Today my son came to me to tell me the vacuum cleaner stopped working. Uff, another thing broken! I’ll take a look – or rather I’ll take it apart. Haha. That’s an engineering joke.

Anyway, it turns out that the switch has a wire that came loose. It’s interesting, because due to the nature of the design, by putting the power switch at the end of the suction hose, they have created a problem whereby tension on the hose puts tension on the wires. They’ve included snap slots to secure the wires, but the wires worked themselves loose and separated at the connector.

Normally a vacuum has the power switch near the motor. You have to bend down to turn it on. Isn’t it SOOOO much easier to bend down, pick up the suction hose, and then turn it on? Sarcasm.

Anyway, checking out how they designed the pathways and connectors for the wires, I was struck that none of heat shrink fittings were actually on top of the connections nor do they seem to be shrunk. Hmmm, what happens if I slide the tubing down and properly secure it?

It turns out that with the heat shrink fittings in place, there is not enough slack in the wires to press them into their snap slots. The tubing blocks them, not to mention with the fitting in place, the snap slots won’t accept the wire.

Where am I going with this?

I’m imagining the factory worker assembling the vacuum hose. They are frustrated by the fact that the wires aren’t of proper length and that the snap slots aren’t big enough to accommodate the wire with shrink tube. You could make a modification in the factory, but that’s above their authorization level. You could make a suggestion to the engineering staff to alter the design, but they are in another country. And besides, you’re doing it as requested. Just do it like it’s drawn.

Here are the specifications. We don’t pay you to think.

The bright engineer(s) who put this all together, drew it out, who selected the materials and everything, missed something, but they can’t see it in assembly because it’s in another country. If the company valued quality, they would visit the manufacturing plant and solicit advice from the workers and plant managers about problems they have had.

But they didn’t. The worker isn’t paid to care and probably doesn’t work for the company contracting them to assemble these plastic things in the first place. The engineer is smart and experienced, but doesn’t have enough professional humility to accept there might be other sources of knowledge other than their fabulous engineering experience/degree.

In the end, you get a vacuum that works okay, but after some normal use has a tendency to break.

Lessons learned?

Design and engineering should have a closer relationship with manufacturing. Is it possible when your manufacturing plant is oh so far away? I’m not saying every company that produces a widget needs to own their own manufacturing plant, but they need to make in-person visits more often. Walk the floor.

Caveat: This is all contingent upon the premise that each entity actually wants to make a quality product. The manufacturing plant wants to do good work, and the design firm wants to put out a quality product. I know it’s possible there’s some short term thinking involved whereby you build for planned breakage/obsolescence.