July 23, 2018 4 min read



If you’re wondering why we have such a commitment to bringing aerospace ideas to our line of writing tools, it’s because our founder Andrew Sanderson has first-hand experience with the world of aircraft engineering.

One of the youngest people to join the British Royal Air Force, Andrew trained as an Aircraft Engineer, specialising in mechanical engineering. His responsibilities involved ensuring the optimum flying performance of Royal Air Force aircraft.

Through that work, he grew to respect the effort that went into engineering and building aircraft. When he started his own company, Andrew decided to apply the aerospace culture of innovative design, high functionality, and durability to Modern Fuel’s writing tools.

In our previous post, we talked about the tough yet beautiful metals we use to make our mechanical pencils. This time, we’ll dive a little deeper into the process. You’ll learn what other areas of Modern Fuel Design are improved by taking principles from the world of aircraft engineering.

How we take aircraft engineering standards, materials, and design and apply them to heirloom-quality writing tools.

  1. Materials.

The metals we use to make Modern Fuel mechanical pencils are all durability tested to hold up to high levels of wear and tear. Whether it’s titanium, used in jet engines for its ability to resist cracking under high use, copper alloy, or stainless steel, the metals we use hold up. And what’s more, they make up every bit of the pencil apart from the rubber eraser and o-ring. That means no replacing a pencil with a sturdy outside casing because a cheap internal mechanism breaks.

  1. Aerodynamics and Construction.

When designing an aircraft, aerodynamics is key. Protrusions from the aircraft skin that would create unnecessary wind drag are kept to a minimum. The craft is engineered to be as compact as possible, letting the air roll over and around it smoothly instead of fighting against it.

We had that minimalist principle in our heads when designing our pencils. They appear to be made of a single metal piece, with a continuous, seamless, and aerodynamic design. If you peel back the outer skin of an aircraft, you’d witness an array of intricately designed parts. When you open the outer casing of a Modern Fuel pencil, you can tell how much effort went into its construction, and how well its parts work together beneath the surface.

  1. Technical drawing standards.

Engineering drawings aren’t just pictures and numbers, they’ve evolved into their own language. Aircraft engineers use them when designing planes to communicate to the letter exactly what is needed to make a functioning craft, and if the drawings aren’t followed exactly, problems can arise. Engineering drawings have been honed over years to an exact science.

When designing our metal mechanical pencils, we adhere to the same standards. Our drawings are just as exacting as an aircraft engineers, and the components of a Modern Fuel pencil are machined in the same shops and with the same tools certified to produce precision aircraft parts.

  1. Systems.

Every shop worth its salt has a system of rules in place to make sure things don’t go wrong, and we’re no different. In the aircraft industry, a system called a “shadow box” is used to keep track of tools. It’s far less mysterious than it sounds: a “shadow box” or “shadow board” system is simply a box or board with the outlines of every tool used in a particular task drawn on the board, so the tool can always be returned to the proper place. This also means it can be quickly retrieved again when needed.

This system goes further than convenience in the aerospace industry. After a repair, if an aircraft takes off with a tool still inside it, it could cause problems with the plane while in flight and a dangerous situation for the pilot. The shadow box system allows the engineer to quickly determine that everything is back where it should be before the plane they’re working on goes back in the air. We’ve adopted this system as well. It lets us tell instantly if a tool is missing, as a misplaced tool could mean an avoidable accident in any machine shop.

It also reflects the approach we took in designing our flagship product: our pencils are precision-made so that every part fits in just the right place, and fulfills just the right purpose, right down to the design of the box they come in.

  1. Quality control.

In the aerospace industry, each step in the engineering and construction of aircraft is carefully monitored to prevent error. Each person in the chain is responsible for completing their step in the process thoroughly and effectively, and they’re required to initial their name next to the test they’re responsible for on a chart that everyone else can see. Everyone knows who is accountable for what step in the process of putting that aircraft together, which creates personal accountability in the shop. It also lets everyone working know which phase the job is at, and who it was that worked on the project last.

At Modern Fuel, every box that leaves our store is initialed by the person who touched it last. That’s our way of maintaining accountability to our customers. And, if you find that something is still wrong with your pencil, all you have to do is contact us and we’ll correct the issue right away. If we can’t fix it, we’ll make you a new one.

Disposable items, especially writing tools, are literally a dime a dozen. We wanted to make something more than that, so rugged that it could be passed down through generations of users. Aerospace gave us the inspiration, and we ran with it. The end result? A little Top Gun cool for your desk drawer.

Andrew Sanderson
Andrew Sanderson

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