The Art of Engineering

author: James Dyson, Dyson Corporation
published: Feb. 4, 2013,   recorded: April 2006,   views: 3572

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Thank goodness some inventors specialize in ways to make our lives a little easier, especially around the house. Borrowing a page from Buckminster Fuller, one of his heroes, James Dyson ‘sees what needs to be done and just does it.’

In a show-and-tell format, Dyson offers a compendium of his labor-saving, ingenious designs, with side bars on business and engineering details. While Dyson has come up with washing machines, wheelbarrows and boats, the lion’s share of his presentation concerns his Dual Cyclone vacuum cleaner, which tidily eliminates several nasty aspects of ordinary vacuum cleaners: loss of suction, bag-changing and the emission of dirty air. “As a child, I remembered the screaming noise, smelling stale dust and picking things up in my hands the vacuum wouldn’t suck up.”

In the late 1970s, Dyson noticed a cyclone tower for removing particles at a saw mill and was inspired to mock up a vacuum cleaner based on the same principles. It took 5, 127 prototypes and almost five years to build. “The 5, 126th failure taught me so much. Making mistakes is the most important thing you can do,” says Dyson. “You don’t get things by sitting at a drawing board or lying in a bath.”

His efforts to manufacture, produce and market his invention were nearly as inventive as the technology inside the vacuum. He provoked a mail order company into including the Dyson machine on its pages (“I said the catalog was boring”), and then proceeded to ignore the results of market research and retail opinion, including a transparent bin on the machine so users could watch the dirt collect. “Engineers like dirt,” says Dyson.

Dyson insists on getting things right, before and after product launch. 150 people in Malaysia run vacuums through obstacle courses, hitting them with hammers. “If it breaks, we can often make simple design changes,” which is why, he says, “we have the lowest return rate of any vacuum cleaner in the U.S.” A new version of the vacuum will be able to communicate directly to Dyson headquarters through a cell phone and let the company know if something goes wrong with it.

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