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Historical Recalls/Design problems

  1. Feb 7, 2010 #1
    As stated below, Toyota will lose over 2 billion dollars due to their car pedal/brake design problem.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/8502894.stm

    Were there any disasters in the past occurred solely in the engineering design process? Tacoma bridge could be one but I do not know the losses involved in it.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 7, 2010 #2

    mgb_phys

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    Big expensive recalls tend to come in the food/drug industry where you have to recall and destroy all the stock of an item at once.

    Engineering recalls generally aren't that costly, the $2Bn figure for Toyota is mostly from the drop in share price - not the actual cost of fixing the parts.

    What can really cost you is denying there is a problem and fighting a recall like Intel with the Pentium bug or Ford's tire issue.
    Something like that can destroy a product or even the company, the DC10's cargo door is one example
     
  4. Feb 7, 2010 #3
    There have been a number of devastating dam and bridge failures over the years.

    Here is a link to an interesting drilling incident that took place in Louisiana. I doubt that it could be called an engineering design problem because the origin of the failure could never be found.

     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  5. Feb 7, 2010 #4

    russ_watters

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    The question is awfully broad - certainly there have been a host of engineering failure-caused disasters. I can give a bunch off the top of my head (and near misses, too). The most famous would have to be the Challenger, but second would probaby be the Pinto. There was also the walkway of the Kansas City Hayatt, which had a very simple engineering error that caused the support stress to be double what was calculated.

    Until engineering became a real profession instead of a trade, boiler explosions were common and many were engineering failures. Here's a list of a couple dozen: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Boiler_Explosions
     
  6. Feb 7, 2010 #5
    I was thinking of ones that caused large loss of life and/or resources, and were not due to negligence or incompetence. Units problem could be one also (NASA).



    I never heard of boiler explosions before.
     
  7. Feb 7, 2010 #6
    The M4 Sherman. The thing was a death trap.
     
  8. Feb 7, 2010 #7
    The Radium Dial Company

    Hooker Chemical dump site

    Agent Orange

    mercury thermometers
     
  9. Feb 7, 2010 #8

    brewnog

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    The three which came to my mind:

    - Ford Pinto
    - De Havilland Comet
    - The walkway Russ mentioned (the name had escaped me but the story hadn't, it's a good lesson in getting even the most simple engineering designs correct!)

    Henry Petroski's books are pretty good for anyone genuinely interested in this.
     
  10. Feb 7, 2010 #9
  11. Feb 7, 2010 #10

    Ivan Seeking

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    The St. Francis Dam failure is claimed to be the worst US civil engineering failure of the 20th century. The Dam was designed by William Mulholland, a name that most people would recognize from the famous Mulholland Drive. As I understand it, Mulholland never recovered from this event. He was personally devastated and remained so for the rest of his life.

    http://www.semp.us/_images/biots/Biot376PhotoA.jpg
    http://www.semp.us/publications/biot_reader.php?BiotID=376

    Another failure that comes to mind is the double-deck fwy collapse in the Bay Area Quake. I don't know if any fault was ever found with the engineering, but it was certainly ugly.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2010
  12. Feb 7, 2010 #11
  13. Feb 7, 2010 #12

    russ_watters

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    Do you mean operator neglegence? Because obviously, an engineering flaw is a matter of negligence.
     
  14. Feb 7, 2010 #13
  15. Feb 7, 2010 #14
    Go reread the very last sentence in that link.
     
  16. Feb 7, 2010 #15

    russ_watters

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    ....setting aside the possibility that the Pinto thing wasn't real, the general concept of attaching a dollar value to human life is often seen as evil, but that view is quite simply wrong. There are always decisions attaching dollar values to human life that must be made (and I'm sure everyone here has made some). What Ford did wrong is simply that they miscalculated the dollar value of not fixing the (supposed) design flaw.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2010
  17. Feb 7, 2010 #16

    russ_watters

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    Another example: the Titanic sinking was due to at least one design flaw.
     
  18. Feb 7, 2010 #17

    Doug Huffman

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    Challenger's o-rings, SSN-593 USS Thresher's Emergency Ballast Tank blow system, SL-1 accident, RBMK 1000 (Chernobyl #4 disaster)
     
  19. Feb 7, 2010 #18

    BobG

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    Not to mention the fact that a $70 million savings divided by 180 deaths is almost $390,000 per human life. If we're castigating Ford for attaching a value to human life, let's at least provide a more accurate value.

    That memorandum and the "human life being worth less than an $11 part" did obscure some of the facts, such that the Pinto wasn't actually more dangerous than other cars.

    The same thing was true of the Corvair, which was blasted in Nader's book, "Unsafe At Any Speed". In reality, the Corvair's handling was typical for rear engine cars of the time, including Mercedes and Volkswagen (they all had a swing axle suspension design). I wouldn't say a design that required the front tire pressure to be 11 psi lower than the rear was a great design by today's standards, but I wouldn't call it negligence, either.
     
  20. Feb 7, 2010 #19

    russ_watters

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    I worded that last sentence wrong. The cost of fixing the flaw is the easy part: what they messed up on is the cost of not fixing it. They calculated only the legal expenses and didn't figure the loss of sales.
     
  21. Feb 8, 2010 #20
    Halogen torchiere floor lamps

    tylenol recall
     
  22. Feb 8, 2010 #21
    A major recall no doubt, but not killing serious.

    The swine flu epidemic!
     
  23. Feb 8, 2010 #22

    BobG

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    Which one? Tylenol recalled all of its products in 1982 when users started turning up dead. The cause turned out to be a person (or persons) buying/stealing Tylenol from Chicago stores, poisoning the contents, and then sneaking the tampered bottles back onto store shelves. (The person doing the tampering was never caught) The incident is why just about all products use safety seals to prevent tampered products being passed off as original.

    Since it obviously took time to pinpoint what the problem was, Tylenol quickly recalled all of its products, fearing the deaths might be their fault. Tylenol was praised as a model of social responsibility for the way it handled the situation. They took an initial hit moneywise on the recall, but it gave them a rock solid reputation in the long run that probably far outweighed the cost of the recall.

    The current recall is for a problem a lot less serious than the 1982 situation, but it took a lot longer for the company to react (20 months vs. 6 days). The current situation is one that will probably hurt Tylenol a lot more than the 1982 incident did.
     
  24. Feb 8, 2010 #23
    - - And we should not forget the fine hand of politics. In the case of the Shuttle solid boosters, there were four original bidders, three in California and one in Utah - - the one in Utah initially ranked lowest. Naturally, all the Representatives and Senators from Utah pushed NASA heavily for their candidate. The California politicians pushed for theirs too, but they were divided - - between the three from California, or just for their representative bids in general. The result, the one with the most concentrated backing in Congress got the bid.

    KM
     
  25. Feb 8, 2010 #24
    yeah---thanks, BobG---I should have looked up to see if there were others besides that one early one:

    "Tylenol made a hero of Johnson & Johnson : The recall that started them all"

    ---"Before 1982, nobody ever recalled anything," said Albert Tortorella, a managing director at Burson-Marsteller Inc., the New York public relations firm that advised Johnson & Johnson. "Companies often fiddle while Rome burns."


    "What set apart Johnson & Johnson's handling of the crisis from others? It placed consumers first by recalling 31 million bottles of Tylenol capsules from store shelves and offering replacement product in the safer tablet form free of charge. "



    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/23/your-money/23iht-mjj_ed3_.html?pagewanted=1
     
  26. Feb 8, 2010 #25
    The Sherman tank was not so much a faulty design in itself, it was just greatly over-matched by the Panther and Tiger tanks. The German tanks had far more firepower and armor and, as result, were a lot heavier and less maneuverable, and they were far less reliable. The great advantage of the Sherman tank, however, was the fact that they far outnumbered their foes tanks. The result - - the Shermans usually prevailed.

    The simple comparison is somewhat similar to the armor and firepower disadvantages of the T84s in Iraq to the M1-A1s. The difference there was the fact that the T84s didn't have the compensating advantages, so they were wiped out. In a head-to-head battle they lit up just as the Shermans did when Tigers got them head-to-head.

    KM
     
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