Retrotechtacular: An Ax Factory of Yore

retrotechtacular-ax-factory

When your mind’s eye thinks of an ax factory you may envision workers loading blanks into a machine that refines the shape and profile before heading to an annealing furnace. But this is Retrotechtacular, and we’re tickled to feature a look at a different time in manufacturing history. This ax factory tour looks at every step in the manufacturing process at a factory in Oakland, Maine. It was shot on film in 1965 just a few months before the factory shut down. [Peter Vogt] did a great job of shooting and editing the reel, and an equally fine job of converting it to digital so that we can enjoy it on his YouTube channel.

Above you can see the automatic hammer — known as a trip hammer — that is driven by cam action. At this point a lot of work has already been done. Blanks were cut from steel bars by two workers. These were shaped on the trip hammer before being bent in half to create the loop for the ax handle. From there a piece of high-carbon steel was added to form the cutting surface. This brings us to the step above, shaping the two glowing-hot pieces into one.

We don’t want to undermine the level of craftsmanship, and the labor-intensive process shown off here. But we can’t end this write-up without at least mentioning the kitsch that is smoking cigarettes and pipes on the job. At one point a worker actually lights his pipe using a the glowing-hot ax head.

To give you an idea of how this contrasts with modern manufacturing, here’s How It’s Made episode on axes (although we think whats being made would more appropriately be called hatchets).

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Retrotechtacular: 6CH industrial robot

retrotechtacular-6ch-robot-arm

With this robotic arm demo video from 1975 the future really is now. Think about it, there are entire factories full of the descendants of this technology where the human workers simply feed the beast and fix it when it breaks.

We’re pretty impressed by what’s shown off below. Not because we see something we didn’t know was possible, but because the technology was so advanced nearly forty years ago. Here the arm is laying out a wiring harness on a jig. We wonder if using a single color of wire is going to make it a major pain when they add the connectors?

Obviously the mechanics were solid. Time has brought further advances in precision, reduced costs that make robots available for even small factories (often palletizing products is done by a machine similar to this), and improvements in how tasks are programmed. After all, the ability to print a hard copy of the program as a punch tape isn’t quite cutting edge for this decade.

What does that mean for you? If you look hard enough you might be able to find an older generation robot arm to hack on.

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Hand placing flash die to make USB drives

SONY DSC

It’s a stretch to call this one a hack, but USB thumb drives are around us constantly and we always assumed that the boards inside were machine populated (like with a pick and place machine). [Bunnie] tells us otherwise. He recently had the chance to tour a factory where USB flash drives are made.

The image above shows a worker populating a set of boards with the flash memory dies. The waffle-grid to the right holds the dies. Each is a tiny glint of a component. The worker is not in a clean room, and is using a bamboo tool to pick up the pieces. [Bunnie] explains that he’s seen the tools before but doesn’t fully comprehend how they work. He figures that the hand-cut manipulator has just the right amount of grab to pick up the die, but will also release it when it touches down on the dot of glue applied to the landing zone on the board.

If you’re into this sort of thing you should check out the PCB factory tour we saw a couple of years back. The article link is dead but the embedded tour video still works.

[Thanks pl]