Zen and the Art of Quality

“That wall in Korea was an act of technology. It was beautiful, but not because of any masterful intellectual planning or any scientific supervision of the job, or any added expenditures to ‘stylize’ it. It was beautiful because the people who worked on it had a way of looking at things that made them do it right unselfconsciously. They didn’t separate themselves from the work in such a way as to do it wrong. There is the center of the whole solution.”
(Robert Pirsig)

As a teenager I rode motorcycles and read books. That led to my inevitable consumption of Robert Pirsig’s legendary tome, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance(Harpercollins, 1974). This was no Buddhist grease monkey repair manual but a metaphysical treatise on the definition of quality. Pirsig used the backdrop of a journey he took with his son on a 1966 Honda 305 from Minneapolis to San Francisco to present his analysis of quality. He felt that true quality transcends the limitations of mere objective or subjective nature and instead embodies a fusion of the technical and the human.

This month we bring you clear illustrations of this perception of quality. The development of ultra-durable fluorocarbon binder technology (see the article on pp. 22-24) could be considered the pinnacle of architectural coatings technology. Fluoropolymer-based coatings allow architects to specify a finish they know will remain intact for decades. UV cured clearcoats represent the zenith in quality for the demanding appearance and acoustical requirements of ukuleles (see pp. 32-33). Precise control of processes ensures consistently high quality finishing. Accordingly, we report on the latest innovations in plural component metering (pp. 18-20), oven temperature profiling (pp. 26-29) and air pollution control (pp. 45-46). And for those of you just embarking on your journey in quality finishing, we provide primers on wood finishing (pp. 42-44) and 2K technology (pp. 14-17).

Technology brings us the requisite tools to generate and measure quality. Sophisticated process engineering allows us to meticulously prepare and finish our products. Advanced computer hardware and software has evolved to monitor and control the processes we establish. However, it is the creative, insightful and persistent human component that ensures that quality occurs. This organic essence emanates from you, the finishing professional. We salute you for your relentless quest for true quality.

“If you want to build a factory, or fix a motorcycle, without getting stuck, then classical, structured, dualistic subject-object knowledge, although necessary, isn’t enough. You have to have some feeling for the quality of the work. You have to have a sense of what’s good. That is what carries you forward.”
(Pirsig again)