“If it ain't broke, don't fix it” is one of those simplistic maxims that really irritates me. I'm not saying that that we should automatically do the opposite, and randomly make changes without an underpinning rationale. But I am saying that even a well-established product, tool, process, or system, even one that is relatively basic in function, can always use a reexamination.
What reminded me of this point is a short product write-up I saw in Machine Design , March 22, 2007 (click here). (I try to keep up with non-electronic, real-world engineering developments by looking through most issues of both Machine Design and a similar publication, Design News.) A new common framing and fastening nail from Stanley-Bostitch looks almost like a regular nail, but is designed to offer considerably more strength and holding power. The target market is areas which have high winds and hurricanes, as well as ground shake and earthquakes.
Besides the obvious benefit from using a stronger base material (carbon steel, with bend yield of 100,000 psi), it has a larger head plus raised rings on the lower part of the shank for significantly better holding strength, and a smoother, specially shaped upper shank to better withstand shear forces. (The product write-up gave specific numbers for these improvements, BTW.)
The price differential for this? They say it is just $15 for a 2000 square-foot house, which seems very modest for the improvement.
The message is what all engineers know, but too often end up ignoring due to the day-to-day rush and pressure of regular design. It also reiterates that you can find innovation everywhere, if you look at things with fresh eyes and a good sense of where improvements can make a difference. After all, the common nail, which does already come in many application-specific variations, is a well-established, tested, tried-and-true product used annually by the millions. And yet, even it is not immune from significant improvement.