You've probably heard the story about Charles Holland Duell, the commissioner of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. They say that in 1899 he suggested closing the office, remarking: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
Except that it's not true — it's an urban legend.
Duell was actually a big proponent of the importance of innovation. In his office's real 1899 report, he quoted from President William McKinley: “Our future progress and prosperity depend upon our ability, to equal, if not surpass, other nations in the enlargement and advance of science, industry and commerce. To invention we must turn as one of the most powerful aids to the accomplishment of such a result.”
Not as pithy as the “everything that can be invented has been invented” yarn, to be sure. But it's much closer to the mark.
The true story came to mind when I read Bill Bregar's report (Page 4) on the winners of this year's parts competition at the Society of Plastics Engineers Thermoforming Conference. Every year, in contests like this one, I'm surprised by some new product that an ingenious designer or inventor developed.
Who could have thought to use thermoformed plastic to make heavy-duty equipment to arrange and re-set bowling pins, for example. That seemed like a job for the metal benders, for sure — but when you think about it, the demands of the application and the annual volumes needed are perfect for industrial thermoforming.
It's all about building a better mousetrap. I'm not in that mindset, but I imagine a fair number of Plastics News readers are walking around in their daily lives, looking at every product or device they encounter and thinking: “Could we make this out of plastic?”
Every once in a while they hit a home run.
Certain applications seem just about impossible for plastic to replace traditional materials. Last week I noted in “The Plastics Blog” that I always figured that “trumpet” belonged on that list.