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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lathe Or Dedicated Machine?

I was a master carpenter at a factory that made blasting caps. Part of my job was rigging, safely moving large, heavy things.

We had many single use tools in our factory - jigs, templates, reams, crimpers, burnishing tools, but the toolmakers, the top of our heap, had lathes, great big steel beds that would transform metal pieces into anything we needed.

An assembly worker could learn to use a single use dedicated tool in minutes. That’s why they were designed that way. But making the tools, from tiny wire punches to 10 foot wide rotating drums for mixing explosives, that was all done on lathes.

I ran the crew that relocated the toolmakers shop. We unbolted and moved a dozen multi-ton lathes. Then we had to install them in the new shop, dead level from all directions. The toolmakers were “helping” us, so I had to learn a lot about work.

A lathe operator is similar to a steamboat pilot. He has a different way of looking at the world, full of shifting sandbars, a different way of solving problems. His skill was imaging how to use a single mechanical turning motion to create whatever was needed.

I feel the same way when I watch a master programmer create a solution within the limits of a coding language, making something other experts said wasn’t possible.

I’m feeling the same way about computers. I do a lot of work on client site, so I favor a smaller laptop. I had one vice president order me a huge laptop, so I could “work on spreadsheets.” When I build spreadsheets, I give extra points for a single page with a portrait orientation. Easier for buyers to read. Easier to see if there is a big error hidden inside.

Recently, I got to watch an Android smartphone artist. Of course he didn’t need a watch, a pen, or a notebook. But he was also plugged into the internet as well as I can be. He was monitoring people communicating with him, answering questions, getting alerts, posting, seeing who he knew in the surrounding buildings, much more than I can do, when I take time out to withdraw to a quiet space with my laptop.

He reminded me of a toolmaker. Rethinking his assignments so he could complete them on a computer that he keeps in a pants pocket.

Me? I’ve got a “send and end” phone. It’s venerable. Works great! Maybe it’s time to change... 

June 12 is the next Capital Technology Management Hub featuring Sales Lab's Rainmaker 14 – The Myth of Full Capacity - 300 seconds of pure profit. The featured speaker will be Cory Lebson of Lebsontech LLC, presenting User Experience: What it Means & Why a Technology Manager Should Care!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The lathe operator creates something from the spinning raw material - a true skill within the limits of rotating stock and access on the side and ends. Yet recall the intricate beauty of a bedpost or the end-post of a staircase.

The mechanic applying a single-use tool, like a jig or template is assembling something and the tool is an aid.

The difference between the lathe and specialized tool is like the difference between a magic wand and a hammer.

Great post!