Mechanical design, like most other sorts of design, starts with a recognition of a need or an opportunity which requires something (a “new device”) to be made in order to get the benefits that the situation requires or offers.  The new device may be either stereotypical, ie a new version of a pre-existing entity, or a totally new concept – this is always the biggest divide in any form of design.

The stages of design are:

  • defining the need or opportunity;
  • developing a concept which will satisfy this;
  • developing a physical system which will satisfy this;
  • attending to all the zillions of details;
  • prototype building, development and trials; and
  • any re-design required to suit production.

Numerous factors need to be considered:

  • market appeal, including appearance, sociological and ecological aspects;
  • costs;
  • intellectual property rights of others, and protection for the in-house new device;
  • the availability of materials of construction and manufacturing processes;
  • the availability of adequate servicing;
  • safety, especially in fault states or in the hands of inept operators;
  • operator skills and training;
  • what the competition is doing;
  • delivery times; and, ultimately,

Unless all these things are adequately addressed at the design stage, it will all end in tears.  Either:

  • the new device will not achieve its performance targets, if in fact it works at all;
  • the new device will itself fail, ie break, buckle, burst, etc;
  • the new device will be too expensive to own and operate, and will lose market appeal, together with the corporate image of its makers;
  • it will lead to lawsuits from accidents and/or intellectual property infringements;
  • the maker company will go broke – remember the Leyland P76, a quite good car but not what the market wanted at the time.

All the above looks like pretty dry stuff and not really the stuff of cartoons, whereas from a designer’s point of view, design can actually be good fun and quite rewarding.  The truth also is, though, that designers need to be almost infinitely far-sighted in relation to what can go wrong in the most bizarre situations.  They are surrounded by lots of smart arses alecs, who have never had an original idea of their own, who are instantly ready to criticise anything which has been brought into existence by someone else or, with the benefit of hindsight, point out why a failure or accident should have been not only foreseen, but avoided at the design stage, as they hand one a Statement of Claim.

If one would like to see a lighter side of mechanical design, one could watch a few episodes of Top Gear, where the Mad Three try to develop or modify vehicles or put them to extreme or unintended uses.  How they survive some of their escapades is a mystery.

You have a case that claims the lighting was “bad”. Is it OK to look at the site and say “Yes, it is well lit” or “Gee, it’s very dark”? Or do you need to obtain lighting measurements? In this video, Dr Jennifer Long explains some of the complexities of measuring illuminance, and some of the factors to consider when briefing an expert to answer the question “Was there enough light?”

This is sometimes raised as an issue when people fall downstairs, trip upstairs, or trip on pavements.

The most common lines list Electrical Engineering as “The branch of engineering that deals with the technology of electricity, especially the design and application of circuitry and equipment for power generation and distribution, machine control, and communications.”

The reality is that Electrical Engineers are people who live in a world of jargon that nobody else understands. A situation where rules are many but mistakes can be few. A place where metaphor and simile are required to allow others to comprehend and, despite that fact that electricity lights the world and drives most forms of innovation, a discipline that you can’t see or smell. Then there is the downside…It has a desire to kill you if you touch it.

Succession cases

David Brown often acts as an expert in legal matters that required an intimate understanding of livestock production systems and farm business performance.

A common and unfortunate issue is when a sibling has worked on the family farm without proper remuneration in the view that, one day, their share of the inheritance will reflect their past efforts.

Often, due to relationship failure, those who have worked on farm have emerged with nothing more to show than the other heirs except some basic farm hand skills and a bad back! As a result, the sibling will seek forgone remuneration for all those years of underpaid work from the competing heirs of the estate. In these instances David’s skills and experience allow him to quantify how much foregone remuneration is owed to the plaintiff given the nature of what has happened.

A common misnomer in this scenario is that being a farmer is the same as having a full-time job. Being a farmer is sometimes a full-time job, but often it is not.

Knowing whether the plaintiff had a full-time job is very important, as it will affect the level of remuneration owed to them. Often the plaintiff will insist they were in a full-time role, and they worked long hard hours.

Determining whether this is in fact the case requires knowledge of both agricultural systems and labour efficiency benchmarks for farm labour. On top of this, we need to ask the right questions:

  • How many sheep or cattle did they run?
  • How many hectares of crop did they harvest?
  • How many labour units did they employ to do this?
  • When do you sell stock, and when do you buy?
  • What type of stock and crop did you run?
  • Were the seasons good or bad over that time?
  • Did you ever change enterprise on the farm?
  • Do you use contactors?

These questions, and more, will all affect the final outcome.


In past cases we’ve found that although the plaintiff may have work long and hard hours, they must have squandered them into meaningless tasks because they just didn’t oversee enough on-farm production to warrant it! Consequently, their claims to full time salaries are unwarranted.

However, the converse may be true. Had they overseen more production; more sheep, more cows or more crop, than what may be expected, then they may be entitled to more than a full-time salary.

Overlay this process with the technical aspects of creating a methodology to compare labour used to on-farm production both within and across years and one can begin to appreciate that what was just a simple claim may not be so simple at all. Farm performance data coupled with a good interpretation allows us to calculate the expected farm salary of a farm worker.


Dr David Brown

David Brown was born and raised on a progressive sheep station in the far North West NSW. From an early age he has been working in the family business, and since 2010 David has been incorporating his practical experience into his profession role as an farm business consultant.

A PhD graduate, David has skills in sheep and cattle production systems, whole farm performance analysis, investment appraisal and general farm economics. David loves working with farmers to improve their businesses, and digging into empirical data to find the answers to agricultures toughest questions.


Legal cases involving construction situations are becoming more and more complex. The construction world is changing and not being lauded for its regulation and quality control. Legal cases arise with confusing evidence and varied accounts, based on varying factual information.
So how do we know what actually happened? Did we observe it and then remember it? Did we take a photograph or make a recording? Even with these tools the interpretation of what happened is left to our own personal take and interpretation.
So how do we deal with a legal case involving a construction trade where there is an allegation that one or more parties have caused damage or impacted someone. The tradie or contractor may be good at what they do but bad at recording it. When the proverbial hits the fan, the lawyers are left with a bamboozled tradie or contractor defendant with no records and literally just a memory of what happened.
The plaintiff will have their own version of events too, based on their memory or a photo they may have taken before they thought it might be relevant in a legal case. If they record events while it is happening that is better, but how much do they understand about the technicalities of what they are viewing?
In legal cases involving construction trade activities that have impacted others, there is often a need to re-construct events out of the back story of the events. Memories fade, photos have different meanings, battle lines diminish objectivity.
If only we could wind back time and like a video , replay it.
This article addresses this problem. A series of research methods are used that combine and are designed to re-construct events in these situations and restore a body of evidence that is potentially enlightening to the case and the court.
The primary research tool is called the Case Study. The case study is an analysis of a specific field of activity, usually bounded by time and space (or location). Events are played out (like on a sporting field) in a logical order based on certain rules and activity sequences.
When we recount these events ( through memory) within this playing field they will either fit into the picture or not, like a jig saw puzzle. An activity might not fit into the logic of the other activities or might not fit into the location or time of day. If constructed properly, case studies have a high level of ‘self-validation’ if created based on these principles and combined with other methods.
So when your lawyer is looking dumfounded at your lack of evidence because you are a great tradie but a bad administrator and recorder of events, there is hope yet.

Dr Jonathan Drane
Expert Witness Complex Construction and Legal Cases

Something that is often overlooked in farming businesses is ‘the margin’. Like any commodity, farm produce, be it beef, lamb, wool or grain, is produced and sold in the interest of achieving a ‘margin’. There are two sides to the ‘margin’ equation: the cost of producing the product, and the price received for it. The difference between the two is the ‘margin’ and unfortunately, it is very slim in agriculture.

It is in fact so slim that some farmers don’t quantify whether their margin is a negative or positive figure. The accountant doesn’t understand the production side of the business and is restricted to cashflows and profit and loss statements (no consideration to on-farm production inventories) and the banks will keep lending money while ever there is enough equity in the system to recover principal and outstanding interest should they need to withdraw from the arrangement.

Those involved in the cattle industries class action against the Australian government will need to consider this issue, and many more, in its efforts to seek compensation for the temporary loss of the live-export market.

For instance, one may wish to claim for loss of income from unsold cattle. But those cattle did not disappear, they probably stayed on-farm, growing the inventory size and value of that farm in that year. Was the farm running at optimal stocking rates? If so, did the forced retention of cattle cause overstocking, environmental degradation and loss of productivity in future years? Or maybe an increase in supplementary feeding costs?

A successful media campaign and re-active political decisions brought the live export market to a halt overnight. But did other markets open up? Cattle sales into the live export market stopped, but no doubt they increased into other markets. What were these markets paying? How much did it cost to bring the cattle to these markets? What was the impact of the influx of these particular types of cattle on these markets? Ultimately we need to consider all these factors and their impact on the profitability of the affected farms, not just the loss of income from one particular market. The marginal decrease in profits resulting from banning live export will be what determines the cost of the governments decision.

Finding answers will require experts that have a unique understanding of the principals of production, marketing and economics in farm businesses. Failure to address these questions with benchmark farm financial and production data and rigorous methodology will result in a major misinterpretation of the true cost of the Australian Government’s decision to temporarily ban the live export of cattle to south-east Asia.

Dr David Brown

David Brown was born and raised on a progressive sheep station in the far North West NSW. From an early age he has been working in the family business, and since 2010 David has been incorporating his practical experience into his profession role as a farm business consultant. A PhD graduate, David has skills in sheep and cattle production systems, whole farm performance analysis, investment appraisal and general farm economics. David loves working with farmers to improve their businesses, and digging into empirical data to find the answers to agricultures toughest questions.

Please do not hesitate to contact Morgana Harris at Nationwide Experts if you have any questions or comments. I trust this information is of interest.