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Week of 5 November 2018: Innovation and Strategy--Back to the Future

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As you might have guessed, November is Innovation and Strategy month at Paperitalo Publications. I thought would we would start out talking about lost innovations.

There are many clever innovations with industrial application from the past that have been lost to the present era. We can explore the reasons for this; I have my opinion--coming out of World War II, that is the war where fighting ceased in 1945 (I am slowly realizing the younger generations are not being taught history and I must explain what should be common knowledge), the western world entered an era of attitudinal adjustment that can best be described by saying "we can do anything." We entered the age of plastic (now an anathema) and cheap energy. We could eschew doing things the old way was the thinking--we can now do them with brute force. Thus, clever old devices were lost.

An example is in order. This past Sunday evening, I was having dinner at the home of an elder in the Old Order Mennonite Community where I had been invited to visit for the weekend. These folks use the old ways, and, in their community one thing they do not allow is motors of any kind, which includes internal combustion engines as well as electric motors. Well, this not completely all inclusive, for they have clocks that are battery operated and obviously have a tiny motor (but after dark one has to hold a kerosene lantern up to the clock face to see what time it is).

This restriction causes a problem if, for instance, you wish to raise water to a level higher than its current steady state, a common problem on a farm. One would think this limits a person to one of two ways to accomplish this task. The first way would be an old-fashioned hand pump like one might find on a well on an old farmstead. The other way is a pump, piston or centrifugal, attached to a horse powered treadmill, common in communities such as the one where I was visiting.


Join us in Guatemala next summer for the 3rd Paperitalo Papermakers' Mission Trip [12.06.18]


In the course of the conversation, I brought up a third way, which I have read about but never seen. My host immediately agreed, in fact had lived where they used the contraption I presently described. It is a clever mechanical device called a hydraulic ram. Obeying the principles of physics, of course, a hydraulic ram takes a source of water that is at one elevation and, mounted below that source of water, takes the momentum of the water's elevation drop to the ram to lift a smaller portion of the total flow to an elevation higher than the original steady state level. Essentially it takes the total momentum of the drop in elevation of the whole stream (less friction losses) and uses it to push a portion of the stream to a much higher elevation. It is simply an exploitation of equating the total potential energy given up by one stream to that exerted to raise another stream, of smaller volume, to a higher level.

No motor, no electrical connection (hence no outside power source), a simple, relatively imprecise piece of machinery. It's beautiful. I can think of several places in pulp and paper mills where a side stream is pulled and pumped to a higher level while a large portion of the stream is sewered or taken to a lower level in the process. Yet, have you ever seen a hydraulic ram used for this purpose? Of course not, admit it--you never even heard of a hydraulic ram as I have described until about a dozen sentences ago.

When one walks through old mills, one can find all sorts of clever little devices like the hydraulic ram that have been discarded because we think we have a better way (another, a clever self-propelled felt alignment system I once saw comes to mind, for instance). So, upon examination, we find we don't have a better way--we have foolishly discarded innovation thought to be old fashioned. It is time we look at these again.

For safety this week, some of the older, lost innovations just may be safer, too. The one I have just described may have a pinch point, but it certainly isn't going to electrocute you!

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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