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The Death of Handmade

Posted by: Steve Lampen on September 24, 2013


It wasn't that long ago that the ultimate of anything was "handmade". Whether it's a Rolls-Royce or a piece of furniture, the best was "handmade".

But then came our high-tech world with surface-mount components or large-scale integration. Clearly, these cannot be made by hand. Just removing and replacing a surface-mount chip is at the very limit of human agility. Making the chip itself?

Forget it. Only machines can make the chip. Only machines can place it on the board in exactly the right place, especially if we say 'place one every second'. The idea of John Henry beating the rail-laying machine was heroic and romantic. Let's see him assemble a cellphone. In some ways accepting this is pretty sad.

Now I am sure you will say this is a long way from wire and cable? Really? Take a tour of any of 37 factories, you'll be surprised how few people are there. There are really nice videos of the welding robots on car production lines and not a human in sight. (It’s too dangerous, of course.) Sure, for many of our extrusion lines and other machines, the operator is running the computer than runs the machine. And if there is a flaw or fault, you can bet that's where one of those pesky humans got involved. It takes a human to really screw things up. If your tour is in Richmond, Indiana, ask to see our wire mill. This takes giant copper rolls and turns them into smaller and smaller wires, all without a human in sight. And this has been running for 25 years. Ancient technology! And don't get in the way of a robot in our wire mill. They will run you down. They have work to do!

B58_Automated cameraAnd robots are set to take over your world too. Most TV stations have robotic cameras in the newsroom now. And a huge percentage of the cameras at sports events are robotic. How long will it be until the mobile hand-held cameras are also robotic? How soon before you can program one to “follow the ball” and it will do it flawlessly every time. Hollywood is getting into the act as well, especially where you have helicopter-mounted DSLRs shooting everything. Just imagine all the new wire and cable designs they will need to get this operational!

And then we have the rack-mounted equipment, with an RJ-45 on the back that is connected to the Internet. Of course, this is so you can remotely control functions or do machine diagnostics. But it also means that a machine in trouble can call the manufacturer. If the problem is in software, it could be repaired before you even know you have a problem. You might learn about it by getting the bill from the manufacturer (assuming it’s not covered by the warranty!) If it’s a hardware problem, then it may require a human to do a card swap. How long before we have card swap robots? I’m sure someone is working on it. And think of all the wire and cable these will need, from super flex-life cables for the robots in motion, to the ultra-high-speed communications to address and control them. Belden will never run out of customers, as long as we stay with new technology.

B58_Robot MedicineWe’re getting closer to the day where machines design machines. Then, the device comes out of the factory you ask the machine how it works, it will tell you, “Just push the button”. If, as Ray Kurzweil says, we will be more machine than man by the end of this century, the machine might tell us, “Just think what you want and we’ll make it.” Is this an ethical or moral dilemma? I think so! But when the machine says, “Line up here so we can cure all your diseases,” we'll all be lining up for sure.

So is this evolution in action? If you have seen the Terminator movies it does make you think. (If you've never seen this series, it's about the battle between machines and humans.) Of course, as someone said, these stories were written to make sure they DON'T happen. OK, so where's the "off" button?


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