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Star Wars: Engineering Lessons from the Dark Side

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Engineering_LessonsIn product development work here at Arena Solutions, we’ve worked with manufacturers small and large across many different industries; some domestically, some internationally and some in galaxies far, far away.

The Galactic Empire is a tragic example of an enterprise-size organization that—because of a failure to foster a culture of quality collaboration and implement a holistic enterprise-wide quality management solution—suffered from a catastrophic quality failure that doomed the entire company.

Specifically, the Empire’s Death Star was shipped to market with a design flaw that resulted in costly and time consuming scrap and rework…as well as serious damage to the Dark Side brand. “How can you expect to instill fear throughout the galaxy and squelch a rebel uprising when your ultimate weapon has a flaw so glaring that it can be exploited by a one-man X Wing Fighter?” said Death Star scientist and quality manager Rorax Falken.

Sadly, the Death Star failure could have easily been avoided. Unfortunately, the Galactic Empire—like many large companies—failed to integrate a quality management system (QMS) with its design and development processes to more effectively reduce supply chain oversights, employee missteps and design errors.

“When we were the Galactic Republic, it was a really relaxed vibe—just me and a handful of engineers,” said Falken. “When I needed a design spec or bill of materials (BOM) verified, I could boogie over to Senator Palpatine’s cube near the foosball table and get him to signoff on drone specs, etc; however, once we became the Galactic Empire, we failed to upgrade to a formal BOM solution capable of keeping pace with the complexity of the Death Star’s product documentation set.”

There is no question the Death Star was the Empire’s most ambitious project ever launched. The space station had a crew of 265,675, as well as 52,276 gunners, 607,360 troops, 30,984 storm troopers, 42,782 ship support staff, and 180,216 pilots and support crew. The hangars contain assault shuttles, blast boats, strike cruisers, land vehicles, support ships and 7,293 TIE fighters. The station was protected by 10,000 turbolaser batteries, 2,600 ion cannons and roughly 768 tractor beam projectors.

To keep esprit de corps high among staff members, the Death Star housed three miniature golf courses and 200 TGI Friday’s conveniently located for crew and guests of The Emperor.

The problem with the manufacturing of the Death Star and management of all related quality issues was that the Galactic Empire continued to rely on manila folders, emails, spreadsheets as well as disparate quality management systems to jury-rig corrective action and preventive actions (CAPA). These tactics failed to foster the cross-functional collaboration and visibility necessary to sustain successful quality management across the product lifecycle. For example, with a major emphasis placed on the development of the fortress’s magnificent defense systems, engineers overlooked the potential design flaws and security risks of a simple exhaust port.

“I warned engineering that if a two-meter-wide thermal exhaust port suffered a direct hit from a photon torpedo it could ignite a chain reaction in the main reactor that could destroy the Death Star,” said Falkan. According to the quality manager, the port was never fixed for two reasons: one, a system to foster collaboration and overcome engineering’s mistrust of the quality group was never implemented; and two, because Falkan’s quality people were not allowed to provide feedback early in the design cycle, engineering was even more reluctant to rework designs so late in the manufacturing process.

“Why can’t you be a team player, come to the Dark Side, and stop nagging us about this ridiculous exhaust port?” recalls Falkan about the engineers. “In the end, the engineering group didn’t change it, rationalizing that a direct hit was impossible since the portal was ‘no bigger than a womp rat.’ Boy, were they wrong.”

Falkan recognized that once a product quality failure is out the door, the cost to rectify it increases dramatically. The destruction of the Death Star demonstrates the importance for companies to foster collaboration across the enterprise and implement a holistic quality solution to prevent the same types of costly errors that the Galactic Empire experienced.

For OEMs and Star Wars historians, click here to watch an Arena webinar on quality to learn how the Galactic Empire could have avoided the high cost of quality failure.

Tell us a Star Wars-related manufacturing issue you would like us to write about and if we pick yours, we’ll send you a free Star Wars Storm Trooper Helmet; of course, you must agree to send us a picture exhibiting your most deadly light saber death move. So—to impart Yoda’s wisdom—comment on our post, you should.