Machines for Manufacturing

Image from the exhibition.

The models of machines assembled here may seem like an odd lot with little in common: brick machines and brick kilns, pill making machines, a dust collector, a lathe, paper machines, instruments and tools... we could have extended the list, both in number and in disparity. The point is that every item has to do with manufacturing.

The word "manufacturing" conjures up pictures of "machines" making things when, in fact, it means "making by hands"! We are often misled by our understanding of language. But by hand or by machine, manufacture is "making things," and making things, however we slice "it" means giving shape and form to the substance of our environment, the Earth. We have no other primary source for any of our products. Be it under the guise of "natural" products such as clay, stone, wood, wool or DNA molecules, or of processed products such as metals, leather or glass, of synthetic products such as nylon, teflon or various "polymers," ultimately, it all comes from the Earth.

This shaping of the substance of the Earth into useful objects requires specialized knowledge and skills. It is this knowledge and these skills under the form of "information" that find themselves embodied in the machines and the tools used in manufacturing. The more automatic the machines–that is the less they rely on human operators–the more information they embody for a given function.

It is the dynamic interaction of knowledge and skills with the substance of the environment through the media of "energy" that creates all wealth.

So, basically, that we are mixing clay, shaping it into bricks and firing them in a "perpetual kiln," or mixing medicine, shaping the resulting dough into pills or lozenges, damping paper and shaping into boxes or turning shafting to specifications, we are up to the same fundamental activity: manufacturing some useful (i.e. in this sense, marketable) product, enriching the store of wealth of mankind (or at least of a part of it).

The art of the designer of these production machines is to "freeze" in the hardware of the machine as much knowledge and skill he can to end up with a "good" product, i.e. something that fits the required specifications (dimensions, weight, composition, appearance, costs, or whatever criteria is important to client and producer and whomever else may be involved: from the environmentalists to the tax collector these days).

In modern design, many of the functions performed by the hardware of the machines shown here, through levers, rods, cams and gears, could be achieved through software statements in a computer program. Indeed, an incredible multiplicity of functions not dreamed of 100 years ago can now be achieved through software. But in essence, it makes no difference, the fundamental idea remains the same and eventually and ultimately, the substance of the environment has to be sliced with a tool in one form or another.

Following the play of the mechanism of the machines shown here and as described in the patents, we can appreciate the play of the mind of their designers, how clumsily or elegantly and boldly they solved their problems.

To take but one example: consider the common problem in industry of separating particulate matter from a fluid stream, dust from air, for instance. Anyone knows that when the air is calm and free of motion, the dust will settle and can be easily eliminated. The problem is that the air has to be still for a long time. If you are dealing with a large flow, the "settling chamber" will have to be prohibitively large. So O.M. Morse looked at the fundamental nature of the settling process and came up with a solution that is radically opposite to the common sense approach. He gave the air as much turbulence and velocity as he could by swirling it into a funnel, separating dust from air by the effect of the centrifugal force on the dust particles rather than just gravity. The solution is particularly effective and elegant since the apparatus is a simple funnel with a tangential entrance duct for the rnixture the dust being evacuated at the small end of the funnel while the air finds its way to the center of the wide end–no moving parts–always a delight to a designer, the equivalent of the "Look! Ma! No hands!" of a child on her bicycle. As O.M. Morse wrote in his patent:

My improved machine separates the dust from
the air by its own momentum in an extremely simple manner, it employs no moving parts, is very simple in construction and operated without expenses...

It is, in fact, so simple, some might even quibble the appellation "machine" applied to it.

PATENT 6,933
John T. Brown and Moses Fuller, Inventors 1849.
The demand for bricks stimulated the design of brick-making machines throughout the nineteenth century. This machine includes a mechanical discharging device to replace manual handling.

In contrast, the brick machines and the machine tools look so complex. It eventually got to the ridiculous point, with the rising complexity, of functions, where making the model became more difficult than building the real thing, since miniature machines and tools were needed to build them. Furthermore, performance did not scale down in terms of precision, accuracy, friction and other important variables. The models could then be hardly more than conversation pieces for "men of progress". They were soon to be discarded.

As for the products of manufacture that these machines would bring out, the catalogue of the Crystal Palace Exhibition said this:

The absence in the United States of those vast
accumulations of wealth which favour the
expenditure of large sums on articles of mere
luxury, and the general distribution of the
means of procuring the more substantial
conveniences of life, impart to the productions
of American indutry, a character distinct from
that of many other countries. The expenditure
Of months or years of labour upon a single
article, not to increase its intrinsic value,
but solely to augment its cost or its estimation
as an object of virtu, is not common in the
United States. On the contrary, both manual
and mechanical labour are applied, with direct
reference to increasing the number or the
quantity of articles suited to the wants of a
whole profile and adaptcd to promote the
enjoyment of that moderate competency which,
prevails among them.



Read "On Models and Modeling"
[pdf file]

Download Printable Catalog of the Exhibition
[pdf file]