Situational Ethics

Recalling Solidarity protests while watching the Hong Kong Airport occupation reminds me that change is messy. As much as we Americans would like to point to orderly meetings of well mannered gentlemen and elegantly lettered foundational documents, our country would not exist without a bunch of rabble rousers throwing other people’s property into Boston Harbor.

St. Thomas Aquinas famously pointed out that “things are right or wrong depending upon their circumstances.” He was talking about morals and political ethics, of course, but the same conclusion can be reached about many other things as well.

A few posts ago, I was remembering the early days of international product licensing and distribution. Once the product started flowing through our shop, we found many things to be “wrong.” Even after sorting out the differences in our common language, there were features we could not agree on. Similarly, had people performed metallurgical tests on Polish-built fork lift truck parts during Roman Cisek’s tenure, they would have found the alloys to be “wrong.”

Our UK friends did the best they could with machine tool limitations. Roman has already recounted his need to find alternative materials when certain alloying elements were unavailable. In the engineering world, we do not rate things as right or wrong — we judge them by whether they work or not.

One of my favorite technicians arrived in Milwaukee from Poland in the early 1990s. He could fix anything and enjoyed helping us develop new products. Most of all he liked having the “right” tools for the job. It seems his father ran a general repair shop in rural Poland and they often had to improvise. When a prototype gear was rejected for having a lead modification a few tenths “out,” he described making replacement tractor gears “back home” on a drill press and band saw followed by heat treatment in a bucket of oil. “Worked good but a bit noisy, boss, so I had to use a bench grinder on tips.”

Situational gearing, if you wish, is a big part of consulting. As Ray Drago insists, the answer is always “it depends.”

About Charles D. Schultz 672 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.