Wells Engineered Products

Why Put an Engine on a Horse Carriage?

By Greg Burneske – Director, Wells Engineered Products

I received a call from a prospective customer recently. He had done some homework and was looking for a particular Wells off-the-shelf part. He was sure that this specific part would solve his problem and he was ready to place an order.

We have 35,000 off-the-shelf parts in our catalog. I was not familiar with the part number the prospective customer asked for, so while I was looking it up, I asked him to tell me about his company.

He said it is a start-up that is going to revolutionize mobility. They are going to make an autonomous passenger car that will look nothing like I have ever seen. He said making an autonomous vehicle that looks like an existing passenger car would be like putting an internal combustion engine on a horse carriage at the down of the 20th century.

Putting an engine on a horse carriage?  That comment stuck with me.

By this time, I had found the part he called for. It seemed to me like an odd choice, but I didn’t know what he intended to do with it. I asked about his application. I started with a rather open-ended question: what exactly are you trying to accomplish? He seemed puzzled by the question. I suppose he was thinking, “why does this guy not just give me a price and sell me the part?” I know he knew exactly what he needed, but all I could think was, “how do I know we aren’t just putting an IC engine on your horse carriage?”

Whenever we engage with customers, we always try to start with the problem our customer is trying to solve. When we fully understand the customer’s problem, we often come up with a better, more cost-effective solution.

When you call us, please be patient. We are probably going to ask some questions. Many times, that process leads us to a better solution that not only solves your stated problem, but other challenges that didn’t seem at all related to your primary issue. Sometimes it leads us to a different off-the-shelf part that you didn’t know we make. Sometimes it makes sense to talk about a custom part. In those cases, our engineering resources and flexible manufacturing automation provides a solid return on investment for surprisingly low-volume applications.

Sometimes we end up right back to the part you asked about when you called. But, unless we have the conversation, how will we know we aren’t putting an engine on your horse carriage?