A Love Affair with Machine Technology

I confess upfront, I love machines. The parts that go into them, the science behind their production and the results obtained by their use fascinate me beyond belief.

In early 1968 I was still an Architecture student at Georgia Tech and as such I had to take free-hand drawing classes along with my architectural drafting courses. One day our instructor took us across the campus to the working Textile Mill where we were to draw whatever we wanted to for the next 3 hours.

Next to the occasional Nude drawing class, this was the best day ever. I remember being entranced by a machine that wove clothesline rope. Two dozen or so bobbins ran sequentially in intersecting tracks and the rope poured out at remarkable rate.


KIF_2925 (Photo credit: duncid)

There were large looms that wove sheets of cloth in various patterns, colors and sizes. I was most impressed by the men who made these machines, the person/persons who came up with a solution to an idea and figured out how to create the machine to do it all.

Jump ahead to 1976 and I am in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla working on a service truck as a Journeyman Electrician. I got a call to go to an industrial area west of town and help a small manufacturing outfit. A recent lightning strike had fried a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) milling machine. The machine was repaired and the owner wanted a lightning arrestor installed on his service before resuming work.

A quick trip for parts and installation had him ready to start production in less than 2 hours. We energized the circuit, verified voltage and phase rotation and fired that puppy up. The milling machine started carving shapes and cavities out of rectangular blocks of aluminum. The owner explained to me that he was making housings for co-axial switches to be used by a cable tv company. This was even better than the rope machine in the textile mill.

Jump ahead to 1997 and I am working a big trade show at Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco. Semi-Con is a biggy for the Silicone Valley-types and hangers-on, and it is paradise for machine freaks such as myself.

The robotic assembly machines were numerous and each one was better than the last. I liked the ones that sliced and stacked silicone wafers the most. The programmer had added a little flair to the end of the demonstration and the machine would slide down a track, stop in front of a random observer and go into a mechanized version of a modern dance, whirling around, flailing its arms, claws spinning, pincers grasping air.

So here we are in 2012. The video below documents the latest in today’s milling machines. Watch it carve a full-face motorcycle helmet, complete with engraved logos, out of a single block of aluminum. This one beats all the ones I have seen to date.

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