I had the pleasure to have a meet-up with the guys at Protolabs (or Protomold or First Cut) over in Telford today. Not too long of a drive, a friendly and knowledgable team and they have a rocking service if youre looking for machined prototypes or injection moulded components.
On the way back, I drove through Ironbridge, a small village in Shropshire that, for those of us involved in design and manufacturing, holds a pretty big key to how we got here and it got me thinking. Consider this, next time you’re up against a challenge, a client has asked for what seems impossible or higher improbably.
Early in the 16th century, a gentleman turned up in a smaller villiage down the valley called Coalbrookdale. A gentleman by the name of Abraham Darby I and took over an existing iron forge. Forging iron was an inaccurate, non-repeatable process and the quality of the product produced was not what you or I would expect. And somewhat dangerous – the forge Darby took over blew up a few years before he arrival). What Darby did was look at the process (which previously used charcoal), use da different material for smelting (coke), developed the Blast Furnace and refined the method until it reached pretty much what we have today. You would think that kick starting the Industrial Revolution would be enough for his family.
About 80 years later, his grandson, Abraham Darby III, undertook the job of building a bridge across the valley in which his family’s business worked, a bridge designed by a local architect (who would never see it completed). What was unique about this bridge was that it took his grandfather’s new process (now three generations old) to new scales and new heights. Building a cast iron bridge, simply hadn’t been done before, so everything, from casting moulds, to joints (many mimic joints typically found in carpentry as these were well established) had to be developed from scratch. Few of us will be lucky to work on projects that will still be active, working and so impressively current in 200 years time.
So next time you’re looking at your workload, looking at a new challenge that comes in and it seems tough; think back. Think back to a time when innovation actually mean true, honest-to-god, innovation. When you had to make things up from scratch to move forward, when advances were discussed in generations and history was made.
If you’re ever in the area, visit ironbridge or the various museums (Blists Hill, and the Museum of Iron) around there. For anyone with an engineering interest, its the hot bed of so much that it can’t fail to be fascinating.
PS: Interesting thing: SolidWorks have a fantastic PR lady by the name of Darby Johnson – yup, she’s related. Synchronicity – its a wonderful thing.