Some elements of industrial literacy

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Part of industrial literacy might be termed “industrial appreciation”. That is, part of it is learning to appreciate or value certain things that may otherwise be dry, abstract concepts (or even distasteful, to the romantic, anti-industrial mindset). For instance:

  • Speed and cost. Faster and cheaper is always better. These things aren’t luxuries or “nice to have”; they are essential to life.

  • As a corollary, other economic and engineering metrics such as productivity (of labor, land, and capital), power, density, etc. These metrics are ultimately tied to human life, health and happiness.

  • Reliability. Nature is chaotic. Disaster strikes without warning. Even when our needs are met, they aren’t met consistently. A “five 9s” solution is far superior to one that only offers three or four.

  • Scalability. An option that can’t be scaled up to the whole population is at best a partial solution; it is not a whole solution. Industry must eventually meet the needs of everyone.

  • Incremental change. A 1% improvement seems small, but these improvements compound. The cumulative difference between a growth rate of 1% and 2% is 3x in a little over a century.

Without industrial literacy, hearing about “a 6% increase in battery energy density” sounds boring and technical. With it, you know that a dozen such improvements mean a doubling; that a doubling in energy density means that our machines and devices can be lighter and cheaper, or that their charge can last longer, or both; that this translates to cost, convenience, and reliability; that those things make a difference in the capabilities and freedoms we enjoy. When you make all those connections, a 6% improvement in energy density can be downright exciting.

What would you add to the above list?