The above meme came across my facebook page a few months ago and I laughed out loud while eating my Wheaties because I literally live this every day of my professional life right now. My wife and kids asked me why I had milk running out of my nose, so I tried to explain. After 20 minutes I gave up, they didn’t get it. My son wants to be an engineer, I told him to give it time, he will get there one day.
Then I started to think about this concept a bit more and realized that, like all good satire, there are more levels to this simple meme. Is everything really this easy? And I decided, probably not. Lets look at each item one at a time…
“If it is Good and Cheap, it will not be Fast”.
This is definitely a true statement, but there is more than ‘Fast’. A machine may need to be fast, it may need to be accurate, it may need to be robust, it may need to last 20 years. However, it may not need to be fast, maybe it is only needed for a short run or a prototype/proof of concept production line, maybe the product doesn’t have tight tolerances. There is definitely a place in the industrial market where a good, cheap machine fits the bill!
The one area where ‘Fast’ is always an issue is in the engineering. In my experience, anything designed quickly without thought to the overall design, controls, operator functionality, or maintenance is doomed to failure. Buy cheap, make it good, take your time to ensure that all t’s are dotted and i’s are crossed.
“If it is Fast and Cheap, it will not be good”
So, as stated above, if you go fast on your engineering it is hard to get a good machine. Time and care needs to be taken to ensure the machine meets the basic requirements. However, in the ever persistent push for industrial components that move faster, more accurate, and cost less, it is now possible to build a cost effective machine that can perform to your spec’s. Lower cost components are now available in anything from high end controls, robotics, actuators, stepper/servo motors, and even vision.
Will you be able to build a large robot cell with vision guidance, integrated safety, high level alarming and production management system communications for product scheduling and plant level monitoring? You may think the answer is a resounding ‘No!’, but in fact using many high quality products this is now possible in certain instances.
The cost vs quality is now defined by IO count, motion axis count, and overall machine accuracy and production rate. There are still many applications where this mantra is completely true requiring micron level precision, multiple assembly stations, high resolution inspections, and high level data trace and production monitoring. However, investigation into the overall requirements and determining the ‘Wants’ vs the ‘Needs’ means that you may in fact be able to get a Fast, Cheap machine, while not skimping on overall production quality.
“If it is Good and Fast, it will not be Cheap”
This final mantra is maybe the hardest one to sell on. Spend the time up front on engineering, determine all of the design criteria and the ‘Needs’ and maybe include all of the wants as well. This is a truly high end machine that will provide many years of low cost production and low cost maintenance. What does that mean? Well, hopefully it means more of a profit margin for the production company and many happy consumers with good reviews on Amazon.com touting the quality of the product for the price leading to more business for the manufacturer. That is always our goal anyways.
Where I like to focus is on the ‘Cheap’. What is cheap? If you are talking cheap to engineer then you are focused on the wrong aspect. It is easy to build something that is cheap to engineer and build, but will be neither fast or good. Lets extrapolate it out again… lots of downtime and failed parts on a cheap machine, lost production, poor quality productions, and thus bad reviews on Amazon.com and loss of sales.
Cheap cost up front can kill a product and a company in the long run. However, a bit of additional upfront engineering and product selection can provide a high quality machine that is cheap and easy to run, with low production cost and long life with little downtime. The cheap should be your payback through the life of the machine, not an upfront consideration. Cheap could be the gift that keeps on giving.
So my son now has an allowance and love to purchase stuff on Amazon.com. I remind him of this meme every once in a while and direct him to read reviews, do his research, and while I rarely recommend he purchase the most expensive option, I always guard against purchasing the cheapest. Instead I coach him to find the balance between the three concepts above and get the best value for his money. If he can learn how to do this as a consumer, then he will only be a better engineer for it if he follows in his dad’s footsteps. This meme is our way of life as industrial engineers, and if followed correctly everybody wins, distributors, engineers, manufacturers, and ultimately our end customers.