1. says

    That’s really cool!

    As someone who works in software, I’m always boggled by the kind of tolerances that are expected in industrial processes. Machines that make billions of cans successfully seem to be an alien level of perfection when we’re struggling with computers that constantly want to crash and reboot.

  2. says

    The thing about software is that it is too easy to fix and push out updates (relatively speaking). For manufacturing screwing up is much more expensive, so they work a lot harder to get it right directly from the beginning.

  3. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Marcus

    when we’re struggling with computers that constantly want to crash and reboot.

    As I’m sure you know, the hardware on your personal computer is exceptionally good. It’s just us software programmers, like me, who tend to fuck things up. The hardware guys are to be admired for their results.

  4. jrkrideau says

    Absolutely fascinating especially as the last time was actually working in factory we were building subway cars.

    Not the same process at all and the precision/tolerences are amazing.

  5. says

    the precision/tolerences are amazing.

    I was thinking that, too. A little bit of grit on one of those mandrels, and it’d ruin the whole production line for a while.

    There’s a company in Clearfield near me that makes molds for grit-wheels (think: angle grinders, etc) and they make the molds out of solid tungsten because it wears better and a slightly off-balance wheel is dangerous. The tolerances of most industrial manufacturing are crazy. And they’re generally hyper clean.

    I hear you about software engineers. I was very proud of the fact that the last product I coded (this was 1994…) never crashed in deployed configuration. Because I was over the top on testing and design-based correctness checking. I’m constantly shocked and disappointed by things like Yelp, which appear to put out a new release every week… Ugh.

  6. flex says

    As someone who has spent 20+ years as an automotive engineer and been in lots of plants, I can only say that this video, while nice, is a little miss-leading. Compare it to the promotional videos we see about new software, anyone who works in the software side of things will pick apart a software promotional video because they have experience in the field. But they look great to those people who haven’t been making the sausage.

    For example, Marcus commented about a bit of grit on the mandrels knocking off the line for a few hours. That probably happens fairly regularly. We don’t see it in the video of course, but I’ve been in enough plants to see that 10% down time for problems isn’t uncommon. When the machines are running well, you get great throughput, but they also need regular maintenance and repair. Then there is the problem that the time for regular maintenance is often reduced in order to meet production targets. A repair will cut production, so production is run longer. Which cuts into maintenance time. Which means more repairs are necessary.

    That being said, I am very impressed with the improvements in manufacturing since I started out as a technician working closely with our manufacturing plants. But then you run into a design, like the problem I’m working on now, where there wasn’t enough time to design it right, and in the four years since it’s entered production there hasn’t been any support (i.e. management interest to spend money) to re-design it correctly. I joined the team a bit more than a year ago, and I’ve been fighting this product the entire time. No other engineer has been on the product for more than a year since launch (which is also one of the problems).

    But, to Marcus at #5, the customers don’t see it, but even consumer products see design updates on a regular basis. Maybe not weekly, because tool changes and testing can take months, but the suppliers are continually asked for changes based on consumer feedback. Your toaster may not change every week, but the people designing the toaster are probably looking at making changes every week so the next person who buys the same model of toaster will have a different toaster even if it is the same make and model. Which, incidentally, drives repair technicians nuts.

    Yes, in the video, precision and tolerances are amazing, but it takes a lot of work to keep them there.

  7. says

    Thanks for explaining that!!

    I love reading about industrial processes, and it’s really fascinating how they evolve. For anyone who ever has a chance to go, the Musee Des Arts Et Metiers in Paris has some wonderful illustrations of this: they (used to, anyway) had an entire room that illustrated the evolution of railroad train brake systems, from the old “stick with some leather that presses on the wheel” to the modern multi-point hydraulic systems used on the TGV. Manufacturing processes are also insanely fascinating to me. One of the things I love about the little town of Clearfield, PA, near me is that we have this very high tech manufacturing shop that makes the tungsten molds for grinding wheels, and on the other side of town there is a foundry that hasn’t changed much since the civil war: they still cast cannons there (now, for re-enactors)

    the customers don’t see it, but even consumer products see design updates on a regular basis.

    As one of those customers: you’re right! The toaster looks the same to me!

    It’s amazing how much complexity is in every bit of modern society, layers and layers.

  8. sonofrojblake says

    Re: tolerances -- consider the engineering challenge of making a piece of ABS plastic that just fits inside another piece of ABS plastic so that they’ll stick together, but be able easily to be pulled apart if held just so. Now consider the challenge of manufacturing so that a brick made today will be compatible with (i.e. connect and disconnect perfectly with) every other one of the six hundred billion such bricks you’ve made since 1949. Lego is good.

    Re: run times between maintenance -- the parent company of the parent company of my employer make glass. Got a BMW? We made your windscreen. Out of sand, and bits of broken recycled glass. In a machine that melts the stuff onto a bed of liquid tin. A machine which is built up, started up, and then runs continuously for twenty five years. Most engineers only witness one shutdown/maintain/rebuild cycle in their entire career.

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