Monday, November 15, 2010

What is manufacturing?

In a previous post, I raised the question of the difference between manufacturing and growth, and we've been kicking that question around a bit in comments. As a first step toward answering that question—and in response to one of Neal's questions in comments—here's a quick post on what manufacturing is, and how it works.

Consider again the desk that I was using as an example in my previous post. Having already learned what it's made of, we now want to know how it was made.

The building of a desk begins with a design, a plan in the builder’s head or on paper that specifies what the final product will look like. Because the desk will be made from many parts, the plan must indicate the shape and dimensions of each part, and how these parts will fit together. Next, the builder must decide what materials each part will be made of. Having chosen oak, the desk-maker obtains some large pieces of wood cut from the trunk of an oak tree. She then cuts and shapes this wood into the various forms of the parts laid out in her plan. Once these parts have been shaped to the plan’s specifications, they can be assembled and fastened together to form the final product.

We can divide the making of the desk into three stages:
1. Formulation of the plan or design.
2. Shaping of parts from raw materials.
3. Assembly of these parts into the final product.

Some questions for discussion:
What kind of a being does this manufacturing process produce? Or to put this another way, what is the desk's way of being?

How is the desk as a whole related to the parts from which it was made? What kind of whole is the desk, and what sort of parts does it have?