When asked if we can solve a problem, most of us in the glass biz try to find a reasonable solution. I was recently told that Bill Lear (of Lear Jet fame) would fire any employee who told him, “that can’t be done.” What I think he was looking for was, “What are the options? Then, we can talk about what is realistic or reasonable from a cost or schedule standpoint.”
Think back to IBM’s stock answer No. 3 from an earlier blog: “We can do that, but it will come down to how much time and money you want to spend to do it.” I’m not being facetious, but if an owner was willing to pay for gold-plate mullions, we’d do that. Wouldn’t your company do all it could to meet a customer’s expectation, if they were reasonable and were willing to pay the cost?
Or, to shorten a schedule, we’d air-ship the material to a jobsite. If the cost for that wasn’t in the estimate, then the cost/benefit would have to be weighed: if we don’t get it there on time, are there penalties incurred that are more severe than the cost of air-freighting the material? That’s an analysis that has to be determined for any given situation.
Bringing new products to market is like that, too. The people in research and development vet all the processes for the typical applications, come up with all the parts, make sure the production team can actually manufacture the parts, then work with the installation folks to confirm all of those processes work. Then, when introduced to the market, someone is bound to say, “that’s the product we want to use, but can it do this?”
A hypothetical situation that will bear this out: a customer brings a project to you that has a curved curtainwall. And, “they don’t want it segmented,” which, of course, is everybody’s initial response, right? The curve can be in plan or in section—it doesn’t matter. They want to use a standard system to do this, say a pressure plate system, out of a really deep mullion section. So, in thinking about this, some of the problems that have to be dealt with include:
- Can all of the members be curved? That includes the mullion, pressure plate and cap, and don’t forget the glass. In the case of the cap and pressure plate, will the snap still function after curving? Or will the bending tolerances be such that snap functionality is lost?
- In rolling the mullion, is one of the walls stretched too thin during fabrication that its structural properties are unacceptably reduced?
- What is the tolerance of all the parts, including the glass, when it comes time to assemble them? And, how are any tolerance extremes to be handled between any two parts? When one part is to the extreme plus side of its tolerance, and the one next to it is at its extreme minus side, so that when together, they’re as far apart as can reasonably be expected, what happens?
So, if you can make sense out of all that in theory, do you take on that work? What are the costs? Can you manage all the coordination that will be required? Can you sell it? Does the decision-maker understand that the application can’t be sold for a standard wall price?
Usually “we can’t do that” is replaced with a response that’s based on experience. Some of these aren’t shared with the customer, but are discussed internally. In the extreme, rare instances, this could include: We choose not to provide that because we tried to do it in the past and lost our shirt trying. Or, based on that past experience, we now know it’s so difficult to do, we don’t want to do it again.
Explaining to customers those constraints helps them understand the costs associated with proceeding. What have your experiences been in this regard?
As someone who likes artistic drawings, M.C. Escher has always been a favorite. Just because you can draw it doesn’t mean it can be done. I guess Mr. Escher never worked for Mr. Lear. Sometimes, Mr. Lear, it can’t be done, even if it looks really cool on paper!
Credits for this blog topic go to Ron Madeley at TGP, for his stories at lunch and the Escher reference. And, happy birthday to No. 1 son, Jeremy, who in the past month became a father himself. Congrats, and hold on, you’re in for a heck of a ride: love every minute of it!