E-mails are a wonderfully efficient way to share information with colleagues, but they do not replace face-to-face visits. During a lunch-time visit yesterday with some old friends from a microwave frequency synthesizer design-and-manufacturing house, a point was made about many customers' drive for lower costs because they were faced with providing lower costs to their customers. While a careful review of assembly procedures, parts and materials, and even printed-circuit-board (PCB) layouts can sometimes reveal ways to shave costs, cost-saving strategies can often result in a compromise somewhere else, such as in performance or reliability.
Manufacturing processes can be automated to cut time and expense, supported by equipment from such companies as Palomar Technologies (see the news item below), but the trade offs in cost reduction should always be understood, if not always shared with a customer before the cost-cutting measures are undertaken. In the case of my lunch-time companions, it became clear that many of the customers were involved in direct or indirect military applications, and performance and reliability were not issues that could be part of a debate involving reduced costs. Reducing the cost for a "disposable" electronic product, such as a cellular telephone, may be acceptable and even necessary in a competitive market, but there is never a reason for cutting corners on electronic products on which lives may depend.