A Question of Ethics


An important consideration in engineering is ethics. Whether it is a product or a manufacturing process, there are ethical decisions to be made. How many safeguards does the process need to have? How safe does the product need to be? Can the product contain a toxic material because it is cheaper than the alternative?

Many times, guidelines from powerful organizations, such as OSHA, are available that enforce ethical decisions and to what degree they are to be enforced. Without these powerful organizations there would be little incentive for companies to develop enhanced safety features, other than normal market competition. Certainly the market could use safety features as a competitive advantage, and that does exist, but without harsh protocols and penalties, it is hard to believe that safety features would be implemented as readily as they are today. The reason is simply this: developing and implementing safety features costs money and creates many engineering problems that require solving, such as what feature is to be made, where to install it, and how effective it is. A company has little incentive to self-impose higher costs. Business decisions are made based on needs and profits; if there is no “need” for a feature and it costs more to implement, then there is no reason for it to exist. Safety protocols and laws provide the need in many cases.

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Lean Way to the Danger Zone

Dangerous Path

Looking for motivation on industry topics, I searched around various sites and stumbled across an article on lloyds.com called Building Supply Chain Resilience. The article brought up something that I hadn’t written about yet; lean manufacturing, like most engineering decisions, has risks. This article specifically refers to the natural disasters in 2011 that left large businesses crippled and the negative effects that lean principles have in such cases.

The crippled, or even destroyed, businesses were suppliers for other businesses and manufacturing facilities, which then sell their finished goods to retailers. The effects of disasters reach deeply into the affected industries. Lean manufacturing principles, specifically just-in-time (JIT) production, emphasizes low inventory levels of raw materials, work-in-process, and finished goods so as to minimize costs. For companies that are in the affected disaster area, JIT is ideal because it means losses were minimized. However, if you practice JIT production, what happens when your supplier unexpectedly shuts down or is destroyed by a natural disaster?

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