Written by William G. Handlos, P.E.
The world is moving faster and we are becoming a society where planned obsolescence is tolerated. This change is not fatal in some industries, but quality service and products are too critical to risk in the geosynthetics arena.
As an example, illegal music downloads almost killed the music industry over the last 15 years. Downloaders saw little harm in “sharing” music, but the elimination of sales revenue from legal downloads, CDs and even vinyl created the largest impact upon artist development. Yes, boy sensations came from YouTube® homemade videos, but…well…enough said. Without revenue stream to support it, artistic production and development cannot produce the type of quality music the industry has provided over the past 50 years.
Or, have you ever gone to the local hardware store and asked how to handle an obscure problem with plumbing or electrical or other Do-it-Yourself projects? The level of knowledge of those hardware folks is incredible and they often solve your problem with only a couple dollar part. Everybody wins, right? Wrong. Where did you go when you spent big money on your last DIY project? Not your local hardware store. So, we all vote with our wallets and we all lose. Thousands of neighborhood hardware stores disappear as they could not survive on just selling gaskets, custom nuts and bolts and they certainly don’t have the volume to leverage special buys for nationwide distribution. As a result, most of us buy a whole new valve when a fitting is all we need. We replace entire systems and may not even notice that we were a participant in raising our repair cost.
We have seen the impacts of such thinking in the construction products industry too. The crash of 2008 left many manufacturers reeling and project pressures helped specifiers to break proven protocol and accept non-conforming materials. The zero service, price-only companies emerged in response. Some manufacturers have responded with reduced costs by reducing raw material quality, reducing specifications and reducing staff and support services. This is bad for the engineers and architects who are overworked and came to rely upon honest, trustworthy assistance and quality materials. It is bad for the project, for the owner and ultimately for the public. It was a gamble for those manufacturers who sacrificed short term gain for good judgment and we have seen the impacts of this shift in the fallen manufacturers – and the project engineers and managers’ reputations that were damaged in the wake of product failures.
Fortunately, in the world of geosynthetics, there are still companies that never strayed from the mission to deliver innovation, quality and service. We have built online tools, free software and still perform design evaluations for no charge. Pay attention to those who still offer free advice, offer innovations to the industry and to those who support you from the beginning to the completion of your project. Unlike music and hardware, in geosynthetics, the stakes are just too high.