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 I’ve been reading an interesting book–A Shot History

May 15, 2013

 I’ve been reading an interesting book–A Shot History of Machine Tools– recently.  It’s an old book(1965) and so outdated, but has a lot of useful information.  It’s long out of print though, so good luck finding a copy.  Amazon had a few, but not many at a good price.

The author showed examples of items turned on lathes during the stone ages.  We’ve been using sophisticated tools ever since.  Lathes didn’t improve much however until much much later, when the turning and boring of cannon and steam engine parts demanded it.  necessity, as they say is the mother of all invention.  Leonardo Da Vnici knew how to build very precise tools in the 1400s, and clcok makers had been using such tools from about then onwards, but always on a small scale.  It wasn’t until the steam engine provided the demand, and helped provide the ability to ship larger parts, that people started building precise tools for making larger parts.  Machine tool technology didn’t drive the Industrial Revolution, the IR drove machine tool technology.

L.T.C. Rolt, the author, goes over three basic phases.  Metal cutting for the longest time had been a small niche skill used by other trades, like the clock makers.  WHen the steam engine came along, it became more of an art, with people dedicating their careers and lives to the trade and nothing else.  They made steam engines and textile machines mostly, and used machines they designed themselves to do so.  It was even later that the principles of science were applied, and the machine tool became more than just a tool in certain shops.

We can see a bit of this comparison to 3D printing and additive manufacturing technologies.  When it was first invented in the 70s, it was an expensive, fragile technology of little use for anything but rapid prototyping, and of limited use for that.  Laster it matured into a very useful tool that was cheaper, and combined with computers that could easily do the 3D modelling needed to make best use of it, became a valuable tool for many uses.  It’s maturing like the lathe–from a clock makers specialty tool to a useful machine for many craftsman to a mature tool that anyone who needs one can pick up, from a small cheap used machine for a garage workshop to a million dollar brand new CNC machine for dedicated production work in a factory or job shop.

To some extent, this new nidustrial revolution isn’t being driven by the technology either, but the technology is being driven by it.  Small companies want to produce, and people want to make things they wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to have.  Like the early machine tools, 3d printers are seen as a way to make this happen.  The parallels with the first revolution aren’t perfect–costs and the application of science to the system aren’t the same, but people see a way to make something they want, and build a  RepRap or buy a Makerbot to do it.  And they don’t just want to run UV resin or ABS filament, there’s a drive to reduce the metal pritning machines to this level–you can now get machines that can make a full metal part without the earlier deficiencies of the SLS process, but they’re still expensive machines.  This will change in time, not so much because the people making them will change it(some of them do want to do that), but becuase the people wanting them want it(chicken–egg to some extent really).


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One Comment
  1. Bob permalink It’s available on the internet archieve for free

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