Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Engineering for Self Service

I spent a few hours this weekend turning the newly acquired Mauser into a pile of greasy parts sitting in a paint tray in the garage. There are about 25 separate parts in a Mauser, and you can take the whole thing apart using nothing but a Swiss Army Knife, a small hammer and a finishing nail (you could even skip the finishing nail if you were willing to use the firing pin to knock the pins that hold various parts together out -- you could also skip the hammer if you were more into personal brute force than I am).

Now, I've taken the rifle down a bit farther than your standard field strip, because I need to thoroughly clean and reblue it, but even so, German soldiers were expected to be able the take the rifle down pretty completely for thorough cleaning when in barracks. And although I've made my share of beginner mistakes (which might have been avoided with a better set of instructions than I'd been able to find online so far) it's really not that hard to do at all. Compared to the computer hardware industry where I work (though as a marketing analyst, not a tech) the Mauser is a miracle of user friendly engineering.

And now I think about it, it had to be. Germany turned out millions of these rifles during WW2, and the ammunition available at the time required fairly regular disassembly and cleaning to prevent rust. So one of the essential elements of a successful rifle design was that it be easy for a soldier to take apart, service, and put back together again fairly quickly and without too much training. (Rifles that weren't simple to use and service tended to be failures. The Russian SVT-40 was a semi-automatic rifle which was possibly a decade ahead of its time in design, but the Soviet army was never able to successfully train their troops to service and use it, so it never saw much action compared to the bolt action rifles that had been standard since before World War I.)

In modern civilian life, many of us own technology that we don't know how to service. I certainly can't take apart and clean my car. And although I can strip down and replace parts on my computer, most computer users can't. However, although it can be really annoying not to have a car or computer for a week, the results are unlikely to be fatal, or to cause our country to be overrun. So we accept the inconvenience of having to take our technology in to a central repair location in return for the convenience of being able to adopt technology at will without having to learn how to service it -- and without the manufacturers having to go to the expense of making a product which is simple enough to be serviced easily while still being functional.

All of which may seem like a pretty thin insight to spend four paragraphs on. But it seemed significant at the time...

Now I think about it, perhaps another factor is that in the computer hardware industry companies like the one I work for expect to make a lot of money selling service contracts (same with cars) and you can't do that if you make it easy for users to service their own technology...


Rick Lugari said...

Ahh, the joy of tearing down a new weapon. It's really fun the first few times - then it becomes like any other gun cleaning task, a total hassle in which the mere thought of it might serve as a deterent from shooting in the first place.

Enjoy! ;)

Fidei Defensor said...

The first time I took my enfield apart and then rebuilt it I was so proud. Every part had been cleaned and I learned all about how it worked.

To my dismay when it was all put back together there was a small part that I had neglegted, I had to take the whole thing apart and start over.

Its always a good experience though.