Machine shops and factories
Readers heartily agree that their fellow engineers should put in some time at the local machine shop to get a real feel for what it takes to make the parts they design. And readers feel factory workers are probably glad they have a job but don’t necessarily like what they’re doing.
Keep the machine shop in mind
As a senior engineer and former machinist, I’ve been trying to explain the concepts in your recent article (“Think Like A Machinist When Creating Solid Models,” Sept. 8) to the junior engineering staff here. But they still don’t get it (or just don’t care). But with a frustrated in-house machine shop, I’m going to see if I can make this article a mandatory read.
This is a great article and is like a breath of fresh air. After almost 45 years of machining experience, 10 years using a drawing board, and 25 years with CAD, things have changed in the design realm. In my early years, most engineers worked for a while in the machine shop where they gained a knowledge of basic machining practices. Today many young engineers can click their way through a CAD program but would be lost in a shop. With the advent of CNC and CAD, more-complex designs are possible. The teaching of design for manufacturing seems to have fallen by the wayside. I think this article helps put that back on the front burner, which should make for more competitively priced parts.
While I was employed as chief engineer at a semiconductor-equipment company, we had a rule to hire design engineers only if they had run a milling machine at some time. Most work takes place in a vise and located from the back jaw and work stops on the left. Students think in terms of graphs with the origin at the lower left. Savvy designers detail parts with the origin at the upper left and orient the part in a drawing appropriately.
This said, thinking in multiple simple shapes screwed together can be costly. A more-complex part combining several simpler ones can be more cost effective even if the direct part cost is greater than the sum of the smaller ones. Shipping, handling, purchasing, and assembly costs go down as fewer number of parts make up the whole.
This is a good article that all engineers should read. I have a few years as a machinist and try to think like one when I design. There are times when I do not follow my own advice and I end up paying for it in the end.
I have been in the aerospace business for over 30 years and see many engineers who never grasp this idea, especially the younger ones coming into the business. I think all engineers should work in a machine shop or at least work closely with machinists to make sure their solid models are machinable and as inexpensive as possible (but still reliable).
Jerry L. Eden
A job’s a job, even in a factory
Seems as if jobs can be boring, tiresome, and a pain in the neck whether they are in a factory or a cubicle (“Factory Jobs and the Quality of Life,” Sept. 8). Perhaps we need to look at the idea of a job versus work. If you dig down into it, people will speak enthusiastically if you ask about their work. But they will complain if you ask about their job. With all the politicians and pundits talking about jobs, it makes me think we are chasing the wrong rainbow.
When working with your hands became socially unacceptable, much of the really fun work disappeared. Too bad. Working with your hands completes a lot of control loops in your head. It also teaches problem solving, critical thinking, and often imparts a healthy dose of common sense if you pay attention.
The so-called robber barons built the infrastructure that made the U. S. the wealthiest and most-powerful nation in the world. These industrial capitalists did not do this out of the goodness of their hearts. In fact, the opposite was true. However, in their quest for personal wealth, they provided workplaces which provided jobs for the masses. Many of the jobs were factory based, but there were associated jobs in offices, transportation, distribution, legal, mining, lumbering, and the supply chain.
Granted, 19th century factory work was dirty, tedious, dangerous, and poorly compensated. Henry Ford did not invent the assembly line so he could pay workers more salary. He did it to make them more productive so they were more valuable, not only to him, but to themselves. (Editor’s note: Henry Ford did not invent the assembly line. Ransom E. Olds did. Ford improved on the idea by adding conveyor belts.)
Now, American industry is hip-deep in an “off-shoring” strategy based strictly on cost savings from cheap labor. As long as this strategy continues to be followed, the job market will sag. And as the job market erodes, the tax base erodes right along with it. For some reason, the current crop of politicians in Washington do not seem to grasp this fact. Unemployed and underemployed workers contribute little to the taxes that fund the government. The wealthy can pay higher taxes, but they cannot fill the large gap in tax revenues due to the employment problems.
It’s hard to see how you have refuted Kessler’s original observation, namely that the factory workers he saw weren’t really happy, though outwardly they were smiling. Just because they held a rally to keep a plant from closing doesn’t mean they were happy working in that factory. Many of us are afraid or anxious at the uncertainty of a future without a paying job, and will do almost anything to keep that paying job, no matter how much we hate it.
I think your last sentence says it all, “For the average Joe or Mary you find in a factory, what kind of other work have you got that’s better?” It explains why many cubicle dwellers don’t jump ship and look for something better, or why factory workers don’t do the same.
Factories don’t exist to make products. They exist to make money. Making a product is how they do it. Job creation is a consequence. Factories are required to keep employees safe, they are not required to keep them happy. Happiness is a state of mind that only the individual can control. No one else is responsible for your happiness. The government cannot legislate happiness. But they are excellent at legislating misery. Employers know that happy workers are more productive workers, but there is a limit to what the company can provide.