In conjunction with Ford's announcement of the Van Dyke transmission plant all ramped up to produce last-century's innovative hybrid transmissions comes a yay-team promo video. This is Sarah Butzen's analysis of the cinematic tour de force.
I don't know how you felt after reading Van Dyke transmission news veils painful truth, but I was fairly bummed after writing it; building the hybrid transmissions in North America for the first time... almost wept. It just brought up a lot of painful long-buried emotions, about the lost industrial capacity of the supposedly-industrialized world. You know how that is. So I took a trip over to the self-help section of my local bookstore, and here's what I learned: Hey! Forget it! Cheer up! Or else no one will ever love you and you will die alone and your cats will eat you.
This simple homespun wisdom inspired me. It's as true today as it was then. So in the name of not becoming cat food, I now present the bright side. First of all, the creation of the flexible transmission production system at Van Dyke is part of Ford's overall commitment to create 1,200 hourly jobs in its US plants by 2015 and to increase capacity at three North America transmission facilities. So, if the idea of being backward in the area of technology-intensive manufacturing and specifically of a hybrid transmission-less production chain is chastening, we can take heart in the hope that Ford and the other North American automakers may be beginning to turn that around. (In fairness, it should be noted that General Motors manufactures a rear-wheel drive hybrid transmission in Maryland.)
It's also heartening to see how this capacity is being developed. The Van Dyke plant has always been a solid part of Ford's production chain, but hasn't necessarily been the locus of cutting-edge technology. With Ford's investment of $225 million to make it into a developer and producer of both standard and hybrid transmissions, it's becoming something of a star performer. That's a big investment, but it wouldn't be worth making unless the foundation already there was solid. It suggests that the existing industrial capacity - in the automotive realm, at least - is still strong enough that innovation-oriented investment can make a big difference.
And if you still need cheering up, let me direct you to the extensive body of You Tube cinéma artistique present as a tour of the Van Dyke plant. Clearly, the Van Dyke plant is to Ford's filmmaker what Uma Thurman is to Quentin Tarantino: the muse that frees his artistic soul.
(I must first caution you that if you search for "Van Dyke transmission plant" you will also turn up a large number of videos documenting the activities of the "electric dance musician" Paul Van Dyk. If you click on one of these and start trying to see how it's about an auto plant, you may well find, the next time you look up, that you forgot to go to bed and now you have to get the kids off to school.)
These films make a few things quite clear. First, robots will definitely be taking over. If the robots building these transmissions have not yet become self-aware, it's only a matter of time. There is one shot in particular that foreshadows future relationships between these robots and their human companions. It may look as though it's just people on the other side of a protective screen that prevents their being injured by the machines at work, but it's clear that, from the machines' point of view, the people have been herded into a cage to prevent their contaminating the mathematically precise process with their human grime and fuzzy math.
Second, the humans who are (for now) controlling these robots have a level of confidence regarding the rightness of what they're doing that has either taught the robots arrogance and so sealed our doom, or has been preparing the humans to emerge as our John Connor in the Great Transmission Wars. My favorite moment is when an interviewer inquires about the rate of production, and the production engineer answers, not with a row of zeroes and ones as you might expect, but by saying "We don't get into rates. It's enough for the capacity that we have here." I like him. I'm going to call him "John" from now on.
But isn't it awfully slow? the interviewer persists.
"It's not a problem," John states, putting an end to the discussion. "I need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle." I may have imagined that last part.
I like a man who just says the way it is without a lot of figures and data and what have you, and I would completely trust this guy to lead humanity to victory when the Robot Wars begin. Those self-help books were right - everything is going to be completely fine.
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