Graphite Minnow’s Musings

I was born into graphite. Cut me in half and like a stick of rock, graphite is written across the cut, running through my body.

Not literally, but my father worked in a graphite business long before I came along. When he started his own factory, I wasn’t quite ‘knee high to a grasshopper’ but not far off. I would go to his workshops and sweep the floor. With heavy machinery, dirt, danger, and noise, they offered a budding engineer excitement and adventure; I loved being there. That was fifty years ago, and I still get the same feeling walking into the workshops of my own graphite company today.

As many people in their sixties and beyond will appreciate, I like to reflect. There have been some mad times in graphite, and there are almost certainly more mad times ahead. Media coverage regarding the graphite market’s opportunities and challenges is constant but it rarely talks of the human side.

In my experience, Graphite people share the same fascinating, mercurial, multifunctional properties as the material, and I want to write a blog that champions them. It’s getting too easy to forget the human, as I was reminded about in a segment on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this week.

‘Are we all slaves to the algorithm?’ the programme challenged. Their premise was that technology is now so pervasive that some form of technology is influencing much of our behaviour and choices. Humanity and individuality are under threat, no less.

‘Not so’ I replied confidently to the radio, certainly not in the case of the engineers and designers I deal with. Algorithms can’t yet deal with the nuances in the myriad solutions to problems our customers are solving across all market sectors. So often a human’s intuitive understanding and experience is needed to enable a solution.

That’s true of the production line as well. Artificial Intelligence can model production and maintenance data to refine service schedules and provide early warnings. I’d still wager the production team does a better job of this task.

Some machinists are better attuned to their machines than their partners. As a young man I used to think of their warnings of pending machine failure as unnecessary worrying but have learnt to listen to their instincts – saving a significant amount of money by doing so. I might be wrong and there are AI solutions with as accurate and timely warnings, but I doubt it.

‘You can work out what’s wrong with the machine by listening to it,’ an old Scottish foreman of mine once told me, ‘That’s why your brain is between your ears!’

My monthly blog will (im)perfectly blend thoughts on the current market along with my past experiences, sharing the wonderful people I have encountered along the way; all from the heart of beautiful Yorkshire in the UK. I’m hoping it will be interesting, informative, at least occasionally funny, and that you enjoy it.

Simply by reading these words, you, my reader, are very much part of this venture. Your feedback on my blog will be invaluable so I know what you like, and don’t like. Please take time to let me know what you think.

That’s it for now. Hopefully, you will have a look next time.


David Coidan