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Right tools for the job
“Sorry, say that again!” I said. “You made your own tools?” Dad was telling me of when he worked for British Steelworks at Port Talbot, South Wales back in the 1950’s.
The plant was designed to make sheet steel from the base raw materials, in a single continuous process (quite unique in its day). My father was part of the 24x7 team charged with ensuring the equipment ran at optimal performance. The cost of a halt in production was horrendous, and to be avoided wherever possible.
“Yes” he answered. “As a Fitter/Machinist we often had to be able to make a replacement part - or tool - needed to keep that production line going”, and all this to an extremely high level of precision. The garden shed still has many of his tools, some familiar, some obscure, and he carries that mantra through to today. He thinks nothing of making a new part and, if needed, will also create the unique gadget that will let him replace the part. All of our washing machines, cookers, lawn mowers and car engines got the treatment, and the result extended their lifetime by many a year!
I can think of several instances in the software world where standard products (such as Excel) don’t quite cut it, so programmers make their own tools to achieve their goal: for example, Data Scientists knocking up a bit of bespoke code to filter and manipulate multiple datasets into the required structure such that it can be fed into a Machine Learning environment so that intelligence can be gleaned from it.
And this approach is supported by technology companies:
- At the recent Microsoft Inspire event, Digital Democratisation was a major theme, enabling access to technology to more people, with products like PowerApps and PowerBI that enable the ability to create custom-built applications.
- Our own HPE Pointnext services organisation will, if necessary, create a specific tool and maintain a set of in-house tools (like a carpenter’s tool-set) to achieve the required results, whether it be assessment work or bespoke migration activities.
But as for a real world scenario…well, this got me thinking of a previous blog I wrote “After the Moon, there’s Mars”, and the need for autonomy.
With storage space and weight a premium on any spacecraft making such a journey to Mars, it’s simply not feasible to carry all the tools and replacement parts that could be needed should a physical failure occur, or the craft be hit by space debris traveling at incredible speeds, and…The longer the journey, the greater the probability of necessary repairs being required.
Whilst predictive analytics can determine a probability of when a certain piece of equipment will fail, and so allow mitigation of un-planned downtime towards a much safer and controlled planned downtime operation, parts and/or bespoke tools needed for a specific repair job would still have to be made on demand and to the required high precision.
- In place of the lathes, drilling and milling machines, there will be a small high quality 3D printer on-board, capable of using various materials e.g. plastics, metals, even the newcomer graphite perhaps?
- In place of the Fitter/Machinist, there will be a database of CAD blueprints for all the possible parts and tools that may be needed.
The blueprint designs will be held on-board, and uploaded by radio communications just like a mobile phone firmware update, using Blockchain technology to guarantee the immutability of the design and audit trail of any changes.
The computer is the ultimate productivity tool, in that if a standard off-the-shelf product cannot be used to solve the problem, it is possible to design a dedicated piece of software that will.
At HPE, we build award-winning Enterprise datacentre and edge infrastructure solutions and align with the best software developers for either off-the-shelf or bespoke solutions.
Whether it’s on the way to Mars or with your own terrestrial business needs, we can help you.
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