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It’s an effective process, but even it is not foolproof. “Inevitably,” said Calling, “there are occasions where either the application has changed, the direction of what is wanted has changed or assumptions on their part that weren’t clear.” Consider the astronomer who bought a system without ever mentioning he planned to use it with a special astronomical imaging package with unusual file formats – or the fact that he would need to save some 10,000 files. “We were only able to save 9,500 or something,” Calling said wryly. “This was just a feature that was not really ever discussed.”
Sometimes, the manufacturing philosophy itself is unspoken. Andor sells to both scientific customers and to OEMs; the two, Calling said, are very different birds. “If we sell 100 cameras of the same type to the research community, all 100 need to meet a minimum specification. If we sell 100 cameras to one [OEM] customer, they want them all to meet the same specification.” To the manufacturer hoping to net a big sale, it’s an important distinction; to the OEM customer hoping to minimize elapsed time between delivery and sales, it’s critical to make the expectations clear.
Where You’re Going
Product development is a tricky process. You want to include the necessary features but you don’t want to get bogged down in an unrealistically ambitious cycle. You want everybody to be clear on the goals and priorities. In all good project management, specifying the project is one of the first – and most important – steps (see Advanced Imaging, January 2006, p. 30). The specification sheet is the tool that helps you do that.
Garbage in, garbage out, goes the old programming saw. If you want to sell a product, then you’d better turn to your customers for input to develop it. That’s the approach of imaging supplier DALSA’s Corp. (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada). “The main thing you attempt to do when you talk to these customers is really try to determine which specification has the most value to the product in the end,” said Mark Butler, product manager for area cameras. “Those are the ones you will take back to engineering.”
Andor also relies on customer input; indeed, their work with the research community allows them to enhance their standard product platforms. “That’s the primary reason we still participate so heavily in the R&D community,” Calling said. “Those requirements that come in from multiple university or government labs end up being a very good crystal ball for OEM applications three years down the road.”