Each quarter for the past 20+ years I’ve received the alumni magazine from my alma mater. Each time I usually read the class notes section first… who’s doing what from my class and others. For the first few years I was mostly interested who was getting hitched and having kids, then for a few more years I was comparing my career against my classmates. That soon passed and then I was simply curious about what interesting places people were visiting. Lately I’ve been watching old classmates transition out of traditional careers to enjoy hobbies. Some are lucky enough to no longer need the income, and some are lucky enough to derive enough income from their hobby or passion. And some are passionate enough to make their career their hobby.
And I read about alumni passing on. The memoriam section is always sobering. Many have had healthy and fruitful lives. Some haven’t been so lucky. I distinctly remember reading the issue after 9/11 and seeing the names of a couple people I vaguely recalled from classroom days. Life can be fragile. When I read about the accomplishments of some of the old-timers, I wonder what could have become of the classmates that left too soon.
The ones that have been lucky seem to be amazingly well-rounded. Alfred Jenny ’34, a retired GE engineer… and pianist. Nathaniel Owen ’34, another GE veteran… and woodworker. James Ayres ’41, explosives engineer… and accomplished musician and conductor. Looking through the stories of active alumni I find a winemaker, several musicians, aging athletes, and world travelers. And of course several writers, although the tomes that come from engineering school grads have exciting titles like Fundamentals of Industrial Catalytic Processes and Assembly Language and Computer Architecture Using C++ and Java. The Lunar Orbiter Photographic Atlas of the Near Side of the Moon might make for an interesting coffee table book. And the scary thing is that some of those books have a higher Amazon rank than many well-known lean manufacturing books. As someone who’s also working on a book project, I’m fascinated by how some people provide innovative insight into such narrow niche subjects.
Ok I can see the glazed eyes rolling, so it’s time to tie this post to something at least obliquely related to manufacturing. Therefore two points.
First, when I look at the oldest active alumni, from class years in the 1930’s, I can’t help but wonder what manufacturing was like back then. One talks about his years running a furniture manufacturing business. What was that like in the 1930’s? Another worked on the world’s largest waterwheel in upstate New York… still a competitive alternative to steam engines at the time. And another writes about when he met Albert Einstein in 1939 while building and installing "advanced meterology equipment" at Newark Airport. Production planning before computers. Sometimes I wonder if we should ditch MRP and go back to those methods.
Taking a look at Superfactory’s History of Excellence timeline and we see that Kiichiro Toyoda is just starting to implement just in time at the Koromo / Honsha plant, the German aircraft industry is pioneering takt time, and Juran is dreaming up the pareto principle. Consolidated Aircraft has just about figured out how to build one B-24 bomber per day, and Ford’s Charles Sorensen is looking at that operation… and in less than four years will be cranking out one B-24 per hour at Willow Run. Exciting, and deadly, times.
The second point is the influence we can have on future generations. Some of these old-timers had a knack (dare I say passion?) for procreating… one has 63 total offspring to his credit when adding up all the generations he spawned. Many of those kids have also gone to the same engineering school… a testament to the importance ole great-granddad placed on a technical education. Hopefully some of them will spend some time in a real-world factory instead of rushing off to chase the quick buck of consulting with no real experience. We have a responsibility to continually teach the importance of real manufacturing, real leadership, and real innovation. To our offspring, as well as to those around us. Most of the people reading this blog really get it, and it’s up to us.
Ok, time to end the nostalgia.