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How Value Engineering Can Change the World (Even Just a Little)

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Bessemer Process. Trans-Continental Railroad. Ford Model T. 

These are all feats of engineering. All of them changed the way we function as a species. Some are more infamous than others, but they all have something in common. 

They're the product of an engineer's desire to improve the world around them.

All of our modern comforts are a result of value engineering. Everything from refrigerators to indoor plumbing to one-day shipping can be traced back to the desire to make things easier, better, faster. Although we all desire optimization, engineers are the heroes who make it happen.

Even the smallest design tweak can lead to a domino effect of progress. Here's one example.

How Can Value Engineering Change the World?

Engineering is about: 

  1. Solving a problem. The problem is usually one of time, cost, or effort. Sometimes, we don't realize there's a problem that needs solving. 
  2. Once the problem is solved, it creates opportunities for further innovation

You don't have to solve a problem to go down in history. While there can be multiple ways to solve a problem, it's usually the best solution that we remember. That means less opportunity for ground-breaking design.

For example, we remember Henry Bessemer for his optimized steel production process - but few remember the earlier processes designed by Benjamin Huntsman or William Kelly.

However, the Bessemer Process opened up a huge web of opportunity for other engineers. If you can capitalize on a solution already available (improve or innovate) you can engineer something that will change the world.


Transcontinental Railroad

The Bessemer Process allowed Asa Whitney and Theodore Judah to design the Transcontinental Railroad. The new process made a national railroad network realistic and affordable. This was a world-changing proposal, and led to massive improvements in trade, communications, and transportation.

If steel production had remained slow, costly, and inefficient, America could not have grown at the rate it did. 

Ford Model T

Henry Ford's iconic brainchild was the first automobile in America to use steel in its design. Not only was the car itself an engineering breakthrough, but the steel parts used an alloy called vanadium steel. The engineer who designed the vanadium steel production process used the Bessemer Process as its foundation.

Ford's monopoly on this improved process helped build his empire, and make Ford what it is today.

Stainless Steel

How about the invention of stainless steel? Like the Bessemer Process, there were many engineers who attempted to produce a more durable steel alloy. However, stainless steel is the only product that we remember. It was Hans Goldschmidt who discovered how to produce carbon-free chromium that, alloyed with traditional steel, made the metal resistant to chemicals and the elements. 

Goldschmidt made it possible to affordably produce more durable products:

  • Medical tools
  • Weapons
  • Fire-proof structures
  • Infrastructure
  • Food and drink items
  • Water and treatment equipment
  • Essential components of machinery & tech

You don't have to solve the world's problems to make an impact.

For some engineers, world-changing simply means changing someone's world. Even if you don't invent the next spaceship or solve the world's energy crisis, your design can still make a difference. 

Remember the domino effect: making a single design change may seem insignificant. But it can lead to the thing that redefines how we build houses, transport water, or produce energy. 

Keep improving and innovating. One simple idea could change the entire world.


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