man flying fighter jetPut yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s a great way to describe empathy, a subject I have talked about in other columns. But the phrase is also a great way to describe one important aspect of what designers and engineers do with every project, especially quality engineers—environment stress testing and screening.
In psychology, empathy pertains to our ability to understand the perspective of others, to relate to the emotions others may be feeling. In engineering, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is about envisioning every scenario a product might go through and ensuring that product will be able to stand up to the conditions of those scenarios, all before the product ever hits the marketplace.
Human beings have the natural capability, if you will, to do this—to play out scenarios, to imagine all the possibilities, envision potential obstacles and run through a plan from beginning to end before we put it into motion. We have even developed tools to help us do this—such as 3-D software and simulators.
These simulators are used by a host of industries and professionals, including golfers, heavy-equipment and crane operators, aspiring pilots and even astronauts. Flight simulators are a good example, particularly those used by NASA for the space program. These simulators combine highly realistic and detailed hardware and advanced software that artificially recreate the experience of flight. It is a give-and-take system where the hardware and software react not only to the movements and commands of the flight crew but also external forces, such as simulated air density, turbulence, G-force and heavy precipitation, all in an effort to prepare the crew to deal with such occurrences. 
The benefit is plain and simple—the ability to train and prepare astronauts for every conceivable situation before ever making the potentially costly investment in time, money, and yes, even human life, of venturing into outer space. It reminds me of another pertinent phrase—measure twice, cut once. Even more along the lines of give-and-take is the idea that simulators can also provide much needed feedback that can affect the design and development of the next generation of aircraft.
So, along the lines of space shuttle simulators and grand ambitions of blasting off into outer space, if you have an out-of-this-world product, but you want the complete confidence that everything has been done to minimize field failures, check out this month’s feature, “Boost Product Reliability with Environmental Stress Screening.” And if your goal is efficiency, sustainability and minimizing environmental impact, read Managing Editor Michelle Bangert’s feature, “Get Smart About Green.”
Enjoy and thanks for reading!