Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Difference Between a Mechanic and an Engineer

In the seventies and eighties, my father used to really enjoy working on our cars. I vividly remember watching him fastidiously cleaning and wiping parts and surfaces as he changed plugs, points, filters, and whatnot. I would tend to flit in and out as he carefully maintained the vehicles, always wearing an unusually clean tan button-down shirt.

I must have been about ten years old when he turned to me as I stood there observing his auto efforts one day and said, "Phillip, do you know the difference between a mechanic and an engineer?"

"An engineer can do the same job, and more, but without getting dirty."

It was then that I noticed the crisp starched crease on the shirt, and the impeccable tan shirt-front. His clothes were spotless despite a couple of hours spent disassembling and reassembling an engine.

I didn't really think much of it at the time, but later learned how that sort of meticulous care, discipline, and forethought led to parts that would mate better and run without grit to wear them, and that disordered problems, leaks, and breaks would stand out more against a clean, well-organized system. Neatly organized tools are easier to find and when handled with care, are less likely to damage parts under repair. A little forethought and advanced planning often save a lot of work, and prevent mistakes that cost time and money (and get your clothes dirty.) Now I use those lessons almost every day.

Dad would LOVE this photo tour of the Volkswagen plant in Dresden. Check out a few photos from this assembly line.

Now compare the German photos above with these North American plants.

Auto Assembly Plant © Arup

Just on the basis of cleanliness and orderliness alone, which car would you anticipate to be more reliable?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This blog makes me feel so good! You were listening! Capital! Phil