Is there an American style of engineering/manufacturing?
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    Default Is there an American style of engineering/manufacturing?

    I am interested in how German, Japanese, Chinese, and American products seems to have a different feel and focus. I am curious what you think.
    I would say...
    Old school American is always over built.
    German seems to be precise and complicated.
    Japanese seems to be just right and well balanced.
    Chinese maybe "quantity has a quality all its own" or error towards the cheaper.

    I tend to prefer American and Japanese

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    OK, I'll play...

    ( and this is from a European born ... )

    Old school USA is overbuilt. Sometimes minimalist but fully capable of the intent, and is made to take the beating.
    German is precise and complicated. It is also well though out for all possibilities. At the same time, it is incredibly fragile and does not take well to Bubba.
    Japanese is usually minimalist, but bulletproof. If it doesn't do it, it never will. If it can do it, it'll do it forever.
    Chinese, mehh.... If it works, it wasn't meant to or it was meant to work differently. If it doesn't work, noone really cares.
    Russian is like old school USA, except that while the engineer designed it the same or else he was sent to the gulag, the people who made and assembled the components
    couldn't care less. Stuff was often assembled loosey-goosey, or stolen straight from the factory and sold on the black market.
    Old school central European stuff is often overlooked. Some is shit, while there were/are gems that didn't just keep up with the big guys but was way ahead. Some of them are still around.

    So there ...

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    Seems the current US trend is that everything has a computer in it and wants to talk to the Internet . . . until it dies a month after the 1 year warranty or gets hacked? Designed here, built in Cheapistan, wherever that happens to be? Pen and paper? Washing machine? Door knob? All now part of our Internet of Things.

    There are cultures of design, though. They change over time and place. Think tailfins, curvy shapes, slab-sided angles in car designs. Now entry level car interiors seemingly designed for a generation raised on Transformers? I'm still stuck on beautiful curves or at least no frills utility.

    Italians deserve a nod for beautiful designs. Milan a center for design.

    Germans - Bauhaus.

    The Russian stuff (tractors etc.) from the late 60's and 70's was pretty simple and straightforward. I've sometimes wondered if the reason Russia made such inroads in poor countries is because the stuff they exported was simple enough to be repaired; didn't require a Deere or Cat dealership to keep it going?

    English hot water kettle still one of the none IOT great designs of all time. England has a number of very capable industrial design schools, as does the U.S.

    France? Fashions, of course. The few engineers I met seemed prouder of their academic past than their current work. Ford then had a transmission plant in Bordeaux that was a mashup and messup of American, French, and German attitudes.

    The once-merger of Chrysler and Mercedes was supposed to get Chrysler design innovation and Mercedes quality. Ended up with Chrysler quality and Mercedes' slow march to market. Now it's Fiat Chrysler . . .

    There are also different traditions of new product development and project management in the auto, aero, consumer electronics etc. industries. US would often pass people so quickly through positions in an upward march to top management in the auto industry, they weren't particularly good at the job in front of them at any given time. Japanese were more likely to keep engineers doing the same thing - with a few making it to the vaunted position of chief engineer.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PeteM View Post

    The Russian stuff (tractors etc.) from the late 60's and 70's was pretty simple and straightforward. I've sometimes wondered if the reason Russia made such inroads in poor countries is because the stuff they exported was simple enough to be repaired; didn't require a Deere or Cat dealership to keep it going?

    .
    Pete, please take it from someone who's actually been there in the late 70-s - early 80-s....

    If it was Russian or Romanian, you drove to the dealer's lot on pickup day and hauled the thing ( whatever it was ) home on a trailer and not let the thing sit on it's own
    wheels, legs, stands or feet too long!!!
    You would NEVER want to drive or ride any of that stuff ( tractor, motorcycle or otherwise ) home! You'd have never made it that far!!!

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    I used to say I could tell you where a machine tool had been made just by looking at the styling and design.

    Machines made in the USA were usually well designed and good quality. I lot of emphasis was placed on styling and ergonomics. Labour saving ideas for the operator was high on the design priority. I once read that the lack of skilled labour in the USA in the early days led to the emphasis of automation in American design. Manufacturers in the UK had a plentiful supply of skilled labour so they never bothered with labour saving devices.

    I see PeteM has mentioned France. The world of French machine design came up with some weird ideas, some great, some not so great. An example of the great was the " Huron " milling machine,

    I worked on a lot of Russian machines and I liked them. Styling wasn't much of an issue for them but they were designed to be maintained and repaired by ex Olympic female shot putters and they had an emphasis on simplicity of construction.

    Regards Tyrone.

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    Something is fishy, guys. Look at the 2 threads the OP started. Seems like bait to me......


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    OP here. Thank you for the great read. I need more Russian and Central European stuff in my life. I really like some wood working tools made by the Czech company Narex.
    So, I was lurking this forum, and I just joined yesterday. Sorry if I started off with two controversial questions. I decided I needed to join because my woodworking has started going in the direction of heavy duty old power tools (Rockwell/Delta etc..). You guys and the Vintage Machine website are the best sources I have found for information.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jellyghost View Post
    I am interested in how German, Japanese, Chinese, and American products seems to have a different feel and focus. I am curious what you think.
    I would say...
    Old school American is always over built.
    German seems to be precise and complicated.
    Japanese seems to be just right and well balanced.
    Chinese maybe "quantity has a quality all its own" or error towards the cheaper.

    I tend to prefer American and Japanese
    ^^^ I think that's a great topic. And kinda agree with what you set out.

    From design point of view also Definitely.

    China has some good brands of their own now (young companies).



    It's super interesting how each country solves it's own design problems differently even in civil engineering. [can be cost of materials locally as well as various local codes can have a huge bearing on final look , design and function.].

    Design wise the Germans like stealth like triangular angles , compound angles, really since WW I and WWII for hardware... Almost 'Gothic" and in some cases needlessly complex. Whereas a lot of US hardware is very rectilinear / boxy / square by comparison, and of course the gorgeous curves of some US hardware from the 40's and 50's.

    For machines with the clothes off (sheet metal off) YASDA is the closest to my own design style (coincidentally). Really nice to see how they "Think" in metal.

    @whover_you_really_are_jellyghost ;-)

    __________________________________________________ ___________________________________


    It's also really interesting to see how different industries solve their problems... Aerospace solve problems very differently from 'Peeps" that build heavy equipment and similarly optics...

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    I used to service some German machinery and it was over complicated and difficult to work on. Much more difficult than most other machinery. I'm also of half German heritage so I'm not just picking on them.

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    There's also the impact of modeling tools on design.

    Auto industry used to start with a sketch, then clay, then fairly intense work to translate that to things like stamping dies with curves and near seamlessly matching panels. Early days of CAD (think slab-sided cars) might have had an effect on designers and designs.

    HP was a client back in the days one of their divisions had its own CAD system - a somewhat limited solid modeling system (the heir now more capable). Back then I'd tell them I could see an HP design from a distance - everything was a primitive with a rolling ball fillet. Think LaserJet etc.

    Similarly, housing used to be somewhat free-form (thing straw huts, igloos, stone buildings). Soon as we started making them of out 2x4 sticks and 4x8 sheets they became rectilinear. It was a sign of wealth to have curved coves in the plaster, maybe a turret in one corner. or a shingled eyebrow on the roof. Some of that (tools and materials dominating the design options) is still with us today (think welding and fabrication) through full 3D everything is lifting the limits.

    Frank Gehry is reputed to have used Catia surfacing from somewhat early on. I say reputed because CAD vendors have a penchant for over-emphasizing their role - witness Dyson and Unigraphics. And while I'd agree with many that the skins of Gehry's buildings often look cool, the inside of the ones I've been in seem more a jumble than great places to work.

    Somewhat irrelevent perhaps, but I still remember attending a Braun product design show in my college years. It was all about the super duper design of everything Bauhaus-inspired from Braun. All sorts of appliances etc. I recall a Braun record turntable on display with the Braun rep standing nearby. The cartridge holder on the wisp end of the tonearm was broken and dangling from the end. When I pointed it out, the Braun guy was offended. It's not broken. Our stuff couldn't be broken. It's a design feature. When pressed, he went on to speculate that the engineers had some way to lift up the cartridge from its dangling wires and play maybe Mahler to perfection. Point being, design can be a sort of religion, too.

    One long past company where I was an exec was given the job by Monarch of designing a successor to the 10EE. Our prototype made it to the IMTS, but those rightly worshiping the massive cast iron stance of a 10EE didn't much like it's equally stiff and cutting force damping look. We got the structural dynamics right, but totally missed the reassuring "look" of a 10EE.

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    German engineering? A catchy phrase isn't it. I used to own a BMW and did the maintenance on it. Didn't like the hood's hinges at the front grill.
    Around here now they are as common as Chevrolets. Still like them but there isn't anything special about them.

    But a Porsche 911 would be nice. Maybe if I ask nicely Bill Gates would let me drive his car around the block.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Big B View Post
    I used to service some German machinery and it was over complicated and difficult to work on. Much more difficult than most other machinery. I'm also of half German heritage so I'm not just picking on them.

    I'm told that over-complexity is the reason the Russians beat the Germans in the largest tank battle in WWII. Don't know enough of that history to know for sure. Also told that the Russians were basically given a US tank design we passed on, improved it a bit, and made enough of these simpler but more reliable machines to help win their bloody part of the war.

    I will say that Porsche design -- and beyond its cars as well -- does a pretty nice job.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PeteM View Post
    ...that the Russians were basically given a US tank design we passed on, improved it a bit, and made enough of these simpler but more reliable machines
    That would be Christie's torsion-bar suspension that didn't interest the War Department. He sold it to whoever would pony up the cash, which turned out to be the Russians.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PeteM View Post
    I'm told that over-complexity is the reason the Russians beat the Germans in the largest tank battle in WWII. Don't know enough of that history to know for sure. Also told that the Russians were basically given a US tank design we passed on, improved it a bit, and made enough of these simpler but more reliable machines to help win their bloody part of the war.

    I will say that Porsche design -- and beyond its cars as well -- does a pretty nice job.
    The major difference was the Russian's used sloped armour.

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    I wouldn't think of old American stuff as overbuilt. That trait is found in many countries engineering of that time period. I think when it happened too, it wasn't the intent. I've heard of some manufacturers doing it (as in, "what does it need? lets make it a little more than that."), but I think it was more a byproduct of the way things were built than an intentional design trait.

    If anything I think modern stuff is "over designed," as in, the engineers over-analyze materials and designs and build them to the minimum specs necessary. The problem with that is that the computer doesn't always do the best job of predicting the future or leaving enough room for error. The old way of doing it did involve a lot of analysis and calculation, but IMO it also involved a LOT more field experience. When someone made a machine back them, they would first look at what was already done, copy it, and improve it from there. There was a lot more physical trial and error involved. When someone makes a machine now, the process is entirely digital until some kind of "beta testing" determines if the machine will fit the order. Often by that point the wheels of production are already turning.

    IMO old American built stuff exhibited a good deal of quality, even the "cheap" stuff, but if there was anything that made them stand out then and even now, I think it's market driven innovation. That trait is also found in many other countries, but I think American's been doing it the longest (IMHO). A majority of products are conceived because some Joe saw a need, mixed it with some bright ideas, and sold it in a way that would reach as many of the needs as possible. It's still done that way today, it's just that the market actually wants disposable products.

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    This reminds me of something I heard once.

    "Some houses are built to live in while others are built to be sold."

    Even although East European the country Czechoslovakia always made good quality machine products. Even after dividing into two countries both countries still do.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tyrone Shoelaces View Post
    I used to say I could tell you where a machine tool had been made just by looking at the styling and design.

    Machines made in the USA were usually well designed and good quality. I lot of emphasis was placed on styling and ergonomics. Labour saving ideas for the operator was high on the design priority. I once read that the lack of skilled labour in the USA in the early days led to the emphasis of automation in American design. Manufacturers in the UK had a plentiful supply of skilled labour so they never bothered with labour saving devices.

    I see PeteM has mentioned France. The world of French machine design came up with some weird ideas, some great, some not so great. An example of the great was the " Huron " milling machine,

    I worked on a lot of Russian machines and I liked them. Styling wasn't much of an issue for them but they were designed to be maintained and repaired by ex Olympic female shot putters and they had an emphasis on simplicity of construction.

    Regards Tyrone.
    What do you think about the Lagun Mills? I like them and used them extensively.

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    We are a certified Siemens Solution Partner - as such we work a lot with their folks in Germany on a broad range of technology topics related to Simatics / Simotion / Sinumerik / SimoCrane / etc.

    One thing about German engineering is that they fully expect that you never ever use their stuff for anything that they did not think of first. And if you ask why, they just tell you that you don't need their _____ to do that - it wasn't designed to do that.

    Case in point - we put an 840D CNC on a large boring bar (I know that just doesn't sound right, but bear with me) . . . when doing repairs on a hydropower turbine housing, you need to weld up areas where cavitation and corrosion have damaged the interior seal surfaces and then you need to machine all of these repairs smooth. So a 12 foot swing bar is mounted to the center 24 ft diameter turbine housing spindle and you cut away material / welded areas to make it smooth which in the past required an operator to ride around on a chair mounted to the bar NASA training style as he watched the cutter and adjusted as needed to create a smooth sealing surface. He would get dizzy, puke, and have to take a break, rinse, repeat.

    I asked why we couldn't run the CNC wirelessly . . . the Sinumerik engineer stated emphatically it wasn't designed to do this, that this wouldn't be supported, and that we should not do this.

    So we put a Network sniffer onto the HMI/MCP and then set up a wireless network and adjusted latencies to match the wired setup and . . . it worked great! Then we added a GoPro camera to the same network and moved the operator off the spinning bar and to a table next to the turbine housing. Now he could run the CNC wirelessly while eating his lunch instead of launching his breakfast within 10 minutes of starting the job. It took about a month before we were contacted by Siemens and asked if we would create a technical note on how to do this.

    Same thing with a renewable project where we used a drive with the VFD outputs connected to the Utility and would set the commanded frequency to less than the Utility frequency to pull power off the grid to feed a DC bus and then we would set the commanded frequency to higher than the utility to push power to the grid. Again, it worked great!

    During our last Solution Partner meeting, we were identified as the company that "Boldly goes where no German has gone before" by our Siemens peers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by M.B. Naegle View Post
    I wouldn't think of old American stuff as overbuilt. That trait is found in many countries engineering of that time period. I think when it happened too, it wasn't the intent. I've heard of some manufacturers doing it (as in, "what does it need? lets make it a little more than that."), but I think it was more a byproduct of the way things were built than an intentional design trait.

    If anything I think modern stuff is "over designed," as in, the engineers over-analyze materials and designs and build them to the minimum specs necessary. The problem with that is that the computer doesn't always do the best job of predicting the future or leaving enough room for error. The old way of doing it did involve a lot of analysis and calculation, but IMO it also involved a LOT more field experience. When someone made a machine back them, they would first look at what was already done, copy it, and improve it from there. There was a lot more physical trial and error involved. When someone makes a machine now, the process is entirely digital until some kind of "beta testing" determines if the machine will fit the order. Often by that point the wheels of production are already turning.

    IMO old American built stuff exhibited a good deal of quality, even the "cheap" stuff, but if there was anything that made them stand out then and even now, I think it's market driven innovation. That trait is also found in many other countries, but I think American's been doing it the longest (IMHO). A majority of products are conceived because some Joe saw a need, mixed it with some bright ideas, and sold it in a way that would reach as many of the needs as possible. It's still done that way today, it's just that the market actually wants disposable products.
    I now realize that I misused the word overbuilt. It was meant as a compliment. Old American tools are still in use today because they are so rugged. It's like they said a pound of iron will do, but lets use a pound and a half just for good measure. Modern stuff seems to have removed every expendable shaving in the name of cost and material science. After the tool is fully depreciated, something or everything irreparable breaks.

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    What Americans do best, is to adapt quickly to changing dynamics. We don't work as efficiently as others, but we are able to be more flexible.

    This "mindset" is deeply rooted in the concept and practice of Toolmaking. We have mastered this skill. Only a few countries have, and yet, no one has scaled up to our level.


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