Do Engineers Find Ideas Outside of Engineering?

Engineers often find solution to problems by observing other products or systems or nature. You might even find a solution from your favorite musical instrument. Consider this short story.

He threw his pencil down on his notebook creating a lead divot in the page.

“There is no way,” he thought, “without a lot of cables or something, to mount seven large motors closely together to drive rods that are three-quarters of an inch apart.”

“My B-string sounds flat.” With his left hand Kevin reached under and around the guitar neck and held the third string against the fretboard between the third and fourth frets. He repeatedly plucked the second and third strings, paused to adjust the center tuning peg on the far side of the headstock, then returned to pluck the strings again.

“Whoa!” Kevin stopped plucking and rotated the guitar for a close view of the headstock. “Look at that,” he said out loud.

“There are six strings on… oh, I’d say about three-eighths inch spacing, and they are being controlled by actuators that are separated by about an inch. The actuators are bigger than the spacing. That’s exactly what I need.”

Kevin reached over the guitar and grabbed his engineering notepad and sketched…

“Darn, the led’s broken.”

He found another pencil and sketched the fretboard and headstock including the six strings and tuning pegs.

“All I have to do is offset the servomotors at different distances from the cutter, like these tuning pegs, and I should be able to control seven push rods that are only three quarters of an inch apart.”

Kevin put his guitar quickly but carefully aside, and drew a sketch of the flexible die-cutter showing servomotors spread out at an angle moving away from the blade.

Kevin smiled and thought, “Why didn’t I see this before? There are a lot of instruments like this. The piano, and my mom’s autoharp have strings stretching out to different lengths. Who would have thought I’d find a solution in a musical instrument. “

Kevin took a deep breath. “There are solutions to engineering problems everywhere.”

(Read the entire short story, “The Ribbon Cutting,” to see how similar systems or instruments can inspire solutions to current problems at )


About Kenneth Richard Hardman

AncestorClips are very short stories about very real people. Each clip nurtures awareness of a time, a place, and the character of a man or woman who cultivated a path for our life. The reader feels the good, the obstacles, the happiness, the sadness, and the overcoming. They cheer us, make us resilient when challenged, give us purpose, and connect us to our multi-generational family. Each story is followed by reflections from the author and readers sharing how the story strengthened or inspired them. Ken Hardman is a son, a brother, a grandson, a great-grandson… He is also a husband, father and grand-father. Ken is a professional engineer, engineering mentor, technical writer, and associate technical fellow at a major aerospace company. He is a writer of engineering and family history stories. Please join Ken in reading, reflecting upon, or writing #AncestorClips
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