A Railroad Industry Challenge Solved Through A Successful Four Way Collaboration

Monday, October 18, 2010 - Permalink
Sometimes complicated relationships do produce positive outcomes. This is just such a story.

When rail car brake hoses are disconnected from one another in order to decouple two train cars, the pressure releasing from the hoses causes them to flail about. This presents a safety risk to the worker and has the potential to damage or crack the hose coupling if it smacks into the rails or other hard surfaces. Recognizing this, the industry had been trying various strap-like solutions over the years including rubber and wire. But none of the attempted solutions fully addressed this very severe application.

As a result, the governing industry association compiled a new ideal specification for the application complete with an enforcement date.  This was a big challenge for the supply base as no current product on the market came close to meeting the specifications.  They came up empty for a while but eventually a particular raw material supplier was challenged with the application by a current industry supplier.

This material supplier could provide the raw material but was not in the business of modifying the material to the form and performance characteristics needed for the railroad brake hose strap application. However, the material supplier was aware of a manufacturer who could do so, but that manufacturer was not even remotely close to being in the railroad products market.

Thus the ultimate final and very successful combination became the material supplier >> the non-railroad products manufacturer (who could modify the material to achieve the desired performance characteristics for the severe brake hose strap application) >> a railroad supplier (who led the project design, development, and distribution to the industry) >> the railroads.

To date, the solution provided by this customer chain of suppliers is the only one that meets the specification of the Railroad Association.

This successful collaboration underscores a number of interesting elements:
•   The importance of networking
•   The courage of an industry association to self regulate and push its supply base beyond its current capabilities
•   Bringing four parties together, a complex collaboration to work on what was ultimately a simple product

And possibly, the most interesting concept…
•   Trust, fear of one party having control kills innovation.  Knowing and valuing the strengths of each party and constructing a deal to reward all participants is key to a good project.  The trust that develops from this approach is the key to developing a good business.

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