Various Machinery

Art of a Machine

I worked as a marine engineer in a former life. That means that I worked in the engine room of ships as an operating engineer, 6 years in the US Navy and 11 years on board offshore supply vessels in the oil field of the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve spent the majority of my life fascinated by large machinery and the processes through which these machines were produced and through which they were operated, the older the machine, the more fascinating they are to me. I even attended college for several years in order to pursue a mechanical engineering degree, though I realized in time that I was never meant to be a design engineer.

I used to sit next to the propulsion engines and listen to them run while we were in transit from one location to another. These particular engines ran at a slow enough speed that the individual cylinders could be distinguished from each other, especially at idle, unlike higher speed engines that just made a bunch of noise. The larger engines that I operated in the Navy ran slower still and , at idle, one could actually count the firing order and feel the valves operating in the heads if one were inclined to do so. For someone with a fascination with such things, it was something very interesting to experience.

On one particular occasion, I was studying this big, loud, vibrating, oil drooling, marvel of engineering and I noticed something different about it. I noticed the art of the thing. It was actually kind of profound in a way. I just saw a beauty in this large engine that I had never seen before. I saw how this thing was a piece of art in itself. Socrates (Plato) described art as a thing that was done for the perfection of itself. Using that definition, these engines were indeed a piece of art as they were in no way perfect.

What do you see when you look at a engine or a mechanical thing or even something as common as your cell phone? Is it just an object that you use for its purpose or is there something more to it? I see machinery, especially large industrial machinery and engines, as a story and as a piece of art. The engine, its purpose, its manufacture, all of it tells a story. A need had to be created. The raw material had to be mined. The machine had to be designed. The raw material had to be transformed into some other type of material, which then had to be transformed into something useful and then the thing had to be used for whatever it was built for. After all of that, the processes, techniques, and equipment all have to be continually improved upon. No thing has reached perfection and it never will; there is always room for improvement, no matter how small the improvement.

Each step of the way involves a person doing work that requires skill and dedication to something else. It could be dedication to a family, a business, a chance at a new life, whatever… People are involved in each step of the creation of this piece of machinery or that product or process. Even when a process or machine is automated, there is still work that needs to be done in order to perfect that which was done, which then creates new process, machines, and products.

So my point in writing all of this is to ask a question. What is it in your world that you can improve upon? Where can you be creative and create art in your individual way? No matter how small the improvement, there is something that you can do to make something better, even if you are the subject of that improvement. Be creative and be open your eyes to the world around you in order to see the beauty in our everyday world.

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