When a consultant’s phone rings they never know what the client or potential client may need. Sadly, calls frequently involve sorting out messes that could have been avoided with a bit more research on the Internet or the company’s own files. I can hear some of you repeating that old joke that a consultant is “someone who takes your watch and uses it to tell you the time.” All too often we are guilty as charged; but, no matter how often I harp on it in this blog, people are in too much of a hurry and can’t be bothered to do their “homework” or to conduct proper design reviews. While I often found the multi-stage design review process mandated by our ISO 9000 system to be cumbersome, it had many positive aspects too. More sets of eyes looking at the project kept us from going down paths that might have resulted in extra manufacturing costs, assembly difficulties, or performance problems in the field. Painful as it was to listen to criticism from co-workers, each brought a unique perspective to the meeting and they usually had valid reasons for their comments. Many companies have lost their “institutional memories” due to deaths, retirements, reductions in force, or management changes. I cannot be too critical of an engineer or designer who is assigned a new project and then makes a mistake. You can’t know what you don’t know. Think of it as going on an ocean voyage with a rookie skipper and no reliable charts; a prudent person seeks out someone who has made the trip before, either in person or via written records. The very first step in any design project is much the same, i.e. — you study the prior art to understand what has worked well in the past. If you are lucky there are “old salts” around to guide you or at least similar projects on file. There is no shame in asking for help or spending some time looking online for technical papers or magazine articles. If your project involves gears an Internet search will probably send you towards our Gear Technology archives where some of the savviest old salts have stashed the knowledge you need to avoid the rocks and shoals.