Lessons on Engineering From a Great White Disaster
I recently read an article that discussed the overall failure of the mechanical shark that was built for the first Jaws movie, and I thought it would be a fun way to illustrate “good practices” and things we have learned to do better over the last 44 years.
The article concludes that the movie may have actually benefited from Spielberg’s “plan B” which included a greater emphasis on character development and clever camera angles that show very little (to none) of the shark at all. In the end, while this approach may have worked well at the box office in 1975, today we find that any company spending $250,000 on something mechanical will expect it to work – and quite frankly, they should!
Most companies I talk to these days have tight budgets for outsourcing. Any massive mechanical failure could be potentially devastating a small to mid-sized company. At PrimeTest® Automation we understand it is the job of our engineering team to be the problem solvers in the equation – not the problem creators!
Along with a common sense approach to problem solving, our engineering team adheres to a strict process, of design and system implementation, ensuring you always will get the product you paid for. So, when I asked what lessons we can learn from this catastrophe, this is what they had to say:
1. Maybe you should listen when the Pro’s say “Impossible” and work with them to find a suitable alternative (Several special effects companies turned down the job before Bob Mattey was pulled out of retirement to take on the project)
2. Set realistic expectations and understand the cost of time and tradeoffs (The Jaws original $4 million budget doubled by the end, and it’s 55 day shooting schedule tripled before the film made it to editing)
3. Never skip the FAT! – Acceptance tests are crucial for discovering and correcting issues before machines even leave the factory floor (did they not think it would have been wise to test the shark in water before shipping it off to Nantucket?)
4. Make sure your components are suited for the application and will perform well under any environmental conditions ( it was reported that the salt water actually eroded the sharks motor in the first week of production causing them to have to install pneumatic hoses mid shoot)
5. Speaking of elements – Not only should structural elements and internal mechanisms be environment proof but all components being used on a machine or system should pass the test as well (our high maintenance shark had to be scrubbed and repainted every night!)
6. Finally, since most of us don’t have access to the creative genius of Steven Spielberg, who can turn an enormous mechanical disaster into a major career success, you must understand your options, carefully plan each project and work with a systems integrator you can trust to have the necessary expertise to build a superior machine that will take a bite out of the competition!