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Sunday, August 02, 2015

Does the Future of Making Things Spell the End of the How it Was Done?

There's a lot of buzz about the "Future of Making Things" lately.  Personally, I'm a big fan of the possibilities this new wave has to offer.  Things like connected devices, cloud technology, and 3D printing, just to name a few.

But while I excitedly absorbed this new age, I was reminded of an experience I had.

Not to long ago, perhaps a year at the most, a colleague needed to find a component in an industry catalog, like many of us designers needed to do.
Most of us have thumbed through catalogs like this one from Aircraft Spruce
But we were standing in a large hangar, the closest computer wasn't readily accessible.

I began browsing in my smart phone, to which he proclaimed to me defiantly, "I bet I can find this in the catalog faster than you can find it on that contraption.

"You might."  I responded, sensing his need to prove a point.  I willed my smart phone to pull those bits and bytes faster.

And in fact.... He did beat me! He found his part before I had found it in my smart phone.

"See!  Those smart phones aren't the answer to everything! I'll take that over that fancy thing any day!"  He stated proudly.  I'm sure he felt he had proved that his older technology had beaten my new tech.

You might think I would have felt the frustration of having "lost".  My colleague certainly felt like he'd "won".  But in truth I had earned valuable experience.

Sometimes, I find myself looking at new technology as a "replacement" to old technology.

Throw away your catalogs and reference books!  Dispose of your paper prints.  

The Internet, connected devices, and data shared via the cloud will replace that!

3D printing is the future!  Why machine, mold, or cast parts when you can print them at will!

We've all likely heard a similar mantra before.

Will the Future of Making things make prints like this a thing of the past? 
But reflecting on that inner monologue, I asked myself a different set of questions.

Will it the future of making things spell the end of the "Past of Making Things"?  

Should it?

And finally.

Does it have to?

I have battery operated screw drivers now, but that doesn't mean I threw away my hand screwdrivers.  I've reached for my thirty year old screwdriver for a quick job, or when the battery in my power screwdriver is dead (usually because I forgot to charge it).

I have a belt sander and two orbital sanders, but I've still folded sandpaper over a block of wood to make a sanding block.

Why?  It was the right tool for the right job.

The power tool vs the hand tool.  Is one better than the other?
Or does it depend on what you need it for? 
Doesn't each one of those cases represent a situation where an old technology wasn't replaced by a new one, but instead augmented by it?

I've lost count of how may times I've seen oil, water (including coffee), or grease smeared on paper prints.  Would you rather see that on paper, or an expensive tablet?

In this environment, paper gets torn, but tablets get shattered.
Would you rather print a new document, or replace a tablet?
Picture taken at Mt. SAC Aircraft Maintenance Dept 
But why not use that tablet to quickly find the information, then print to a piece of paper?  All without a trip to the engineering department!

Does that make one better than the other?  Or does it make one better suited for one type of job over another?

The lesson I learned was valuable indeed.  My colleague's catalog beat my smart phone.  No doubt about it.  On the other hand, what if his catalog is out of date?  Even if it was slower, it's likely my smart phone would have been more accurate, since an online catalog can be easily updated with new information.

So what?  What's the lesson, the "call to action"?

Stay open minded, and don't throw the "baby out with the bath water".  Don't integrate new tech at the cost of your old tech, but use the "new fangled", add it to the "tried and true', and make it greater than the sum of it's parts.

Jonathan Landeros


photo credit: should you really be letting those just hang around? via photopin (license)

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