Thoughts on Design Technology
"How sir, would you make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I pray you, excuse me; I have not the time to listen to such nonsense."
-Napoleon Bonaparte, when told of Robert Fulton's steamboat (c.1807)
In reflecting back on the over 600 posts I have written for this blog, it occurs to me that I have been overly skeptical of new methods of designing and making gears and gearboxes. The quote referenced above crossed my screen recently and I felt the need to clarify my skepticism.
I trained under men who were working long before computers or even pocket calculators. They trusted “traditional methods” because they developed those methods. We young whippersnappers did not have the patience to listen to “story time” on that process and, frankly, few of the old timers were reflective enough to offer much background on the “why behind the how.”
The written record is rather thin on major advances in our trade. Occasionally, something from an engineering journal will turn up to provide a point of view on an innovation, usually written by a strong advocate or an equally ardent opponent. There was no forum where multiple contributors could debate a topic or explain how they implemented it in their organization.
We did not wake up one morning and decide “no more through hardened gears for us,” or “I think we should spend all of this decade’s capital budget on gear grinders.” People resisted change, sometimes to the point of risking their company’s future existence. Others wisely evaluated the “improvements” and waited until it got more cost effective. Some early adopters paid with their jobs when the salesmen’s promises were not kept.
Market forces ultimately decide what “works.” Some applications never fully accepted the “new way”; I’m looking at you pump jack makers. Those initial carburized gearboxes were such a disaster that the great-grandsons of oil patch roughnecks will worry about broken teeth.
Design technology, which has also had its zigs and zags, needs to move beyond making “pretty pictures” and include more manufacturability in its algorithm. The goal is better products, not better presentations.
Hopefully, people will use the ease of communication that we enjoy to document the process by which the future is adopted. There is much to be learned by studying failures as well as successes. Perhaps this blog space can become a venue for that study.