Strategy Two: Planning the Product

The next step was a micro-level analysis of the product itself, a strat­egy for the development of the product. RedZone’s long-range prod­uct strategy is a sewer robot that will accomplish a variety of tasks. The trade-off with any multipurpose tool is accuracy for a given task. If a number of tasks, say six, need to be accomplished in sewer repair—such as inspecting the state of the main pipe, removing debris from it, lining the pipe, identifying locations where other pipes join the main line, cutting the laterals, and grouting the resulting joints—the easiest product approach would be to produce multiple stand-alone machines specifically designed to perform each task. The problem is that the customer then would need to purchase, store, and maintain each machine. At the other extreme, a single product that does it all is difficult to have as an approach to accomplish all the tasks well. Such a machine would look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book!

Rather than a line of separate machines, and rather than the Rube Goldberg approach of all in one, the solution for RedZone is a simple, robust, and powerful base machine that is the platform for multiple modules. The modules are designed to attach at a given place in a given way that each serve an individual task. The platform, loaded with a module, goes into the sewer and accomplishes one task. The platform is then removed and the first module taken off, and then the next module is placed on the platform for the next task. The core platform needs to have certain capabilities, some of which may not be used for a given task, and others that will always be used.

The product strategy is to design the platform and modules, and this strategy has implications for the product development team. The team needs to design an interface that will connect all modules to the platform. The team must understand all the capabilities the platform must have to meet the demands of each module. The physical inter­face for the modules must be easy to understand and use. Changing the modules will require some training for the crew, training that the RedZone team must design into the product system. The platform and the modules individually and together must be easy to manipu­late in accomplishing the task. The robot platform, together with a module, must be easy to carry from the truck where it is stored, easy to manipulate through a manhole into the sewer main, and easy to remove from the sewer. It must be easy to clean and maintain. The accuracy of the tool must be at least as good as each of the individual machines available today.

Anything less than this will jeopardize the success of the product. in any established industry, it takes a true breakthrough in cost or performance to convince a market to make a change in how it per­forms its job. RedZone decided to improve both: decrease price, increase the speed of accomplishing the task of lateral cutting, increase the quality of the cuts, and decrease the skill level needed to accomplish the task, thus further reducing the customer’s overall costs. What a task to put on a development team!

The advantage to RedZone and the only way it could meet this seemingly absurd challenge is the “bargain” that Close purchased when buying the company. RedZone has some of the world’s best robotic technologies and the know-how to create new technologies to meet challenging performance conditions. RedZone has some of the best minds in the industry who, time and time again, were able to overcome technical challenges to design and manufacture machines that few oth­ers could have created. So, although the team had the most outrageous challenge to date, it had the confidence and experience to know that, through sweat and turmoil, it could get the job done.