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The manufacturing conversation started
in my house when my daughter was about
three years old. It began with something
simple—paper, I think.
She was wasting a lot, as kids do, going through reams
of it for tiny drawings and for the simple fun of ripping. I
had just written a story about the industry, so rather than
scolding her I told her the whole story of paper manufacturing: the journey from tree to pulp to mill to store. I debriefed her on the whole supply chain, the whole manufacturing process and all the many, many people involved
in every step.
Honestly, I only did it to make her stop wasting money.
But it resulted in something very different. Something
clicked in her head: The things of the world aren’t magi-
cally created, people create them. Every product, every
toy, every stuffed animal suddenly had a story—a story I
have been obligated to tell and retell ever since.
It’s been an interesting experience, watching this reali-zation dawn on her and slowly settling into her active in-
terpretation of the world. Things are made; people are
makers. It’s an understanding I think most people outside
of the manufacturing industry lack.
We talk about manufacturing a lot now. But when you
break it down to the very simplest level, most people
never give much of a thought to things around them. Tires
and toothpaste, T-shirts and shoelaces, belts and Q-tips:
everything is the product of somebody’s hard day of work.
Everything we waste is a waste of somebody else’s time
It’s a simple idea, but a powerful one nonetheless. And
it’s difficult to hold onto, even to those of us focused on
For example, I’ve read about the 10,000 Year Clock (pg.
30) often, and I have thought about it even more. To me it
was exactly as it is hyped to be: a project of the future, a
product of human ingenuity and permanence. It wasn’t
until we started digging into the story that I considered the
fact that the thing is filled with bearings and moving parts—
components that I know break down all the time. But these
parts must somehow last for millennia. That’s a fascinating
And, roller coasters. Roller coasters!? Until John Hitch
pitched this idea to me, I had never even considered the
point. But, as he demonstrates in his cover story this month
(pg 22), it is possibly the finest example of safety, redundancy, motion control, material handling, and just-in-time
Reading through these pieces has given me an opportunity to once again step back and look at the world again
as the kid did, three years old in a pile of homemade confetti, considering the lives and ingenuity of all the people
behind all the things in the world.
It makes the world far more complex and far more interesting. It makes all these common objects, all these random
things we use and waste, far more important, far more
personal. And if not, at the very least, the global sourcing
story behind these things makes
for a bullet-proof bedtime story
that works every time.