Hydraulics At Work

The Difference Between A Quick Fix And A Band-Aid Solution

Last week I had a conversation with an old client who's been having a long-running battle with the manufacturer of a hydraulic machine he bought 3-years ago. The machine has never performed to either my client's satisfaction or the manufacturer's advertised specifications. This client is an owner/operator, which means his machine is his livelihood. And he's had enough. So now he's taking the machine's manufacturer to court, a decision he hasn't taken lightly.

Although he didn't consult me directly about this issue, I was aware of the problems he was having, and the way in which the equipment manufacturer was responding to them. The crux of the issue, and one which will now be argued in court, is the machine model my client bought was marketed as a 'professional' version, meaning it was designed to be used a minimum 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. As opposed to hobbyist or weekender use of typically, a couple of hours in a stretch, a couple of days a week.

Trouble is, when the 'professional' model my client purchased was operated continuously for more than a couple of hours, its performance dropped off dramatically. And the primary reason for this, which was blatantly obvious to me, was insufficient installed cooling capacity. Or more accurately, NO installed cooling capacity at all.

Not only did I share this assessment with my client, but because I'd done work for him before and didn't want to see him lose work and income as a result of the machine's obvious design flaw, I presented him with a Band-Aid solution: switch to a high VI, synthetic oil.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm all for doing things right. The correct solution to this issue is/was to install a heat exchanger of sufficient capacity to maintain an appropriate and stable operating oil temperature, and therefore, viscosity. But in this case, there were two major barriers to this happening. The first is the compact nature of the machine means there is little or no space to retrofit a hydraulic oil cooler. And the second is my client quite rightly expected the machine manufacturer to do this under warranty. And this meant the OEM had to admit the machine had a design flaw.  

Switching to a high VI, synthetic oil does nothing to address the issue of insufficient cooling capacity-it just helps the machine to cope with it. So in this respect, it definitely qualifies as a Band-Aid solution.

Unfortunately my client didn't act on this advice. Maybe it was because, despite the apparent widespread popularity and seductive appeal of the quick-fix, we've been conditioned to think of Band-Aid solutions in negative terms. In his book The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell describes it this way:

"But that phrase [Band-Aid solution] should not be considered a term of disparagement. The Band-Aid is an inexpensive, convenient and remarkably versatile solution to an astonishing array of problems. In their history, Band-Aids have probably allowed millions of people to keep working or playing tennis or cooking or walking when they would otherwise have had to stop. The Band-Aid solution is actually the best kind of solution because it involves solving a problem with the minimum amount of effort and cost. We have, of course, an instinctive disdain for this kind of solution because there is something in all of us that feels that true answers to problems have to be comprehensive, that there is virtue in the dogged and indiscriminate application of effort, that slow and steady should win the race. The problem, of course, is that the indiscriminate application of effort is something that is not always possible. There are times when we need a convenient shortcut, a way to make a lot out of a little..."

This negative bias towards the Band-Aid solution in engineering is particularly strong. And in many situations, rightly so. But for a mini-digger with a chronic overheating problem, and which for physical and political reasons is not easily corrected, being open to a Band-Aid solution can be very constructive.

Like I said earlier, I'm all for doing things the right way. And I consider quick-fix, silver bullet, magic-pill-cure-all solution seeking as lazy and unrealistic. But as Gladwell says: "There are times when we need a convenient shortcut..." The trick is being able to recognize when a Band-Aid solution is appropriate, and when it is not.

I wish this client the best of luck with his law suit. He deserves to win. But more than that, having declined the Band-Aid solution, now he has to win. The other important point this story illustrates is, allowing a hydraulic machine to run hot is a costly mistake. To discover six other costly mistakes you want to be sure to avoid with your hydraulic equipment, get "Six Costly Mistakes Most Hydraulics Users Make... And How You Can Avoid Them!" available for FREE download here.

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