Flying anvils

I have been both a Navy consumer, a Navy technician, and civilian test engineer supporting Information Security – securing networks and securing data storage.  Currently I am working on the manufacturer’s development side.

In a profit-driven company I’ve noticed some truths: resources are finite;   managers focus on meeting the contract requirements with least impact to manufacturer’s bottom line; a complex design takes longer and with more manpower than allowed to perfect; customer requirements change during the test and production phases; performance or production challenges occur when starting production;   faced with budget constraints themselves,  some (new) customers deploy the product in ways not specifically considered in the design.

As one of the warfighters, I wondered why some equipment I routinely used was poorly designed (in my estimation).  Overheating, power supplies that needed frequent replacing, maintenance or rework that was labor-intensive, required shipment to a depot, or some “special handling” when called for.   Banging, tweaking, and massaging were often employed to get recalcitrant gear to operate.  One particular situation occurred when my communications system was overheating- the room (called a “space” or compartment aboard ship) was co-located within an office used by several officers.  Since they were too cold – the air conditioning system had to be kept low to maintain the equipment side at optimum performance- they demanded the temperature to be comfortable.  This resulted in equipment overheating and breaking down.

After my military career,  I vowed to be a better designer and tester of gear for the warfighter, but as an employee of a public company, economic reality tempers my best intentions.  Brilliant engineers working to specific constraints are split between several products, test and development has greater latitude in acquiring test equipment and components than in production.  The manufacturer’s vendors are relied upon to provide parts and subassemblies that perform to the specifications!   But the most challenging aspect I have experienced is the customer using a product in ways that I have not tested directly but am asked to debug when they fail.   More often than not,  we find that the parts of our system we did not design and build but purchased  as COTS (consumer off the shelf) are not subject to the same quality as the supplier advertised.

In the former world of huge Government development budgets, a new system can be fielded, bugs worked out, mistakes corrected, and used for decades.  The Space Shuttle program, a computer-reliant, spacecraft and terrestrial glider,  a “flying anvil” of sorts, most likely had the same development challenges, and the public is aware of the two critical failures that occurred during their working lifecycle.  Overall, these systems were very reliable.   In a public company,  products have to enter the market before the competition and be embraced by consumers whether government ( military) or public, generating profit and demonstrating reliability in a very short time.

And my focus is remaining the Subject Matter Expert for my product line, and the test engineer who successfully brings the prototype through acceptance testing: Job security.


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