I once took a class in precision machine design taught by MIT mechanical engineering professor Alexander Slocum. He was very free with offering up his knowledge and I especially enjoyed it when he referred to the world’s shared engineering knowledge base as “The Borg.”
He wasn’t wrong. Teaching and passing on knowledge is a cornerstone of engineering.
If you stop and think about it, the engineering knowledge base goes all the way back to the first protohuman who showed someone else how to make a sharp point by whacking a certain type of rock in a certain way. We’ve built every bit of understanding of the natural world on that early foundation.
(By the way, a great book on this subject is “Ideas, A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud” by Peter Watson)
Throughout my own career I’ve always enjoyed teaching and mentoring young engineers.
Mechanical engineering and machine design requires an interesting combination of knowledge, creativity and skill. Young engineers begin by studying applied physics in school to gain a deep and thorough understanding of Newtonian solid mechanics. Then they learn to apply that knowledge in the physical world through technical training.
At Altman Browning, we take the learning a step farther because we believe good machine design engineers need to know how to build the machines they design. All of our engineers get their hands dirty.
I spend most of my time at a computer these days writing specifications and proposals or searching the web for one thing or another for projects. I break up my day by walking out to the shop floor and watching the machines being built.
Most of the machinery we build is one off or short run and so the engineers do much of the building themselves. Since we primarily hire recent engineering grads, these folks are really sharp entry-level engineers but have little hands-on experience.
When I walk through, I always stop to offer advice on how they can do their work more efficiently. After showing a green engineer a new way to do something I will often joke: “Man, that old guy sure knows some tricks, doesn’t he?”
My goal is to pass on every trick I know before I get out of here. The Borg is calling.
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How do you pull a stuck 6-inch diameter hardened steel pivot pin out of a million-pound navigational lock gate when you are out in the field? This is the kind of challenge we live for at Altman Browning. Most days, I work at our office doing de...