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The Engines of Our IngenuityAn Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture$
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John H. Lienhard

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780195135831

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195135831.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 31 July 2021

Systems, Design, and Production

Systems, Design, and Production

(p.167) 12 Systems, Design, and Production
The Engines of Our Ingenuity

John H. Lienhard

Oxford University Press

No technology can be reduced to one invention or even to a cluster of inventions. The smallest component of any device, something so small as a screw, represents a long train of invention. Somebody conceived of a lever, someone else thought of a ramp, another person dreamed up a circular staircase. The simple screw thread merges all of those ideas, and it followed all of them. A contrivance made of more than one part is a system woven from those parts. Take a pair of scissors. It consists of just three correlated members—two blades with handles on one end and the bolt that holds them together. Each part represents a skein of invention, and the whole is a device with an efficacy that we would normally not see in the parts alone. System is a word that takes on new overtones in the modern engineering vocabulary. Yet the modern sense of the word is no different from the dictionary definition, “an assemblage with correlated members.” As machines become more complex, however, their systemic characters become increasingly important in the processes of conceiving, designing, and producing them. But the systemic nature of technology does not end with the particular device. Think for a minute about automobiles. An automobile engine is a large, complex system in itself, but it cannot be designed in isolation from the rest of the car. The engine, radiator, transmission, brakes, airconditioning, suspension, and much more all act in concert to get you to work or to play. And the systemic character does not stop there. The automobile interacts with life around it. Questions of service, noise, air pollution, parking, and pedestrian safety all come to rest on the shoulders of automobile makers. That particular assemblage of correlated members reaches even beyond the automobile and its immediate infrastructure. The finished automobile reshapes the society in which it moves. The layout of cities, the design of homes, and even the scaling of the nuclear family have been shaped to this exceedingly complex technology, and that process of change continues still.

Keywords:   aggregate response, black box concept, firearms, heat, interchangeable parts, light bulbs, mass production, nuclear reactors, pendulums, shipbuilding

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