How engines disrupted the manure supply chain

In the early days of cars, one of the significant issues with the introduction of the internal combustion engine to replace horses was that the reduction in manure created in cities impacted the availability of fertilizers for rural farmers.

I’m pretty sure branching out didn’t factor into Henry Ford’s business plan for the Model A. In fact, the whole system of power, maintenance and maintenance of horses and horse-drawn carriages was badly affected by the introduction of internal combustion engines (ICE). I read about it in a 1930 Saturday night post article by Alexander Winton, who founded the Winton Motor Carriage Company in 1896. Apparently manure doesn’t always happen, and that has ramifications too.

There is a fascination with EV fires in social media and news articles as if they are common issues of concern. We seem to thrive on “dirty laundry,” as Don Henley sang. The most recent wave of coverage came out of the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, where areas devastated by storm and flooding saw electric cars catch fire. Electric vehicle giants like Tesla, GM, Ford, etc. are in the learning phase with production vehicles.

Ian provides extensive field experience and insight into the need to design cars for long periods of safe saltwater immersion. The thing is, turning your new electric vehicle into a submarine probably wasn’t an area of ​​early operational design for engineers. Not so you can reuse the EV after it’s been swimming in the Gulf for a week, but so it does no harm as the hippocratic doctor’s creed says.

The trucking industry and its advocates hate the word “fire”, preferring “thermal event” or any other terminology. I spoke in public and wrote that all vehicles will burn in bad conditions. Electric vehicles in general are as safe or safer than gasoline and diesel vehicles. For more information on this, see the section titled Fire in the NACFE Guidance Report, Medium Duty Electric Trucks – Cost of Ownership.

Engineering is doing something that has never been done before. There is a learning curve with all technologies and it is fundamental to improving things. Bridges, engines, buildings, planes, computers, clothes, shoes, medicines, textbooks have all benefited greatly from failures. Even high-reliability technologies, such as nuclear power and space systems, experience failures that lead to new and much improved systems.

I still remember my freshman introductory engineering class in college where the required reading was books on learning to fail. I spent time supporting NASA’s space shuttle program after the Challenger crash and saw what a great example it has become to learn from failure. Yet perfection eluded them, and the subsequent investigation into the Columbia crash highlighted more learning opportunities.

A more recent slogan of proponents of rapid development is fail fast and fail forward. Perhaps there is a little too much emphasis on the “failure” part of this. The real goal is to succeed quickly, but to get there, you have to learn from failure. I remember an experience at an aerospace missile manufacturer where an unrelated nozzle failure showed that a structure on the other end of the missile had been severely overbuilt as it didn’t fail when it clearly would have had to do it.

As consumers, we want all new technology to be perfect. In the back of our minds, I think we understand that failures will happen. That’s where the warranty concept came in. We’re even now paying extra for extended warranties, betting the technology isn’t perfect. Another acceptance of failure is that we have come to accept endless software updates on all of our computing equipment.

Prototypes are not production vehicles. Mike Roeth, Executive Director of NACFE, likes to say that with prototypes, if it fails it’s because it was a prototype, and if it doesn’t fail it’s because it’s a prototype. . Great for learning, but you really need production vehicles to start the in-field experience that gets you started on the maturing S-curve.

The systems are complex and, like the manure supply impacted by the introduction of ICE automobiles, they are much larger than the vehicles themselves. Those who market new technologies and those who use them follow a continuous learning curve that leads to improvements. The improvement resulting from the reduced supply of manure was that the automotive industry developed the oil industry, which helped produce more efficient fertilizers that help feed the world.

Failures should be avoided, but learning from them is essential to improving technology.

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