To expand the power of the mind. To extend the life of the body. These may be the noblest pursuits of mankind. Together, they impinge on the very boundaries of human existence. And yet each of these pursuits is inescapably bound up with the practical and technical limitations of what we can do with natural materials. Thus it is not surprising that the frontiers of metalworking often converge where the line between what is possible and what is not is daily being redrawn.
Consider, for example, how closely advances in the computer industry and the medical industry are linked to advances in metalworking technology. No invention is a more powerful tool of the mind than the computer. A similar pinnacle of achievement among the medical arts is represented by the development of prosthetic devices and replacement joints. They become a functioning part of the body itself.
Two quick examples I've encountered recently illustrate how intimate is this connection between progress in metalworking and these two other fields.
A manufacturer of computer disk drives is able to manufacture suspension arms for read/write heads out of stainless steel 0.002 inch thick. In the stamping and forming process of each part, the dies impart an aerodynamic curvature so exact that air pressure created as the head rotates keeps the arms the precise distance (measured in billionths of an inch) from the surface of the disk.
In a recent newsletter, a company describes how it played a critical role in producing a new type of hip replacements. The company's superfinishing equipment was able to produce the hip femoral heads and cups with a mirror finish (surface roughness of less than 1 millionth of an inch). Sphericity (deviation from a true sphere) of these parts was less than 40 millionths. The size of the sphere and that of the matching cup was no more or less than 1 ten thousandths of an inch from the size specified. The result is a prosthetic hip that will perform much better and last a lot longer because wear has been reduced to almost zero.
These are not isolated, but representative, cases. They go unheralded in the popular news media and perhaps their significance is beyond the appreciation of that audience. But for those of us in metalworking, the role that metalworking plays in widening the mental and physical potential of the human being ought to be a source of pride and deep satisfaction.