Work? Not a big fan, personally. I prefer to think about it carefully and for a long time before I get too involved. My musings on work took on some interesting directions as I contemplated the history of work during this July 4th weekend. Hopefully this results in a some interesting mechatronic observations.
The first major modernization of work would be the use of windmills (actually 7th century Iran according one source) to turn millstones for grinding grain to make flour for bread. Somewhat unreliable, but efficient enough to supply small towns instead of each person doing it by hand.
Historians believe the windmill made its way to Europe following the crusades in the 13th Century. Windmills became widely used as a means of powering grain grinding instead of using work animals. This became a widespread solution throughout Europe and The use of windmills is also remembered for the iconic Dutch windmill used of milling and for lifting water using Archimedes’ screw. This arrangement of machinery gave the Dutch the ability to pump water out of low lying lands and increase their useful land space.
Similarly, we found water as a source of kinetic energy that can be harnessed to produce mechanical work. Kinda cool. At first glance it doesn’t look very useful from a mechanical standpoint. Water wheels are a viable means of doing something useful if there is water sufficient flow and lift to turn a wheel. There are water powered grinding mills operating today with historical roots going back to the 12th century.
Water powered anything involves fairly complex mechanical engineering. The rotation of the wheel has to be turned 90 degrees involving a crown or bevel gear arrangement. Gears and power takeoffs are needed to convert speeds needed for the specific task. Parts were made from wood until iron became a cost effective alternative. Material science of the time produced insights such as mating iron gears to wood gears to improve life and reduce noise.
In terms of survival, however, it’s crucial that we have clean water to drink. So drilling water wells and pumping them is a super important task. It’s interesting to note that for hundreds of years Australia, South Africa and Western United States all used windmill powered systems to drill for water and integrated a mechanical system to convert the rotation of the wind rotor to a reciprocating vertical motion to do the pumping.
The early mechanization of work, not just milling grain and pumping water, is the first revolution; the mechanical revolution. Complex machines used for making socks were in use in 1563. Machines that planted seeds in rows were built in 1708. Thomas Newcomen’s early steam engine for pump air and water into and out of coal mines was in use in 1712.
So the first part of the industrial revolution was well under way long before the advent of the steam engine. Sophisticated mechanical solutions were widely in use, and some understanding of the means to produce and apply them as well.