What’s in a tool? A case for Made in USA.

A lot of people make the argument that you can’t go wrong buying a tool made in USA, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, etc. They swear that any Chinese tool will be garbage and it’s not worth purchasing them. Now, any discerning mind will say, “Wait a minute, why? China has a huge economy, experienced people, and the ability to use all the scary chemicals that make the best steel. Why would their tools be any better or worse than ours?” It’s a very valid argument. There are lots of Chinese tools that are the best in the world. Most of what we see in our stores are not. So what is the difference. Why does a country who can make the best tools not make the best tools? Surely it isn’t purely cost cutting. Is it cultural? The opinion I wish to put forth is that it’s a matter of design intent communication.

I’ve worked as an engineer in industry. The one common thread between a quality product and a bad product has always been this, ”Is the person who designed the product involved in making the product?” If the person or peoples who imbued the design intent into the original product are actively involved in and working towards the execution of that product, that product has a vastly greater chance of being good. Or in other words: outsourcing doesn’t produce a bad product because the new people making the product don’t care. It makes a bad product because the people who understand the intent behind the product are separated from its execution.

As you can see the export made crescent wrench is not made to the same tolerances as the previous wrench.
As you can see the export made crescent wrench is not made to the same tolerances as the previous wrench.

Let’s take the Crescent wrench as an example. Crescent wrenches used to be made in USA. In the past few years they have begun to make them in China. We can spot many visual differences right away. The new Crescent wrench has a different shape, the logo has changed and the stamping for the logo is dodgy, and worse, the tool just doesn’t operate as well as it used to. The jaws aren’t as hard and they wiggle more. What happened? How could Crescent mess up their flagship so badly. Surely they intended just to cut costs, not to reduce quality. This isn’t shameful in itself

What happened to the Crescent wrench is easily explained by anyone who has seen a product from design to execution before. A factory in the USA set out to make a good adjustable wrench. Hundreds of engineers and employees worked in a building to make a good wrench. When their machines didn’t work, they came up with solutions. When their quality was lacking, they implemented better processes. They had a list of trusted suppliers. They could guarantee that the materials that came in would be imbued with their vision and intent when the product came out. The intent and will of all those people built up in one place over time.

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Kids Explore Engineering with Cartoon Tech Build

“To the Tortuga!” my husband and I heard the announcement from the backyard. Our two boys, Ben (7) and Miles (3), had become pleasantly obsessed with the coolest brothers in nature – the Kratt Brothers. From the moment that these two energetic animal-loving brothers were discovered by our kids, they’ve been huge fans. Our house has been transported to the Sonora Desert where we saved a Gila Monster, then to the Australian Outback to learn about the Thorny Devil. We even went to swing with the Spider Monkeys in South America and then back to the good ‘ole U.S. of A to harness the speed of the Roadrunner – since we are, after all, a family of runners!

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Creaturepod [Source: WildKratts Wiki]
Our boys have been the Grand Brothers for months and there are no signs of it letting up. At the end of summer, I decided to reward the kids with a Creaturepod, a plastic toy meant to look like the fictional walkie talkie of the same name used on PBS Kids’ Wild Kratts program. They loved it, but soon found that it didn’t do anything on its own. They both have wild imaginations and like to bring to life most of their play, but the toy just wasn’t doing it for them. Being that Chris and Martin Kratt are brothers in real life, and Ben and Miles Grand are brothers in real life, Ben thought it would only be right to have “real life” Creaturepods. Real walkie talkies that he could use to communicate with his friends and have Wild Kratts adventures. This natural interest provided an opportunity to make learning, designing, and building a source of fun for the boys. It is an amazing way to teach that you can change the world around you by having an idea, making a plan, and gathering everyone with the skills needed to complete the project.

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Swollen Clock Build Demostrates All Engineering Shoulds

[Steve Gardner] wants an accurate clock for his bench. Of course the only option most engineers will accept for something like this a clock they’ve built themselves. In fact, this is his second time around as his first was an OLED based system using one of those sweet Maxim TCXO’s that keep time for years with negligible drift.

This build is going to be dead accurate as well since he plans to roll in a GPS source. But for now he’s covering the display build itself and will use another clock source IC at first. The display is a set of six 2.3″ 7-segment displays on protoboard. Bonus points for all the tidiness in his point to point soldering!

You may think this is a super simple project, and in a way it is. But [Steve] does an amazing job of dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s in a way that is beneficial to learn for all of your prototyping. For instance, he’s combining some 7-segment displays with 5mm LEDs as the colons. He mentions checking the peak wavelength of the displays to match the LEDs when choosing components. The design is also well-planned on graph paper. This may be just for use in illustrating the video but is a great practice in your own prototyping.

We’re not sure if there’s some movie magic involved here as his first burning of code to the PIC microcontroller results in a fully working device — impressive. Looking at his entire presentation, if you follow the workflow that [Steve] uses in his engineering, you’re doing it right!

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2015 Hackaday Prize: Build Something that Matters

Last year we challenged you to build the next generation of connected devices. Six months later, the best teams and projects from around the world battled for the greatest prize of all: the respect of their peers and a trip to space. This year, we’re issuing a call to hackers, engineers, makers and startups from all over the world, to focus their creative efforts on nothing less than solving serious issues facing humanity.

Fix the World

thp2015-build-something-that-matters-a6We’ll all be facing a lot of problems in the next few decades, whether they’re from rising costs and consumption of oil, droughts, access to food, demographic shifts in populations, or increasing health care costs. These problems need to be dealt with, and there’s no better time than right now to start working on solutions.

What do we want from you? We want you to identify the greatest problems faced by humanity in the next few years and come up with a solution. This can be anything from better, lower-cost solar power components, inexpensive ultrasound machines, better ways to store drugs, more advanced ways of measuring farm production, or cheaper, more sustainable smartphones to bridge the digital divide. The world is full of problems, but if there’s one thing hackers have taught us, it’s that there are more than enough people willing to find solutions.

Prizes

If worldwide notoriety isn’t enough personal incentive, Hackaday is back with a huge slate of prizes for those devices that best exemplify solutions to problems that matter.

The Grand Prize is a trip to space on a carrier of your choice or $196,883 (a Monster Group number). Other top prizes include a 90-Watt laser cutter, a builder kit (pcb mill, 3d printer, cnc router, bench lathe), a tour of CERN in Geneva, and a tour of Shenzhen in China.

New this year is the Best Product award. Go the extra mile and show a production-ready device (in addition to supplying three beta test units for judging) and you can score $100,000! The entry is of course still eligible to compete for the Grand prize and other top prizes.

We’re able to pull this off once again thanks to the vision of Supplyframe who managed to unite giants of the electronics industry as sponsors of the 2015 Hackaday Prize. Atmel, Freescale, Microchip, Mouser, and Texas Instruments have all signed on in supporting this mission.

Individuals, Colleges, Hackerspaces, and Startups

If you just don’t want to go-it alone, get your team excited. After all, it was a team that won the Grand Prize last year. SatNOGS transformed the cash-option of $196,418 into a jumpstart for a foundation to carry the project forward. Get the boss on board by touting the notoriety your company will get from showing off their engineering prowess. Or help build your resume by herding your college buddies into some brainstorming session. And the Best Product prize is perfect for Startups who want to show off their builds.

Judges

Joining the Judging Panels this year are Akiba (Freaklabs), Pete Dokter (Sparkfun), Heather Knight (Marilyn MonRobot), Ben Krasnow (GoogleX & host of Applied Science on YouTube), Lenore Edman & Windell Oskay (Evil Mad Scientist Labs), and Micah Scott (Scanlime).

Our returning judges are Limor “Ladyada” Fried (Adafruit), Jack Ganssle (Ganssle Group, & The Embedded Muse), Dave Jones (EEVBlog), Ian Lesnet (Dangerous Prototypes), and Elecia White (Logical Elegance).

You can read all of the judge bios and find social media and webpage links for them on our Judges page. We are indebted to these industry experts for sharing their time and talent to make the Hackaday Prize possible.

Tell Everyone

We don’t ask often: please tell everyone you know about the 2015 Hackaday Prize! Social media share icons are just above the image at the top of this post. Submit this page or the prize page (http://hackaday.io/prize) to all your favorite sites. No hacker should get through this day without hearing about #HackadayPrize and we can’t reach total media saturation without your help. Thanks in advance!

GET STARTED NOW

Don’t wait, put up an idea right now and tag it with “2015HackadayPrize”. We’re sending out swag for early ideas that help get the ball rolling. And as you flesh out your plans you could score prizes to help build the prototype like PCBs, 3D prints, laser cutting, etc. Make it to the finals and you’ll be looking at the five top prizes we mentioned earlier. A simple idea can change the world.

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Hacking Education; Project-Based Learning Trumps the Ivory Tower

Project-based learning, hackathons, and final projects for college courses are fulfilling a demand for hands-on technical learning that had previously fallen by the wayside during the internet/multi-media computer euphoria of the late 90’s. By getting back to building actual hardware yourself, Hackers are influencing the direction of education. In this post we will review some of this progress and seek your input for where we go next.

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Retrotechtacular: Building BART

retrotechtacular-building-BART

Sometimes it’s fun to take a step back from the normal electronics themes and feature a marvelous engineering project. This week’s Retrotechtacular looks at a pair of videos reporting on the progress of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. Anyone who’s visited San Francisco will be familiar with the BART system of trains that serve the region. Let’s take a look at what went into building the system almost half a century ago.

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Book Review: Eight Amazing Engineering Stories

We’re big fans of [Bill Hammack], aka the Engineer Guy. His series of engineering videos dredge up pleasant memories of watching Mr. Wizard but spin to the adult science enthusiast. The most resent season (he calls it series #4) scratches the surface of the topics covered in his book Eight Amazing Engineering Stories, which was written with fellow authors [Patrick Ryan] and [Nick Ziech]. They provided us with a complimentary digital copy of the book to use for this review.

The conversational style found in the videos translates perfectly to the book, but as with comparing a novel to a movie, the written word allows for much more depth. For instance, we loved learning about how Apple uses anodization to dye the aluminum used for iPod cases. The same presentation style makes the topic easily understandable for anyone who took some chemistry and math in High School. But primers a sidebars offer an optional trip through the looking-glass, explaining the history behind the process, how it compares to natural materials, and what trade-offs are made in choosing this process.

Some of the other topics included are how CCD camera sensors, lead-acid batteries, mems accelerometers, and atomic clocks work. As the book progresses through all eight topics general concepts the complexity of the items being explained advances quickly. By the seventh story — which covers the magentron in a microwave oven — we’d bet the concepts challenge most readers’ cognition. But we still enjoyed every page. The book would make a great pool-side read. It would make a great graduation gift (too bad we missed that time of year) but keep it in mind for any science minded friends or relatives. You can see [Bill’s] own description of the book and all its formats in the clip after the break.

TLDR: Buy it or give it as a gift

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