These are the new modern marvels.

The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) was held in Chicago this September, where it’s held every two years. We went, we saw, we were awed. What did it teach us? That more and more manufacturing jobs will be done by robots, and that very few people will be required to help.

This show is definitely all about high tech: Lasers that engrave detailed images into any surfaces. They can be as large as eight feet across, or so small you need a microscope to watch the work in progress. Other laser equipment can fuse small pieces together in configurations that cannot be molded or manufactured in any other way. In short they can make equipment and products that were never possible before.

Two-inch piece, cut from a quarter-inch slab of aluminum by a water jet.

A visitor told us he had seen a factory in Kentucky that makes small electric motors and the factory was completely dark. The machines don’t need to see, of course. The only things visible were the tiny red and green lights that indicate whether something is on or not. Why waste money on overhead lighting if the machines don’t need to see?

The design and practice of this type of manufacturing is called CNC, which stands for Computer Numeric Control. Feed in the numbers and the machines go to work, tirelessly, night and day, seven days a week: No labor problems, no changing the paper in the bathrooms. Science fiction writers speculated decades ago that in the future, having a job will be a privilege; that future is closer now.


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