A Story of the Making

Stelios Mores discusses the history and influence of manufacturing. Plus a Little Einstein experiment to try.


One of the most prevalent aspects of modern life is the influence which manufacturing has on how we live. It is a crucial factor which improves the quality of our lives and even how long each of us might live. Manufacturing is everywhere and in the last decade has become ever more accessible.

As humans our ability to 'make things' first began with our predecessors over 3.5 million years ago during the Lower Palaeolithic age. The first stone tools were used by Australopithecus Afarensis and over the next million years took on numerous forms, and were shaped for different purposes ranging from rounded grinding stones to sharpened ones for cutting. Tool making had arrived transforming the lives of our predecessors spectacularly; enabling them to hunt, feed and defend themselves more effectively and with greater success than any contemporary species. This skill of 'making' had now become engrained in the human way of life and so our manufacturing abilities became markers of our progress. Around 70,000 years ago the first garments had been made and worn. Stone and flint tools became more versatile and were in demand, with our early ancestors creating what is known as the Mousterian 'Techno-complex Archaeological Industry', mass-producing stone items for numerous purposes.stone tools.jpg

Around 30,000 years ago as humans started to gather seeds from wild grasses, pottery was established in what is now the Czech Republic. The versatility of ceramics allowed people to make a wide range of things for use in their ever more complex way of life. The myriads of ceramic artefacts found at archaeological sites are a testament to how widely they were manufactured. At around this time weaving was developed as people began to grow cotton on the banks of the Nile. By 10,000 years ago people in the Middle East began planting seeds and had mastered animal husbandry, creating the first farms in the process. Glass was first made by the Egyptians around 3000 BC, and it was around this time that advances in smelting metals saw the advent of the Bronze Age, the first buildings were erected and the first wheels were manufactured from tree trunks. This led to an age of advances in construction and weaponry, with the manufacture of the first bronze swords giving rise to the first kingdoms and empires. The Roman Empire was a product of the Iron Age. The importance of manufacturing skills and capabilities had become key to the success of nations, and it would be true to say that by now most branches of manufacturing had been established somewhere. 

Weaving cloth was the first manufacturing discipline to benefit from mechanisation with the development of the pit-treadle loom around 700 AD in the Middle East. Advances in weaving occurred at various points in time. In 1733 John Kay invented the flying shuttle during the Industrial Revolution which led to the first purpose-built cloth factories in 1785. In 1803 the introduction of the programming card by Joseph Marie Jacquard made weaving the first manufacturing method to be digitalised. 

The steam driven Industrial Revolution of 1760 was the real game-changer with mass production at a scale never seen before. Prior to this, manufacturing was often done in homes mostly using simple hand-tools. Steam drove the textiles industry, inspired by pioneers of steam such as James Watt and George Stephenson, and it established the Engineering Industry. With the invention of steam locomotives and steamboats, transportation was revolutionised. The Napoleonic wars of the early 1800s brought about a need to preserve food. Following the development by the French of preserving foods by cooking them in sealed jars, the canning of food went into full swing by 1810, industrialising the production of food. The birth of the new engineering disciplines led to many great advances in manufacturing over the period. 

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The Technological Revolution came about with the introduction of electrical mechanisation in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This impacted the manufacturing of iron and steels immensely leading to improvements in factory designs. The demands on manufacturing had now become extremely broad, growing exponentially and touching almost every aspect of everyday life. The advances in manufacturing technology and materials science led to the use of the internal combustion engine (invented in 1794 by Thomas Mead) and the manufacture of cars at an affordable price, bringing about the creation of an entirely new manufacturing sector. The age of steam was over.

The latter part of the 1900s saw the start of the Digital Revolution with the rapid deployment of analogue and digital electronics into the industrial environment. Originally driven by the need for better communications and radar during WW2, the advent of electronics established an entirely new manufacturing sector producing electronic components and subsequently integrated circuits for mass consumption. Towards the end of the 1900s the introduction of robots into factories added another level of automation to the fabrication process. 

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The history of manufacturing is long and convoluted. People are inextricably connected to it as it is the major source of employment all over the world. With the gradual introduction of Artificial Intelligence into the workplace it seems that we are about to encounter another sea-change within the world of manufacturing. However, perhaps this change may be more familiar than we might think. The invention of the 3D-printer seems to be bringing the capability of manufacturing into the home, much like during the time of our prehistoric predecessors. 3D-printing is a slow manufacturing process, relying on iterative deposition of materials as a component is built from the base up gradually. However, in every revolution there is a leap forwards. On 31 January, researchers at the University of North Carolina announced that they have developed a new platform which manufactures components in 3D. This however does not build the part up gradually but in one single instant by applying a laser light matrix of varying frequencies to a liquid. So it seems we may be entering a new chapter in the Story of the Making, and the fabled 'Replicator' of Star Trek fame may be closer to becoming a reality. 

Einstein Cartoon - Green.jpgLittle Einstein’s Corner - Using Moulds
Using moulds to make things has been around for over 6000 years. In this demonstration we will make paper-mâché bowls using a cereal bowl as a mould. You will need the following:

1. 5 sheets of newspaper
2. large mixing bowl
3. 1 cup of flour
4. 1 cup of water
5. tablespoon of salt
6. wooden spoon
7. cereal bowl
8. water-paints
9. scissors

Using the scissors cut the newspaper into thin strips. Next place the flour and salt in the mixing bowl and slowly add enough water to make it into a thin paste. Place the strips of newspaper in the mixing bowl and allow them to soak. Now use the cereal bowl as a mould to make a paper bowl by laying the soaked newspaper inside it. Use all the newspaper strips and then allow them to dry overnight. When dry remove the paper bowl from inside the cereal bowl and paint with your water-paints. You can repeat this as many times as you like. This is how people used to make things by hand in the past.

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