Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Valuable Lesson in Efficiency

On a recent trip to London, I rented a car and experienced a valuable lesson in efficiency and environmental friendliness. A few years ago, city leaders decided that a toll should be levied on drivers who enter the city center as a way to alleviate gridlocked traffic, air pollution, and of course to raise additional revenue. Dubbed a “Congestion Pricing" scheme, any vehicle entering a designated area must pay a daily toll. The toll is paid online, and can be purchased for a single day, or in multiple day blocks. A sophisticated network of cameras placed around the perimeter records all vehicles entering the zone, and then compares license plates numbers with a comprehensive database of vehicle registration data. If your toll was not paid, the city will know, and failure to pay the toll that same day or soon after results in a hefty fine.

Although I had to part with a considerable chunk of change, the London experience triggered a slight smile, because I was so awed by the efficiency of it. It brought to mind the ancient system of toll collecting we have in many places back home. Like my fellow New Yorkers, I have grown accustomed to gridlocked traffic approaching toll booths around highways, bridges, and tunnels. Even for those of us with a wireless payment device like EZPass, traffic is still heavy. Besides the time delay factor, many other negative consequences surround toll booths. Noxious fumes from idling 18 wheelers prompt me to close the window and blast re-circulated air conditioning. And, I inevitably notice the swanky office building of the local transportation agency, typically a modernist wonder of architecture that would make Frank Lloyd Wright proud, replete with sweeping expanses of tinted glass, grand entrances, and landscaping suitable for a botanical garden. Finally, I am on my way, braving through a potholed, rusted bridge or tunnel, ostensibly because the transportation agency is perpetually cash strapped.

How many billions of dollars are wasted through this scheme? Think of all the lost time opportunities for delivery trucks, salespeople, professionals, and countless others. Think of all the money funneled into redundant transportation agencies. And think of the environmental damage produced from idling traffic. In a time when our government’s deficit is growing at a startling rate and massive federal stimulus packages increase federal spending even further, wouldn’t it make more sense to consider cost reductions in areas that are wasteful, inefficient, and harmful to the environment all at the same time?

Our government would be wise to borrow some ideas from across the Pond.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Confusing or genius? You decide!

In introducing our ESM301 motorized force test stand, we decided to do something revolutionary for the force measurement industry. Instead of forcing customers to choose from one or two or more pre-configured models which include a “hard-wired” selection of features and specifications, we decided to give the power to the people!

The ESM301 test stand is designed on a modular platform that lets users select only those features that are required for their testing purposes. We started out with a solid mechanical structure – a 300 lb (1.5 kN) capacity frame, fully enclosed, with digital controller, speed selection, basic controls, and emergency stop. Then we added a slew of available options to increase the test stand’s capabilities – features like expanded speed ranges, programmable cycling, programmable travel limits, PC control, and more. Customers can customize their test stand to suit their requirements, and pay for only what they need.

Why is this important? Consider the following application example: XYZ Company’s Quality Lab requires a test stand with a speed range of 40 in/min and the ability to set a travel distance limit. The solution from another manufacturer: a prepackaged test stand with a price tag of around $7,000. That same test stand also includes a number of bells and whistles, which are indeed important for some customers. But to XYZ, they would be forced to purchase a test stand with more features than they actually have a use for, at a price that reflects that sobering reality. With Mark-10 in the picture, XYZ’s lab manager could custom-configure an ESM301 test stand to include the high speed range extension, travel indication feature, and programmable travel limit feature. The total price: around $4,000.

To address the possible need for additional features down the road, most features can be enabled in the field through a simple activation code.

The last time you bought a car, you probably went through the car’s options list and selected only those features you had an interest in. Maybe you ordered leather seating and a sunroof, but left out the navigation system option. Similarly, in the computer industry, Michael Dell revolutionized the PC industry by allowing customers to custom build their computer according to their needs and budgets.

If that’s the way you buy cars and computers, why should your force measurement equipment be any different?

To learn more about our configurable ESM301 test stand, click here.

Questions? Comments? Please feel free to post!