Hitting the Brakes: Engineering Design and the Production of Knowledge

Duke University Press
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In Hitting the Brakes, Ann Johnson illuminates the complex social, historical, and cultural dynamics of engineering design, in which knowledge communities come together to produce new products and knowledge. Using the development of antilock braking systems for passenger cars as a case study, Johnson shows that the path to invention is neither linear nor top-down, but highly complicated and unpredictable. Individuals, corporations, university research centers, and government organizations informally coalesce around a design problem that is continually refined and redefined as paths of development are proposed and discarded, participants come and go, and information circulates within the knowledge community. Detours, dead ends, and failures feed back into the developmental process, so that the end design represents the convergence of multiple, diverse streams of knowledge.

The development of antilock braking systems (ABS) provides an ideal case study for examining the process of engineering design because it presented an array of common difficulties faced by engineers in research and development. ABS did not develop predictably. Research and development took place in both the public and private sectors and involved individuals working in different disciplines, languages, institutions, and corporations. Johnson traces ABS development from its first patents in the 1930s to the successful 1978 market introduction of integrated ABS by Daimler and Bosch. She examines how a knowledge community first formed around understanding the phenomenon of skidding, before it turned its attention to building instruments to measure, model, and prevent cars’ wheels from locking up. While corporations’ accounts of ABS development often present a simple linear story, Hitting the Brakes describes the full social and cognitive complexity and context of engineering design.

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About the author

Ann Johnson is Assistant Professor of History at the University of South Carolina.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Oct 19, 2009
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Pages
226
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ISBN
9780822391043
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Corporate & Business History
Science / History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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But what about the company that is not born with great DNA? How can good companies, mediocre companies, even bad companies achieve enduring greatness?

The Study
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The Comparisons
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Over five years, the team analyzed the histories of all twenty-eight companies in the study. After sifting through mountains of data and thousands of pages of interviews, Collins and his crew discovered the key determinants of greatness -- why some companies make the leap and others don't.

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“Some of the key concepts discerned in the study,” comments Jim Collins, "fly in the face of our modern business culture and will, quite frankly, upset some people.”

Perhaps, but who can afford to ignore these findings?

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An impressive solid white dog covered by a mass of heavy cords, the Komondor is a courageous flock guardian breed of the Magyar herdsmen, whose ancestry goes back a millennium. The Komondor’s principal role was to protect flocks of large animals on the open plains of Hungary: this vigilant giant canine was a solo act, relying only upon his own instincts and decision-making ability to guard his charges. As the appellation “King of Hungarian Sheepdogs” implies, the breed’s great size and imposing musculature command respect, and he is loyal, dignified and ever faithful to his kingdom and those within it. The Komondor’s skills as a livestock protector combined with his natural intelligence and guardian instincts translate into a superb watchdog for family and home.

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