As an individual who has an interest in archaeology and history, I am always pleased to investigate the incredible creativity of our predecessors when it came to making objects of beauty, from a massive medieval cathedral with its mind blowing architecture to the tiniest engraved Roman buckle.
Looking around a construction like a cathedral, we are in awe of the huge ability of the stonemasons who shaped the lumps of stone to build the place, the woodcarvers who made beautiful items for the interior and those who stitched fabulous tapestries to cover the walls.
Clearly, centuries before such buildings appeared in England, other people had been making incredible artefacts of their own. Every well known ancient civilisation had its own panache and the influence of Roman, Greek and Chinese cultures, especially, are still visible even today in countless varied parts of our lives.
By the time of the Industrial Revolution, mass produced designs on china, wood and metal, and standardised shapes and sizes for construction materials became common and manufacturers searched for of making their designs ever more accurate. Clearly, with the invention and increase in use of good quality machinery during this period, it certainly did become much easier to engrave designs onto almost any kind of surface many times, or to copy the same picture onto every single cup and plate of a dinner service, or to check that a brick ended up the same size every time.
All the same, the image was still very much at the mercy of the piece of equipment and how it was controlled by the operator. For a simple day comparison, look at the ability needed to create two holes with an electric drill to mount a shelf on a brick wall. The drill itself could have the wrong sized bit fitted and the operator might not be familiar with working with the drill – that’s not a shelf I’d intend to be leaving my ornaments on! But then, a person who works with that drill regularly will know with exactly what dimension drill bit should be used and will make perfectly sized and spaced holes.
With the advent of the computer came the possibility to repeat perfectly identical designs by telling the machine to repeat the same actions as frequently as required. This had been done on machinery before, but adding a computer to the set-up contributed to [/spin] a dramatic increase in accuracy. On top of this, the software could be designed to alert the operator if any part of the equipment was becoming worn or less than effective, so that issues could be spotted as soon as they appeared and not after the production of a mountain of faulty products.
By also introducing the laser, things have moved on. Obviously, most people are far more used to thinking of a laser in terms CD and DVD players, Laser eye surgery, supermarket barcode scanners or laser tag type games, but a Laser eye beam can make some of the most accurate and delicate etchings yet. The benefit of utilising the beam produced by the Laser eye is that there isn’t any tangible contact with the item being etched, so there is no edge to gradually become defective, and there is also no chance of the piece which is being lasered getting damaged by a misjudged stroke from the tool. This is precisely the same reason why Laser eye surgery is so uncomplicated – there is very little chance of damage to an especially delicate organ of the body.
Even so, the scientific advances of the past three centuries or so should never be allowed to detract from the abilities of the craftsmen of the past. In fact, they should make us even more in awe of the people were able to make such perfect (to the human eye) shapes with very little other than a hammer and chisel or a few small tools, rather than a large amount of intelligent equipment.
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