Engineering Acumen

If woodworking was a religion, what I am about to say would almost be regarded as heresy, and be grounds for excommunication.  For those offended by the word which is also regarded as the baddest of the four letter words, I am sorry, but…..here it goes:

IKEA

There – I’ve said it.

Their engineers are bloody clever.  No – seriously.  I have been spending the day putting together some for the home (yes – I can hear the inquisition approaching) and it isn’t furniture designed by designers – it is by a team of engineers.  Everything from the materials, to the packaging, to the break down into a flat-pack that can be assembled with the same techniques used across the product range, the inter-connectivity of different items.  It is all very impressive.  Functional rather than aesthetic, but impressive never-the-less.

Even looking at the current version compared to some assembled a year or so ago (yes, I have been tempted into sinning before), and seeing how they have subtly tweaked the products, eking out the tiniest savings, manufacturing just that tiny bit smarter, substituting materials for cheaper so long as the overall quality of the product is maintained.

It may not seem worthwhile changing a connector that used to be metal for one that is plastic, or another that was all metal to one that has a plastic sheath saving a minuscule amount of material cost, but even Volkswagen used to do the same.  One engineer (way back when) suggested substituting their original steel(?) screws in one part of the car for brass, and the cost saving of a few cents per screw saved the company around $1 million.  (They mush have used a LOT of screws!) As was their practice then of awarding 10% of the profit to the person who proposed an idea that saved the company money, it was a simple thought that made his bank balance swell a mild $100k.  I wonder if IKEA uses the same incentive practice?  Certainly one way of generating continual cost saving innovations.

Pity the local store doesn’t employ a few though: supplying heavy duty trolleys with wheels that are designed to engage the tread of the moving walkways and ramps (none of which are in the store), and those wheels therefore run on two small disks of tread, which quickly collapse under a relatively mild load.  Products not in the right location in the warehouse that the staff give you attitude about if you don’t realise they moved it to their “special sale for the week” area.  Being sold products that you’ve been told are compatible, but find could never be.  From the lofty heights of engineering design superiority, to the lowly depths of typical modern customer service.  At least the Swedish meatballs in the food court are awesome….if you can get through the sight-seeing crowds of “tourists” that seem to visit IKEA just for the ambiance, and a cheap weekend feed.

But be warned – it is a slippery slope to embark upon.  I fear it is too late for me, may my punishment remind others of the evils of treading the path of a heretic.

“quoniam punitio non refertur primo & per se in correctionem & bonum eius qui punitur, sed in bonum publicum ut alij terreantur, & a malis committendis avocentur.”

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