February 16, 2024
A popular cable car customizing show recently featured a segment on using 3-D printing to produce a prototype part. There wasn’t anything original in that; 3-D printing has been popular on all types of TV shows over the last few seasons. What was different this time was the inclusion of the next few production steps. Previous demonstrations of 3-D printing ended with the host or hostess gushing over the neat plastic sample part and alluding to a third party somehow transforming it into a useable component. This time the hosts took the sample part to a FOUNDRY! And, they stayed to watch, like amazed schoolboys, as the mold-maker fitted the sample with risers, packed it in sand, and turned it into an actual mold. Then they watched, more wide-eyed than ever, as the foundry man melted bronze and poured it into the mold. More astonishment as the raw part was cooled, cleaned, trimmed, and finally polished into a piece that could be used in an actual custom car grill. On one level I found it sad that adult men, already working in a metalworking trade, had never seen the foundry process close up. Then I recall a conversation with a friend who taught industrial arts in a public school for many years. His school went from offering a full slate of drafting, wood, metal, and automotive classes to computer-aided drafting only in less than a five-year time frame. The winds of educational politics, in conjunction with national economic policy, decided that such “old economy” skills were no longer of value in the computer age. There is nothing “primitive” about being able to extract an idea from your gray matter and make it a physical reality. All the 3-D printing in the world won’t make devices that can last by themselves in the real world. You can’t expect people to dream up world changing machines unless they are familiar with the processes needed to manufacture the parts. How sad that the best industrial training system in the history of the world — the U.S. public school system — was abandoned without a fight. Schools that advanced farm kids from shoveling coal into steam engines to building world-war-winning ships and aircraft saw their shops converted into computer labs. Now we have delegated teaching technology to cable TV shows.