Basic Truths

Robert Brooks

Allow me to share a bit of the first “letter to the editor” I received here:

“I have a book I got from Lindsay Publications, which is a reprint, called Sixty Years with Men and Machines, by Fred Colvin, who founded American Machinist magazine in the 1920s, owned then by McGraw Hill … the story of his journey through the years as a machinist working at old-time line shaft machine shops, up through the eventual founding of the magazine. You ought to get the book and print monthly installments of Colvin’s adventures. You’d increase readership substantially!”

This letter is unsolicited (I’ve never met the writer) but there are a few things about it that strike me as significant. First, the writer has an apparent kinship with me (us) on the basis of our involvement with machine tools and the machining industry. “Shared experience,” as it were. Like a friend, he’s recommending something he’s confident we’ll enjoy, and profit from. His concern for the success of AM is well appreciated. I assume that he believes AM’s success will result from the success of the whole market — and return advantages to it.

After describing some anecdotes contained in Colvin’s book, the writer boils it down: “he tells about the evolution of machinery through the years … There aren’t too many documents written by machinists telling of the good old days in the shop!” Between the lines, it’s clear this correspondent thinks it’s important for everyone in the industry, everyone everywhere, to appreciate the past, to understand the foundations of the work we do, to get back to basics.

Knowing the basics doesn’t take any particular skill: it requires honesty, diligence, and patience. It calls for relying on facts, not expectations. It means acting responsibly with the people and resources entrusted to us. It doesn’t mean avoiding risks, but it means recognizing the possibilities and accepting the challenges.

The “basics” keep us confidant and focused when confusion seems to reign. As many of us watch our wealth dwindle and sense that opportunities and rights are slipping away from us, reminding ourselves of the ways things work, the ways that ideas grow and that people succeed, reassures us that better prospects are ahead.

This advice works as well for groups as it does for individuals. The American Machine Tool Distributors’ Assn. and the Assn. for Manufacturing Technology report that manufacturing technology consumption declined 59.2% from December to January, totaling $94.95 million. The monthly total was down 71.9% from January 2008. For all the experts’ opinions and forecasts, this is an economic circumstance only a handful of people have experienced before.

“While a few small pockets of activity have continued,” AMTDA president Peter Borden concluded, “most everyone will be on the sidelines until there is some confidence and positive direction for the rest of the economy.”

No one knows when the crisis will recede, but everyone knows the basic principles that will make it happen.

“Back to basics” would work on a national level, if we had leaders who would acknowledge it. It would mean halting reckless outlays of federal money to industries and organizations that cannot account for their past problems, nor offer credible plans for their future viability. It would mean allowing failure to happen, so that proper accounting can take place and new possibilities can emerge. And it would mean ensuring that government officials are as accountable for mistakes and misdeeds as private citizens are.

Most encouraging about the “back to basics” approach is that it is always available, always applicable, and always effective. It will work, once it’s tried.

Robert Brooks
Editor-in-Chief
[email protected]

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