Daily Challenge Day 26

So last night after writing post caught up watching old music videos on youtube until 5:47am. I guess I wasn’t sleepy and ended up on youtube earlier watching videos on google maps, and google knowledge graphs, then onto careers in engineering. Today didn’t really get into much, did some searching for articles on coastal engineering (more extension of that physical geography stuff.). Got an email from flyingsolo so went and completed registration. Went and visited my Pinterest account. I suppose I should go do something on my DeviantArt account as well: my scraps are the patterns generated by increasing levels of central places on an hexagonal grid. These diagrams quickly pushed the limits of Autocad LT, even though built up from blocks and using xref’s. I tried simplifying by just drawing the perimeters of the larger regions and then assembling them, but these also pushed to the limits with a million or more lines forming the perimeters. By comparison a typical structural drawing, stick diagrams and connection details is only a few hundred maybe a few thousand entities. Anycase beyond structural drawings I haven’t done any freehand sketching of what I see since I was about 18: I think the last drawing I did was my hand drawing my hand, on a hot summers day as I recollect.

So this engineering stuff. I hold the idealistic viewpoint that engineering takes place at the frontiers of science and technology. Where the frontier is a step beyond the established body of knowledge in science and technology. For example I would contend that the design and construction of the “The shard” is not engineering or was not engineering. Whilst is is a single instance of a technology, it otherwise belongs to several classes of generic technologies for which the scientific knowledge is established. It belongs to a class of objects known as buildings, and the class of objects known as structures. We don’t expect it to fall down.

I expect that it is not failsafe, and that its design loads can be exceeded and when those loads are exceeded, then the result will be severe injury to its occupants. But that is the nature of design of all building structures, the codes of practice do not require them to be failsafe and do not demand quality robust design: the codes just pick a big load and hope that the low probability of being exceeded never comes to pass. The consequence of this approach however is that when the design load is exceeded there will be a community uproar because the “engineers” misleadingly indicated it wouldn’t fall down: the design codes will be revised with higher loads and they will go back to misleading that it can not fall down. To be failsafe the design has to consider the design loads being exceeded and the possibility of controlling the behaviour of the structure and the hazard such state-of-nature poses to people. For example during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, if the buildings had been more like the traditional yurt rather than multi-storey apartments constructed from steel reinforced concrete, then instead of people being buried in rubble they would have been tangled in wool. Furthermore the yurts would have been reconstructed in a very short time. But there is no status and prestige designing and building single storey dwellings, so have to aim for the worlds tallest building. Though I’m sure there would be prestige in ensuring the worlds population is provided with housing: and the manufacturing industries in India and China are likely to be the ones that solve the problem. But that’s another story.

So we have the technical science as a community to design buildings to suit specific purposes and desired performance criteria. Similarly for other common technologies likes dams, bridges, ships, aircraft and cars. Well actually, locally, no we don’t: humanity has the know how, but local communities do not.

The problem with Australia building submarines, has very little to do with Australia graduating people with 4 year Bachelor of Engineering degrees. These degrees are relatively useless to Australia and to most other developing countries. Yes, Australia is a developing country. Australia may be an industrialised nation as defined by having less than 10% of the population employed in agriculture (we have about 2.5%), but the country, the land mass is not developed. The same goes for the newly industrialised economies, the Asian tigers, the little Japans, they are not industrialised countries because all they have achieved is shift the population from the rural areas, typically into a single city, the country is left undeveloped. The importance of this, is, if you are outside the cities then you are in an undeveloped waste land or wilderness. A wasteland if the city is dumping its waste into such outlands.

The immediate issues to be solved do not involve engineering science but technology. What is the specification for a submarine and what resources do we need to fabricate such technology? Well that is proprietary knowledge, so the only way to get such knowledge is to license it, and there after you cannot really do anything with such acquired knowledge.

So choose to go it alone, instead of licensing the technology, we can choose to start from scratch. What do we need to design and fabricate a submarine from scratch? Well besides tooling and workshops in which to fabricate and assemble the submarine, the greater need at the start are laboratories in which to test prototypes. It is usually best to start with something small to test the overall technological requirements and then scale upwards and identify the problems of scaling. The problems experienced at the small scale are likely different than at the large scale. So testing is likely to increase the size, to eliminate small scale problems but avoid entering the complexities of the large scale. All of which is very time consuming, resource consuming and consequently extremely expensive. Hence to get the technology, the typical choice is to go with licensed technology.

Engineers are not what we want because we cannot provide them with the opportunity to do the engineering, because the engineering has already been done somewhere in the world. What we need are technicians and technologists to adopt and adapt the established technologies. Now if throw an industrial product designer into the mix then something else can happen: and that is start to develop a local product with unique characteristics.

So we can wrap established technologies up in our own local, wrapper. For example I don’t know how to design a ship for my concept of shifting industry onto factory ships and so removing geographical constraints on location of factories. At present we have factories anchored to the ground, when the technology becomes obsolete, the general trend is to keep the factory going and build a new factory somewhere. The somewhere else is typically a long way from the original factory, and often a different country closer to new markets. The workers of the original factory thus become unemployed, with factory ships, they just shift ship, and the old ship is scrapped. A factory ship is an extension of the machinery and  tooling used in the factory. Just as you replace the lathe, you likewise replace the ship. The ships can operate out at sea where there is a good source of either wind or solar energy.

So I have a concept an idea. I don’t need to be able to design a ship, I just need to  assess the suitability of an available ship for a given industrial activity. Given the type of activity carried out on aircraft carriers and oil platforms, most industrial activities are light weight operations, and shouldn’t pose too much of a problem using a ship as a platform. So all I need next is a manufacturer and a naval architect to make the more formal assessment. So we don’t need to build a ship, just adapt a ship for the task at hand: and that’s a much easier exercise than starting from scratch. From there gain experience of the technology, and then start to become familiar enough to design and build an entire ship from scratch.

Give people computers they will seek programs to do the things they want, if they cannot find then they will write the desired program themselves or find someone to write it for them. Likewise give people building blocks of technology to play with, then they will assemble that technology to perform the tasks they want. People need access to suitable flexible building blocks: or to know where such are available from. For example custom CNC machine tools along with jigs and fixtures are not built from scratch they are more typically built from readily available building blocks: or at least if in a country where such are readily available. The building blocks comprise of such components as stepping motors and drilling spindles.

But first and foremost have to have a reason to make stuff, beyond making money. Also typically need a team of people to complete all the tasks which need to be accomplished.

The quickest way to get anything is to buy it off-the-shelf. If its not available off-the-shelf then do without because either there is no one capable of designing it, no one capable of making it, or no one who can afford to get it designed and manufactured.

So how to get industry started producing something more involved than an amusing penny widget?