October 12, 2022
For many years, “robust” was a popular business buzz word. The idea was to make certain your procedures and processes were “strong” enough to withstand the problems they were likely to encounter on a day to day basis. It is still great word and a wonderful way of looking at business but, in my opinion, robustness cannot be achieved reliably under the economic conditions most gear companies labor under. Few of us, for example, can have back-up tooling sitting in a storeroom as protection against a machine crash. We are lucky to have our operators fully trained on the machines they normally run much less other equipment in other areas. Order volumes seldom allow us to split sub-contracts between competing, yet fully qualified, vendors. I much prefer the concept of “resilience” in situations where resources are constrained. Resilience recognizes that you cannot protect against every imaginable danger and instead focuses the effort on minimizing the initial damage and recovering from it quickly. To put it in gear terms, if you want high bending strength ratings you can go to bigger teeth, higher pressure angles, or stronger materials. That “robust” approach to design eventually runs into limits such as undercutting, low contact ratio, or material brittleness. The resilient design would seek to add safety devices to the system to minimize shock loads and increase the contact ratio to reliably spread the load over more teeth. Yes, there are limits to this approach too but the potential for survival improves. We face the same issues in our personal and professional lives. A rigid “one more screw up and you are gone” approach may make for a great television show but it discourages risk taking and personal growth. Back in WWII, General Patton was surprised when his “robust” approach to his troops’ mental health so quickly fell out of favor. Today’s awareness of post traumatic stress disorder owes its start to his well publicized incident. As an example, I cite the account of the Harvey storm victim who had no flood insurance yet mobilized her employees to restore her seafood shop to full sanitary punctuality while larger stores nearby were still trying to schedule claims adjuster visits.-- There is no way to completely insulate your operations and people from problems. With proper planning and training, however, you can equip them to minimize the long term damage and quickly recover from the situation.