Think like a PhD

Becoming a “doctor of philosophy” is exactly the right way to approach today’s metalworking challenges.

“Wisdom is more than having all the facts.”


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In academic circles, PhD is the highest degree that can be granted by a college or university. It means that an individual has completed the rigorous requirements in a formal program of advanced coursework, scholarly research and paper writing. I’d like to think that there is another kind of PhD. It’s the kind that is needed when a company takes on the challenge of today’s metalworking processes, such as the machining of titanium. 

PhD is short for “philosophiae doctor,” which is Latin for “doctor of philosophy.” In the Middle Ages, “doctor” was the title given to learned individuals and esteemed teachers. Centuries later, “doctor” came to mean someone trained specifically in the medical arts. The “D” in PhD, however, still means someone of great learning.
“Philosophy” has an older meaning, too. It comes from Greek words meaning love of wisdom. It was the term medieval scholars used to refer specifically to intellectual inquiries into the nature of things such as life, truth, thought and emotion. Later, they turned attention to the nature of numbers, literature, physical matter and other aspects of the arts and sciences. In short, “doctor of philosophy” is an accurate name for a very learned person whose love of wisdom leads to a deep understanding of the nature of things. This definition may make it clearer why I say our industry needs such PhDs when confronting practical, but urgent, applications such as machining titanium.
When machining titanium, the nature of the process and the material must be well understood. Although much has been learned about machining titanium, researchers are still finding better ways to cut this material. Innovative ideas are emerging, but difficulties remain. This means that companies must pay attention to the latest developments, yet be open to new possibilities and even try to discover some of their own.
Here’s where wisdom comes in: Wisdom is more than having all the facts. Being wise means being able to look into a situation and discern inner truths about what’s happening. How is the edge of a fresh, sharp cutter really forming a chip? What is the coolant doing? How is every part of the machine tool affecting and being affected by this process? Where is chatter coming from? Our insight must be deeper and our thinking fresher to find good answers.
Finally, a love of this wisdom matters, too. The shops that are great at machining titanium are staffed by people who love what they do. They know they’ll have to put their hearts and minds toward continuously improving their machining results.

No matter what machining challenge is at hand, think like a doctor of philosophy. Discern deeply. Pursue the wisdom. Regard it with earnest respect. Let it honor coworkers, fellow managers and customers. Most importantly, use it to make good parts.