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Engineering nightmares, fiascos, and disasters

  1. Sep 7, 2011 #1

    Ivan Seeking

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    Personal stories or otherwise

    The Denver airport luggage system


    http://ardent.mit.edu/airports/ASP_papers/Bag System at Denver.PDF
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 7, 2011 #2
    That's my airport! I never bring baggage when flying. I can say the rest of DIA is actually really well laid out.
  4. Sep 7, 2011 #3
    Haha, we did a case-study on the Denver Airport fiasco for my software engineering course last semester, poor buggers.
  5. Sep 7, 2011 #4


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    dear oh dear...
  6. Sep 7, 2011 #5
    I can't knock them for trying. What I don't understand is how they spent millions seemingly without a proof-of-concept.
  7. Sep 7, 2011 #6
    Exactly, it sounds more like a bureaucratic nightmare then an engineering problem. The D.C. beltway is a similar problem. All the engineers said it would have problems, but the bureaucrats insisted they needed it anyway and went with the first contractor who claimed the problems were avoidable.
  8. Sep 7, 2011 #7


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    This is typical. The shuttle design is similar. Management became so enamored by the idea of a reusable spacecraft that they forgot the reason for wanting a reusable spacecraft - reduced costs. The final design requirements seemed to be to preserve some measure of the reusable idea at any cost.

    Once headed down a certain path, it just becomes really hard to pull the plug. But, there usually is an overall long term benefit for progress, just from the lessons learned from the first attempt or two.

    Sometimes, the meaning of your life is to serve as a lesson to others. :rofl:
  9. Sep 7, 2011 #8


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    I remember a packaging machine my company designed for packing batteries, the whole idea for the machine came about because sample batteries we had sent to us where attractive
    to magnetism, Imagine the chaos when the machine was installed and the batteries used where not attractive to magnetism.,
    And there was no paper work that said they would be.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2011
  10. Sep 7, 2011 #9


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    Iridium satellite constellation and satellite phones.

    By time they launched their entire 69 satellite constellation, the entire world of communications had changed.

    In America, we built a network of ground based antennas for cell phones and had at least covered all the metropolitan areas that had the most customers.

    Even in areas of the world where satellite phones were still the best option, flexible, lightweight, deployable satellite antennas changed the satcom world. Historically, it took huge antennas on the ground because you were limited to tiny antennas on the satellites. Now, the huge antennas can be on the satellites and the tiny antennas can be on the ground.

    Iridium was an idea that was behind its times.
  11. Sep 7, 2011 #10
    Yeah, you could put the Super Conducting Super Collider on that list. After it was canceled due to enormous cost over runs the state of Texas suggested using the billion hole left behind as a prison.
  12. Sep 9, 2011 #11
    This sort of thing wouldn't happen in the diving world. Back when it did, divers took notice and refused to dive any untested rig on job sites.

    It's still risky, but the risks are minimal compared to the early days.
  13. Sep 9, 2011 #12

    Ivan Seeking

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    The Hubble optics problem.

    A minor fiasco to which I was privy. Back when I was working as a support engineer, a customer from a major silicon wafer processing facility called with an emergency. They had a critical control system failure that was costing something in the neighborhood of $10K an hour. It got really ugly as we tracked the problem down to a highly specialized sensor that was about two weeks out - from Japan. This was nothing short of a disaster!

    Keeping in mind that these guys were in the middle of a crisis, as I continued to interrogate them about their process to see what else we might be able to do, it quickly became clear that they weren't thinking clearly anymore. The point they were missing was that while automatic control of the system was quite challenging, in the end, there was no reason why a person couldn't simply monitor the system visually and press a button when needed. Cost of temporary solution: Approximately $30 per hour and a button. As I made this rather obvious point, my customer suddenly fell silent.
  14. Sep 9, 2011 #13
    The power grid, itself, apparently, has an inherent Achilles Heel:

    http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-09-09/san-diego-utility-restores-power-to-california-households.html [Broken]

    While the grid is supposed to be able to withstand the loss of it's most important part, some "unimportant" part seems to be able to shut it down. A butterfly flaps its wings in a substation, and major cities down the line lose power.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
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