Author Interview


David J. Gerber's father Joseph Gerber was not only a holocaust survivor but a pioneer of engineering and technical developments which revolutionised the American textiles industry of the 20th Century. David's new book The Inventor's Dilemma tells his father's remarkable story. Your father has been called “the ‘Thomas Edison’ of manufacturing.” His innovations range across dozens of industries, from cars to clothes and electronics to printing. Was he always inventive? My dad was a born inventor. As a boy in Vienna, he automated his violin because he became bored by repeatedly practicing songs. After Nazis assumed power over Austria, he used his inventiveness for survival. Put on a train headed toward Dachau, he figured a way to disengage a door-locking mechanism and jumped from the train. He fled to America, fatherless and penniless; used his pyjama elastic to invent a revolutionary way to solve age-old engineering problems; and formed Gerber Scientific. fqwa How did he become interested in the apparel industry? He studied dress design as a boy in Vienna in 1939/40 to have a trade. In America, in the 1960s, he introduced the first digitally-controlled system to plot graphics and pioneered automated drafting. IBM asked him to co-develop an apparel pattern-grading system. He found the industry “totally non-automated,” and felt that, if he could automate production cloth-cutting, he could unlock automating apparel manufacture. His automated cloth cutter has been cited as “the [20th] century’s key technological advance” in the apparel industry. How did he invent the GERBERcutter? He envisioned a new way of cutting cloth: plunging down into the cloth stack resting on a “knife permeable cutting bed,” instead of entering from the sides. This would improve material utilisation, reduce sewing time, and be “the basis for further automation.” He overcame century-old technical obstacles by analogising to shoe brushes, food packaging, and airplane wings. HJG & DRP What was his inventive method? He identified the inventive problems. He rethought processes, rather than simply adding controls or replacing people. He invented systems, more than components to existing systems. He looked to “fundamentals” and employed analogies. wfsd

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