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The greatest ideas are often the simplest - Cable ties, Velcro...

6th April 2014 Print
Cable ties

The ideas that transform our lives often come from the simplest of bases.

The idea behind cat’s eyes in the road, for example, first came to one Percy Shaw of Boothtown near Halifax in West Yorkshire, after he realised he’d been using the tram lines to navigate on his bike at night. When the tramlines he’d been using were removed from near to his home, Percy had a “eureka” moment that was to transform driving at night for the next 80 years. Percy patented his invention in 1934.

Similarly, Sir Alastair Pilkington, of the Pilkington Glass company (though the same name was coincidental) first had the idea of floating glass on molten tin whilst washing up. This idea was to transform sheet glass production the world over and made Pilkington plc into the world’s leading glass company.

And when one Maurus C. Logan, who was working for Thomas & Betts Ltd., was touring a Boeing aircraft factory in 1956, he saw a novel solution to the problem of the complex and cumbersome aircraft wiring engineers were dealing with. At the time, engineers were working with thousands of feet of wire. These were laid out on sheets of 50 feet plywood, each bundle held in place with knotted, wax-coated, and braided nylon cord. Each individual knot had to be pulled tight by wrapping the cords around the engineers’ fingers – which caused manifold minor injuries and swollen, sore hands.

Logan thought there had to be a better way, and eventually came up with the simple cable tie that we see in so many industries and household tasks today. A patent was filed in 1958 for the new method of “tying and supporting bunched, parallel insulated wire conductors”. The first design used a metal tooth, but the uses were extended over the years using different materials and designs but all on the same basic principle. You can find a variety of cable ties here showing the myriad uses to which this remarkable invention has been put over the last half century. Cable ties are one of those simple inventions that we seemingly couldn’t do without these days.

Another is Velcro; the idea of the hook-loop fastening system was first conceived in 1941 by a Swiss engineer, George de Mestral. After returning from an Alpine hunting trip with his dog one day, he examined the seeds of burdock that had attached themselves to his dog’s fur. Under his microscope, he saw the hundreds of tiny hooks on the seeds that would catch on any looped surface – including his dog’s coat. He quickly saw the possibilities the principle offered of binding together two materials reversibly in a straightforward way.

After much trial and error, the Velcro we all use today in so many different ways was eventually perfected – all from this simple idea.

There are countless other examples from history – but what’s more fascinating are the similar simple ideas that may be right under our noses today. So come on people; what are they!?

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Cable ties