Sweet & Sour Grapes: The Story of the Machine Tool Industry - page 5


This book traces Yankee ingenuity to its origins and its early American practitioners. Not realizing that they were engaging in a second revolution and establishing a unique new culture, they responded to their environment by confronting challenge and risk and satisfying their needs and wants. Examples involve prominent early Americans and resulted in the advent of special purpose machine tools.

There were characteristics common to these original practitioners that resulted in the rise of Yankee ingenuity. Imagination, passion, and courage would stand out in their resumes. Imagination, in fact, is a part of a definition of humankind – the ability to devise and use tools. We will see that all three characteristics are standard equipment for all of us, although they may be latent in many who require an awakening event or experience to enable them.

These characteristics are defined and chronicled and their impact on modern man and organizations explored. The freedoms fought and died for by the early Americans enabled their use and the development of Yankee ingenuity resulted. An acceleration of human progress followed, unlike that in any other society in human history.

Special machine tools are not broadly known or understood. Just enough knowledge is shared in this book to enable the reader to appreciate both the rewards experienced by the early Americans and the rewards we indirectly experience everyday. These rewards are the manifestation of continuously fresh intellectual products, the ideas, and engineering. They are cost and technologically effective machines that make production of manufactured products first possible, then practical and competitive. It’s an industry that enables and fosters the Yankee ingenuity characteristics, advancing the quality of life for all.

The success or failure of every endeavor or enterprise results entirely from the effectiveness of the human elements involved. This book is intended to provide some added insight toward understanding that human element so that it may be more effectively utilized to the advantage of the reader and to stress the great value of one’s life’s work. It is particularly aimed at younger generations, who may not yet see their opportunities clearly, positively or at all.

Important byproducts of this industry are the promises of the reasons we work for all involved. They are powerful tools for individual and enterprise success. They are essential to the success of any organization in modern democratic society, though many do not recognize or understand that simple truth. The “Why We Work (W3)” logic is discussed in detail - the “sweet grapes.”

Organized labor as we know it was an essential component of many industries into the mid-twentieth century. Its relevance in its current form in the global economy of the twenty-first century is questioned in this book. A modern competitive enterprise with an imaginative and passionate workforce expects and deserves W3 fulfillment, which inherently conflicts with certain organized labor tenets today. Management, in many cases, must likewise move to accept and facilitate that absolute of modernity.

Enterprise organization and leadership are discussed extensively. The premise that “the human element is everything” makes the challenge of an organization’s environment an interesting one. Excessive rules, traditions, “that’s the way we do things” paradigms, and mandated conformance to industry standards are repressive and counterproductive. Facilitation of W3 and the “find a way” culture of Yankee ingenuity are at the top of the “must have” list for successful companies.

The American special machine tool industry faces daunting economic and market challenges at the turn of the century. Many of these issues are typical of those confronting other industries as well. They are discussed and analyzed with prospective courses of action offered. Those actions will interest and benefit readers involved in many professions and vocations.

The principal marketplace for the special machine tool segment has been the global automobile industry and other vehicle and engine producers. The long-term growing strength of the American dollar and the loss of market share for American auto companies have seriously handicapped the American special machine tool industry.

The share loss translates to a comparable loss for that industry.

A problem in recent years has been procurement practices that sometimes put the initial low price paradigm ahead of real value considerations. In the case of special machine tools, it is sometimes done in an auction environment for the acquisition of their truly intellectual products. The discussion of these issues could be seen by some as “sour grapes.”

The American special machine tool industry as we know it could be headed for extinction for reasons discussed. It would be a tragic loss for their customers and of course, for the industry’s employees and shareholders. A major force in American history for advancing human progress and capitalizing on Yankee ingenuity like few others could disappear from the American landscape altogether.

Many of the thoughts expressed in this effort are simply reflections on a particular mix of lessons from the life experiences of a mature (older) person. The underlying belief is that the material, which may not seem as authoritative as academic text, is actually fairly logical stuff. Some of the thoughts, of course, are the opinions of the writer. It’s reasonable to believe that lessons learned and opinions formed from a set of life’s experiences could be beneficial to others.