In today’s marketplace, from the start of a college education to the day we retire, change is inevitable. The science of heat treat has been around for over 100 years. The technology and standard practices that have been developed throughout the ages have constantly been improved upon.

The requirements that need to be met have become well defined, and yet the basis for most heat-treat equipment has changed very little. Most of the improvements come in the form of better process control, and we are able to record more information than ever before.

Today’s young engineers are coming out of college armed with new technology, ready to take the world by storm with a hunger to develop the next big thing. We strive to design something bigger, better and faster, while the veterans in the industry have spent many decades perfecting processes and equipment.

With ever-changing requirements from customers due to new developments in manufacturing practices, new materials and strict requirements for tight temperature uniformity becoming ever more important, we have reached a point where changes and improvements must be constantly made.

There is a saying: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing, the same way, over and over again while expecting different results.” With all of these new requirements emerging, a new, fresh perspective is imperative. But we study history for an equally important reason, and that is so we don’t repeat the same mistakes from the past. This relationship is where youth and wisdom must comingle.

The wisdom of the heat treaters that have been in the industry for many years has been invested into developing today’s standards. Throughout their careers, they have figured out what works and what doesn’t. Like a young child sitting with a grandparent hanging on every word as they listen to stories of days gone by, it’s crucial that the younger generations take this knowledge and experience to heart. Just as importantly, the seniors in the industry must be open-minded and allow the next generation to pursue new, fresh ideas.

Mistakes will be made, and not every new idea is going to work as planned. Both young and old must accept this. Mistakes are the fuel for learning and for gaining experience. Those of us who are part of this younger group must set youthful pride aside and humble ourselves enough to admit that not every idea is going to work every time. Those of us who have been in the industry for many years should be willing to take the younger group under our wings, and when they fall (and they will on occasion) pick them up, dust them off and encourage them to keep trying.

For change to be successful, there needs to be a level of trust from both generations. There needs to be open communication and respectful debate.

The market is competitive in today’s economy. Companies must stay ahead of the curve. They must be willing to invest time and money into beating their competition to market with that next big thing.

In the U.S., we are constantly having to go up against other countries that build similar equipment for a fraction of the cost. We must sell our expertise as innovators in our businesses from lean practices, not single-sourcing vendors and implementing tools such as process-improvement exercises to our advantage.

We need to be objective and deliberate in our thinking. It isn’t easy; it takes hard work, dedication and commitment. Be proud of the work you do without being prideful, and don’t ever be afraid to share your wisdom. Remember, the day you stop learning is the day you stop growing and start dying. It is dog eat dog out there in the real world, and our competitors won’t think twice about eating us alive.