Diatribe: Do testing right or not at all
By AL VINIKOUR For Sun-Times Media November 27, 2012 3:58PM
One of the better ideas in the auto industry has been the advent of what I refer to as “intelligent steering wheels.” Defined it means steering wheels with controls for the audio system, cruise control, vehicle information, etc.
The concept puts controls for the aforementioned goodies in the hands of the driver who then doesn’t have to take his or her eyes off the road to find them. It’s supposed to be a safety device and for the most part it is.
However, I often wonder just who does the ergonomic testing during the design and manufacturing process. Often my thoughts turn to one of several suspects: Capt. Hook, the one-armed man from “The Fugitive” or some poor guy who lost a thumb through some tragic mishap.
And just what would make me think such nefarious thoughts? It’s when I’m driving along, listening to a talk radio station tell me what to think and all of a sudden, in the middle of a turn, I unknowingly hit the “mode” button and the next thing I know I’m listening to Snoop.
Trust me when I tell you that I did not voluntarily make that switch; the positioning of the audio control knob caused it.
Or sometimes I’m driving down the highway on cruise control, thinking that all’s right with my world when all of a sudden, in the process of switching radio stations, my vehicle takes a leap forward to the tune of another 35 miles per hour or decreases the speed by the same amount and causes me to rely on the kindness of my seat belt to hold me upright.
So this tells me that some design engineer is not doing his or her job when it comes to the proper height and positioning of the control mechanism. I often wonder how it’s possible that such a flaw isn’t noticed during the development process.
Of course, several theories come to mind. The first is that there was an interruption during the testing process similar to what caused the demise of Northwest Airlines Flight 255 when the crew was interrupted during the preflight checklist and missed a key item that eventually caused the aircraft to crash, killing everyone on board except a child.
Maybe during the testing of the radio control on the left side of the steering wheel the engineer’s buddy came by and offered to buy lunch. By the time he ate and returned to his workbench the engineer forgot where he was in the cycle and eliminated the positioning step and went on to the next page.
Or perhaps the design was good but in the manufacturing process it was caught up in a labor dispute caused by an impending union contract negotiation. The workers may have clandestinely put an extra shim in the activator, causing the button to sit up just high enough where it would be brushed continuously by the unsuspecting driver. Sort of like the situation at American Airlines where there was a labor dispute and all of a sudden some of the aircraft had entire rows of seats come loose from their runners and slide down the aisle while the aircraft were in flight. The car company, however, can’t blame the malfunction on something as absurd as years of spilled pop and coffee weakening the connectors.
So on behalf of the majority of us who are all thumbs, which would explain why there’s so much angst about constantly activating changes accidently, manufacturers should try to be more careful in what they design and build. To quote Richard Lazarus, who spent a lifetime training carpenters at the nation’s largest outhouse factory, “Be the labor great or small, do it right or not at all.”
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