Friday, January 31, 2014

“Grease Monkeys” and Modern Motion Control

Source: Wikipedia page, "Line Shafts"
The history of automated process manufacturing is a fascinating study in the translation of mechanical ingenuity to electrical ingenuity.  Before electricity was discovered and transformed into the dominating and indispensable force that it is today, engineers and workers had to devise ways to manufacture things without the benefit of smoothly synchronized electric motors operating with user-friendly  interfaces that allow a few lines of code to control rooms full of machines. 

When step-by-step processes were mechanically controlled, they were powered and timed by what is known as a line shaft.  An example of a line shaft is essentially a main long steel shaft suspended above operating machines, connected to them by a complex system of other steel shafts and pulleys, and set up in such a way that the main shaft would power and turn the machines in a consistent and regular way, allowing for timed step-by-step processes.  The main shaft would generally be powered by some kind of mechanical source like a water wheel, or other power source.  As electricity, and more specifically electric motors, entered the scene, factories quickly realized the advantages, and the modern factory was born.  One other interesting fact is that we get the term “grease monkey” from the workers who had the unfortunate task of ensuring these systems of shafts and pulleys were well lubricated – those climbing up in the rafters of factories armed with oil cans and other lubricants quickly became known by the now-common moniker.

Thankfully, we have come a long way from the lumbering, loud, and less efficient (albeit ingenious) days of line shafts.  Today we use an electronic line shaft which took the place of the main mechanical line shaft, and various other “slave” processes instead of complicated pulleys and belts.  These are all integrated into the software controls on the servo products we engineer, and have made motion control a much easier (though, one could argue, vastly more complicated) task.

No comments:

Post a Comment