Scientists are skilled dot connecters as that is one of the more powerful tools of the trade. Years ago Greg, another physicist, recommended visiting "companies that make stuff"and see if they'll give you a tour of their process. Making physical things presents multiple challenges including human factors and social challenges and, if you get someone who is proud of what they're doing, you can dive in and ask a lot of questions getting some real depth in the process.
Over the years I've visited companies that brew beer, cartoon, make rocket engines, fabricate ICs, build large gas turbines, do precision wood work, build submarines, bake cakes, make ultrasound machines, pull wire, smelt copper, make exotic steels, make potato chips, make electric motors, make dresses (many companies here - it is a rich area), craft bespoke shoes for athletes, build exotic batteries, make LED lamps, and build bikes (that is a small list - it has been going on for years).
All of these tours have been worthwhile and some of the visits have given serious insight for problems I have worked on years later - the potato chip factory visit provided just the right clue in thinking about mesh networking. Although the reasoning is a bit difficult to explain, all of a sudden the network problem became obvious in light of the clues I had learned watching a quality control step at the Utz factory in Pennsylvania.
Post 9/11 it has been more difficult to get tours (I tired for a few years to get a tour of the place that makes water tanks for buildings in Manhattan before having success) and many companies are giving up the fabrication phase at this point. But don't let that stop you - there are a lot of places that are thrilled to have someone take an interest. Except for the Mars company (M&Ms) - one I will probably never crack...
I've learned a lot from bicycles including their design and fabrication. Simple machines hold a special interest as you can easily wrap your head around the integrated design. So this 1945 film on the fabrication of Raleigh bikes is particularly good. I'm keeping this short today as I spent the 17 or so minutes watching. Comments from the company:
Our resident historian (HR Manager Frank Ellis) tells us that the bike was a “Low Gravity Carrier” (a Butcher’s Bike to you and I) and “The guy putting ball bearings in the bottom bracket took me back….he had that authentic piecework dance…people used to say that if you worked at Raleigh long enough you started doing the dance in your sleep!”
Frank, who carried out time and motion studies when he joined Raleigh as an apprentice in the 70s, said: “The hub lacing shot towards the end was great to see. It used to be done by hand by women and the first frames capture the classic fanned spokes that the women achieved with a simple flick of the wrist…try that one and see if you can get them anywhere near as evenly spaced! I’m always telling people the top women pieceworkers were faster than the automatic hub lacer, but I might be exaggerating just a little.”
Give it a view - great stuff!
Bike manufacture has changed considerably in the 65+ years since then and that is another story... I've been involved in it a bit myself and for someone without a mechanical engineering background it has been a terrific education and has expanded the pool of dots in my quiver.
Nothing like ending on a mixed metaphor...