The father of labor day was a machinist named Mathew Maguire and I bet my left pinky he had a knack for figuring out a way to make parts cheap and easy for his customers. He was the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J. and proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.
This weekend, we’re supposed to be celebrating the people who built the foundation that shouldered America’s rise to prosperity. From carpenters to slave labor workers in the fields, they mostly did it by hand.
It’s incredibly hard to make anything by hand and if one truly attempts to grasp the totality of how difficult it is, then some gratitude will for surely creep in for all those special people who did it in a time when horses, wagons and walking were the major modes of transportation.
Seriously, in 1882, the first investor-owned electric utility, Thomas Alva Edison (Edison Illuminating Company) opened the first power station on Manhattan Island, New York which provided 110 volts direct current (DC) to 59 customers in lower Manhattan.
I challenge you to take 50 perfectly pre-cut sheets of paper (80% of the work is done for you already) and fold them into 50 perfect paper airplanes, exactly the same, no mistakes and within tolerances of +/-.005″.
Pretty tough to make two exactly the same right? I know I’ll probably have to try to make 200 of them to end up with 50 good ones, it’s going to be a lot of work and I’d rather pay someone else to do it.
But if I did, I’d make a template to create exact and repeatable fold lines every time. I’d do everything I can to reduce the number of folds required. Each fold is an opportunity for error and takes time. I’ll create a process and always start the first fold horizontally, moving the top left corner first and so on and so forth.
It’s a classic simple example of the thinking we all must have running in the back our minds when we design or engineer parts with our 3D CAD software. If you are frustrated that you can’t source low pricing, it’s because the design is not cheap and easy to manufacture. Start remedying the situation and you’ll start to see low prices from your vendors.
Back in the 1800s, the producers had to be amazing individuals. They wore many hats to succeed. They were an entire company wrapped up into a single person. They weren’t segregated into fancy titles, job descriptions and niche skill sets.
A machinist or a carpenter had to be an inventor, and engineer, a UX designer, mathematician, a fabricator, a salesmen, a manager, a leader and a businessman all wrapped into one.
These people made it happen! They weren’t hiding behind a cubicle wall noodling around on a computer while secretly shaking their fists at the world because they felt under valued and under appreciated for their time imagining solutions.
They were getting their hands dirty. They were building and learning and it’s the fast track to any development cycle. One can spend 50 hours modeling and calculating a design until your eyes dry out or design it, build it, hold it in your hands and then use it to reveal what needs to be done next.
Coming up with ideas is easy, solving problems in our minds, on the computer and on paper can be challenging, but producing the idea or solution in tangible form over and over again might just be the hardest thing to accomplish and ole Matthew Maguire knew how special and important the people were that could make that happen. It’s an insight to the fast track of product development. Design it, build it and learn.
Out of all the products and projects I’ve been involved in over the past 20 years. From semiconductor equipment, to kitchen appliances, to vacuum chambers to the Tesla Roadster. Everyone sucks at building/making stuff for the first time. Very, very few get it right the first time.
That’s why shop folks are considered wizards, engineers require revision management systems and machinists are often grumpy.
Happy Labor Day!
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