof”) than IPX6.

The water ingress part of the test for IPX6 demands that powerful water jets from all directions for 3 minutes cause no harm to the product. The test for IPX7 is that immersion under 1m of water for 30 minutes causes no harm. These are two completely different tests. The water jet test blasts 100 litres of water per minute on to the device under test and could force water through seal interfaces. A typical home shower flows more like 10 litres a minute by way of comparison. The IPX7 immersion test under 1m of water only applies the pressure from the head of water. But that doesn’t mean it’s a lower spec test either. It’s just different.

When designing a product to meet an IPX5 or IPX6 test, the engineer might put flanges or shrouds around vulnerable areas to prevent the direct impact of the jet forcing water through the sealing interface. But these mitigations wouldn’t help with the IPX7 test, as the water pressure will be more or less equal on all surfaces and seals regardless of this. So does this mean that IPX7 is harder to achieve than IPX6?

Imagine we were trying to seal the lid onto a plastic sandwich container with a rubber seal. The pressure from the 1 metre head of water over the surface area of the lid would be giving additional compression to the seal and actually help to keep the container watertight. So does this mean IPX7 is easier to achieve than IPX6 then? If the test doesn’t represent the intended environment, then the test method is distorting the results you are getting and could be causing the designer to make inappropriate choices.

The message is, understand what the environment is and specify product requirements and tests accordingly. This gives the designer the freedom to use their knowledge and experience to best effect rather than designing to an artificial set of product needs.

And if your bucket still leaks…Then don’t try to fix it with straw.