Copyright 2012 Kenneth Richard Hardman
A realistic experience-based fictional Short Story in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)
Cover photo by Jaren Wilkey, Used with permission from BYU Photo
In Quick Step, an engineering team is required to develop a robust automation solution for a customer. They face hurdle after hurdle as they try to find an answer to a fundamental friction problem. In the end, after much frustration, determination and creativity, they stumble onto a completely different yet very elegant approach. They learn that answers to engineering problems are all around them.
“Keep on going, and the chances are that you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I never heard of anyone ever stumbling on something sitting down.” (Charles F. Kettering, US electrical engineer & inventor 1876 – 1958)
“I hardly slept last night,” Glenn said, placing the pin mold onto the vacuum press. “I have lived and relived this day for weeks.”
Craig lifted the press door up while Glenn carefully aligned the new device.
“I’ll tell you what,” Craig said, “the day we first met with the customer, I saw how something like this could really help people.” Craig glided his fingers lightly across the rounded tips of the polished pins, collectively resembling the bottom of a foot.
It was 6:30 am. The winter darkness still blackened the only window in the lab.
Glenn and Craig, two mechanical engineers, arrived before the rest of the team to get a head start testing the new forming device, a precision assembly of six-hundred and sixty-six stainless steel dowel pins, completed just the night before.
“This is going to change the game for foot doctors and their patients.” Glenn aligned a thin rubber sheet over the pin mold in the press then paused and looked up at the simple cooking oven sitting on the work bench. “I didn’t think we were going to get it to work.”
Craig looked up at his team mate, both eyebrows raised. “The hardest part was getting the top and bottom plates drilled accurate enough for the pins to slide freely up and down through both plates.”
Glenn lifted a half filled bucket of water and placed it on the workbench next to the press. “I know. Bill went through four sets of plates trying to get it right.”
“My biggest worry was the friction strips between the plates.“ Craig said. “We tried everything we could think of, different materials, different sizes, to get the pins to stay put after being shaped like a foot. But I feel good about this solution. We’re set for the big demonstration in three weeks.”
I hope you’re right, Glenn thought, checking the timer and placing his finger tips near the oven door without touching. “Who was it that thought of using strips of rubber material between the pins?”
“I think it just came out in one of our brainstorm sessions. As I remember, when our first attempt didn’t work, we considered all kinds of things from the hardware store that we could put between the pins to get the right amount of friction…”
The bell on the oven rang.
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