October 12, 2022
Designers love to think they can build a better mousetrap. But few of them ever follow through. As much as we enjoy the unique solution to a problem, the commercial and technical reality is that, over time, the “solutions” to a long-standing “problem” tend to converge. Why do cars, airplanes, and ships — intended for a particular service — start to all look the same? Because the longer you work the problem, and the more or less-than-optimum designs you test, the more you rely on proven designs. When developing your product specification you must study your competitors’ products and question your customer about what they like and don’t like about the current gearbox. I emphasize “must” because nothing is more embarrassing than rolling out a “new” product only to discover it is not as good as the old-reliable product it was supposed to dominate. There are occasions when that big breakthrough is possible, but even then you have to understand what the incumbent is capable of. If your company makes “legacy” gearboxes, you might be shocked at just how much room for improvement there is if you adopt the same approach to them that you would use on that new design. At this point in a project, the specification is but a list of goals, i.e. — how you apply the technology available to you will determine the long-term success of the product. While it may be more exciting to start with a clean sheet, the prudent designer seeks to build off of previous victories. That said, all the improvements in the world will not fix a design with poor “macro-geometry.” Ultimately, the marketplace wants the lowest-cost, longest-lasting and most trouble-free gizmo available. It follows that you can’t go wrong if you understand how the market leader got to be the market leader. I am not advocating industrial espionage. Thanks to the Internet, you can study competing products very easily from your personal computer by viewing publicly available catalogs and websites. An informed observer can figure many things out from a few photographs, dimension sheets, and rating charts. You might even want to “select” a number of competitor gearboxes for your application — just to get some perspective on physical size, weight, and configuration.