“I call it the law of the instrument, and it may be formulated as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding. It comes as no particular surprise to discover that a scientist formulates problems in a way which requires for their solution just those techniques in which he himself is especially skilled.”

-Abraham Kaplan, The Conduct of Inquiry

Remember the Lil Rascals episode with Spanky going bug huntin’ with a hammer

A week of so ago I was talking with Mark Reyland about vacuum forming, a technology I had limited exposure with but an area where Mark has had significant experience. Mark explained that there are significant cost advantages using this process over injection molding and some parts can’t be injection molded because of the required thickness relative to the length.

I started doing research into this process since my limited exposure was using it for clam shell packaging of retail cell phone accessories like car chargers and carry cases.

Ever since I did this research my mind is going wild with ideas that can incorporate thermoforming sheets of plastic. Just this morning at breakfast I came up with a much lower cost and better design approach to a housewares product I was stuck on. At lunch, I came up with as completely new product idea that utilizes thermoforming.

In my case, the “instrument” or hammer was this new found knowledge about thermoforming, a manufacturing technique I previously dismissed. The good thing was this knowledge caused me to look at things differently, to come up with solutions I had not previously thought of. The flip side; I was concerned that I may be seeing a all my challenges as nails needing pounding.

Often times my wife suggests that a design should take a particular shape. I say, “it can’t be done”. She asks why and I’ll say, “because I don’t know that it can be manufactured”.

“Just because you don’t know how it can be done, does not mean it can’t be done”, she replies.

Morals of the story:
1) Almost anything can be manufactured, its often a matter of cost effectiveness or using a technique you are not familiar with
2) Listen to your spouse

Time, and research, will tell if my ideas pan out or if I am just an enthusiastic kid with a shiny new hammer like Spanky. I tend to think it’s like getting some new crayon colors.

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