Think for Yourself


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Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.
— Mark Twain

When I was young, I was very much a follower, trying to conform to what the popular crowd was doing. I’m sure this is hard to believe, but I wasn’t the most popular kid in school, and I had to work hard to fit in. I was an awkward looking kid who didn’t have the trendy toys and clothes, so people were not immediately drawn to me. For some reason, my good grades didn’t matter much to the other kids; in fact they seemed a bit put off by them. Instead, I attempted to earn respect either in sports or by being a class clown.

I think what bothers me most today about those childhood experiences is that strong desire I had to be similar to or fit in with the others. I don’t know why I couldn’t be satisfied with being myself and doing things that I wanted to do and was already good at. As it turned out, I did manage to find my way into the fringe of the “cool-kid” group, but I’m not convinced that was the best thing for me. It seemed to make life a little easier back then, but it didn’t really teach me to think for myself. I faced a constant internal struggle between doing what made me happy and doing what my friends wanted me to do. To this day, I still often fall back into the comfort zone of conformance, although it’s much easier for me to see that this approach is not always best.

While it’s important to pay attention to our peers, learn from their successes and failures, and sometimes emulate what works for them, we also need to think for ourselves and be creative in finding what works for us as individuals. Investors who aren’t afraid to fail often find the greatest financial gains (think Donald Trump). People and companies who go out on a limb and try new things are the ones who advance technology. Where would we be today without the contributions of creative geniuses such as Ben Franklin and Albert Einstein, whose lists of inventions may include numerous flops, yet they weren’t afraid to continue forward, eventually providing some of the most influential developments of all time.

Of course, we don’t need to think and act on such a grand scale to still have an immense effect on our own lives. I’ve been in a good number of shops through the years that have developed specific pieces of equipment, tooling or automation that have substantially boosted their own production efficiency, having a significant impact on their bottom lines. Some have even gone on to market their developments for additional profits.

Our feature article this month about material handling (page XX) is contributed by Al Youngwerth. Mr. Youngwerth is a bit of an inventor himself with a passion for developing industry-disruptive, high-value products that improve existing processes.

I wrote about Mr. Youngwerth’s current company, VersaBuilt, a couple of years ago. The company was born from a need of its parent company (Rekluse) for the development of products that alleviate personnel challenges created by large swings in production demand throughout the course of each year. Rekluse (also founded by Mr. Youngwerth) is a manufacturer of aftermarket motorcycle clutch components, and its business can vary greatly from month to month, based on weather and its effect on the activity of riders.

Mr. Youngwerth saw robotics as a solution and developed a system that reduced labor cost at Rekluse by 65 percent, resolving the recurring issue of temporary employee placement. Seeing the effectiveness of the system in his own organization and realizing it could be applied equally well in other shops, he eventually created a separate company to build and market the product.

The goal of VersaBuilt is to bring innovation to CNC manufacturing through advanced robotics, providing automation in applications where it previously could not be placed. Mr. Youngwerth wants to provide solutions to some of manufacturing’s toughest automation problems. This month’s article looks at how his company has addressed high-mix, low-volume applications, which previously have created some of automation’s biggest challenges.

Creativity starts from within. If we allow ourselves to think freely and act on our knowledge, we can do some amazing things.