Modest ambitions

Assembly Automation

ISSN: 0144-5154

Article publication date: 20 April 2010



Loughlin, C. (2010), "Modest ambitions", Assembly Automation, Vol. 30 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Modest ambitions

Article Type: Editorial From: Assembly Automation, Volume 30, Issue 2

Our theme for this issue is “flexible automation” and many of the papers we include are updated and revised versions of those presented at the FAIM conference held at the University of Teesside (UK) in June 2009. All of the papers we include have been chosen for both their ingenuity and practicality as t hese are some of the cornerstones of our journal.

Looking back over my own career and considering the mistakes that I have made and the decisions that could have been improved, or what I would do now if given the same opportunities again, I find myself wishing I had been less ambitious.

This notion of regretting ambition probably sounds rather strange, especially from within a culture that regards ambition as a desirable characteristic, and so I will now try to explain my take on the situation as it goes to the very heart of automation.

The technology of engineering is a powerful drug, and like most drugs it has both good and bad effects, and there are times when it can be beneficial and also times when it is best taken in moderation, if at all.

I expect, and very much hope, that all our readers will like me have a fire burning within them for both the romance of engineering and the benefits that technological progress can bring to our daily lives. The danger however, is that this fire may burn out of control or smoulder away unseen.

Science is all about the search for truth and understanding of the world in which we live. This search does not need to justify itself by providing immediate gains. If a scientific theory is proved to be false then the understanding gained can still stand as a success. By contrast, engineering is expected to have immediate benefits, and if, for example, a bridge falls down then little solace will be gained by the engineers that designed it.

Our Canadian colleagues are well aware of this and have a tradition that a graduating engineer is presented with an iron ring made from the Quebec Bridge which collapsed during construction in 1907 killing 75 construction workers. The ring is therefore a symbol of both pride and humility for the engineering profession.

There is a school of thought that it is only by pushing at the limits that we both find out where the limits are and also extend the boundaries in which we work. However, as engineers we have a duty to provide working solutions and it is not sufficient just to say “sorry” if an assembly line fails to deliver on its promise.

Unlike doctors we cannot bury our mistakes, and so I consider it vital that we constantly remind ourselves why we are doing whatever project we are currently working on. For each project we should aim to come up with the best solution we possibly can for the task in hand.

We might be excited by the prospect of developing new ideas and keen to demonstrate our great skills and creativity to our colleagues and clients, but the bottom line should always be to provide the best possible solution that works, rather than a ground-breaking development that almost works.

Clive Loughlin

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