What things cannot be made by machine?
October 8, 2013 10:03 PM   Subscribe

For example knitting can be duplicated by machine, but crocheted items can only be made by hand. I'm curious, are there other things that cannot be duplicated by machine?
posted by patheral to Technology (24 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to google 'crochet machine'.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:20 PM on October 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yep, it's really only a subset of crocheted items that can't be made on machines.

Can blown-out, decorated eggs (pysanky) be made by machine?
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:22 PM on October 8, 2013

Make-up, at least not yet the way it should be done as in Fifth Element with an applicator able to instantly apply it. You get the raw parts, but the actual product as a collection of materials applied in a particular pattern has to be done by hand. You can now get nail art manicures as stickers that you apply and then trim to fit your fingernails that are pretty neat, and lipstick stickers with the same idea.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:23 PM on October 8, 2013

Egg bot for your pysanky needs
posted by viggorlijah at 10:23 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I know about so-called "crochet machines" but what they produce isn't really crochet, it's crochet-like knitting, kind of like viggorlijah's example. Real crochet cannot be produced by machine. I guess I should have put that in the "more inside" part of the question.
posted by patheral at 10:28 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I believe true filigree is only done by hand.
posted by paperback version at 11:16 PM on October 8, 2013

It might be possible to make them with a machine, but frozen eggrolls (at least as of a few years ago) are rolled by hand.
posted by yohko at 12:59 AM on October 9, 2013

I would hazard that most things are possible to do with a machine, but possibly only with a costly/slow/fragile/all of the above machine, so the rational thing is to do it by hand.

An example: Watch this sped-up video of a robot folding towels, where it uses hours to fold five towels, something you could have done in 15 seconds.
posted by Harald74 at 2:12 AM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

What about braiding hair? Braiding rope, sure. But braiding hair? Seems like a good dose of human intuition would be required in order to avoid unintentional scalping.
posted by chillmost at 3:56 AM on October 9, 2013

Best answer: Baskets can apparently only be made by hand. Makes me feel guilty buying the cheap ones.
posted by hydrobatidae at 4:46 AM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think Harald74 is right on the money here. If I (well, somebody) can build a machine to perform surgery on your eye with minimal human intervention, I can build a machine to braid your hair. The difference being that people will pay $5000 for 20/20 vision which makes funding all that design and calibration and validation pretty lucrative. I'm not sure what people will pay to have their hair braided but I am confident that at $5000 a pop the folks at braid-a-dyne could take a long lunch every day.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:27 AM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Not making, per se. but harvesting Saffron is only done by hand because of the delicacy required
posted by edgeways at 5:32 AM on October 9, 2013

I think it's less a question of "Cannot be made, period," than "Cannot be made efficiently and/or cost-effectively." Basically, the cost of developing a machine that can perform a task which is not uniform and repetitive is prohibitively high, especially given the value of human oversight in many of these tasks. Machines don't harvest fruits and vegetables, for example, because unlike grains, (1) produce is pretty delicate, and (2) the plants that grow them tend not to be sufficiently uniform to permit easy machine harvesting.

Unless, of course, you want to go the circular route of "Machines can't make anything handmade," which is sort of tautological. I mean, in that last sense, sewing isn't something that can be done by machine, because the stitches that humans use with needle and thread aren't what sewing machines do. We take a single thread and weave it through the material, over and under, whereas machines essentially intertwine two threads, one from the top and one from the bottom. But to insist that this isn't the same thing as sewing seems a bit pedantic.

I think the same thing probably goes for crochet. It may not be precisely the same set of moves as crocheting by hand, but it's arguably within the realm of acceptable machine analogs for human craftsmanship.
posted by valkyryn at 5:37 AM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Aircraft are still made largely by hand. The level of automation you might find on, say, an auto assembly line doesn't really scale to aircraft manufacturing, both in size and in numbers. That's beginning to change - robotic painters are growing in use, for example. Most of the assembly is still very labor-intensive, albeit with a lot of mechanical assistance.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:56 AM on October 9, 2013

No machine can make a baby.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:07 AM on October 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

Yeah, count me in the "machines CAN make any object that humans can make, given enough resources" camp. It's an economic issue, not a mechanical one. This machine was made 240 years ago, and I strongly believe that with computer assisted design and contemporary manufacturing techniques a "robot" could be built that could crochet, or apply successful make-up. But it would be insane, from a resources perspective, as illustrated by the towel folding robot above. Integrated, situational hand-eye coordination stuff is easy to the point of invisibility for humans, but it is hard for robots. But not in any way impossible!
posted by dirtdirt at 6:53 AM on October 9, 2013

No machine, can make a baby, as yet... but they are pretty instrumental in every aspect of the survival of the majority of babys born today.

Living Printed Stem Cells

Research in 3d Printing and cloning, means that one day machines my well make babys ;)
posted by krisb1701d at 7:14 AM on October 9, 2013

Best answer: I used to work at a braille publishing company. They produce thousands of braille pages every month on special printing presses. All these pages must be collated by hand, because no one has invented an automatic collating machine that won't crush the dots.
posted by Melismata at 8:11 AM on October 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: You know what I wish existed? A machine to prepare lettuce - trim, detect & remove bad spots, wash. This is a barrier to lower costs, I think.

Also, there are some fruits and vegetables which I think are difficult to harvest with machines (strawberries are one, I think), which accounts for the push for inexpensive human labor.

_Could_ machines be developed to do these things? Yes, I firmly believe so. But they haven't, and the cost/benefit ratio (at the moment) doesn't favor such development in the short term.

Also, see the recent thread about looking for a soft, talking, purring plush kitty for a poignant account about something else that's not being done (successfully) by a machine - comforting people.
posted by amtho at 8:55 AM on October 9, 2013

Best answer: Beading - embellishment on fabric rather than threaded into the fabric itself - needs to be done by hand. I believe machines can sew down, say, sequins in strips, but anything fancy can't be replicated mechanically.
posted by mippy at 9:59 AM on October 9, 2013

Best answer: Existing crochet machines aren't capable of doing much more than edging, and it's doubtful whether the edging produced qualifies as actual crochet (I have not had the opportunity to examine the finished product, since the machines are all extremely expensive industrial models and on the other side of the world from me). If you see a finished crocheted object for sale, it was produced by a human being.

And that's just fabric production. Even sewing machines require significant operator intervention to produce actual clothing, and more human work the more complicated it gets.

I think about what it would take to produce a real crochet machine on a somewhat regular basis -- I'm no mechanical engineer, but I've done at least a bit of work in that line, and it is a lot more complicated to produce crocheted fabric than knit fabric. The great advantage of crochet is that you can go in any direction with it, make it as 3D as you like, make a hyperbolic plane, whatever. It's a difficult thing to mechanize, even if you're just going for the "let's make a set of fully articulated human arms and hands and set them to crocheting" option. There are tons of tiny tension adjustments involved, and a crocheter needs to manipulate the fabric more than a knitter does, because the point of contact for the tool is usually about 1-3 loops on one hook at one time. Knitting's two (or more) needles have a lot more points of contact with the fabric being produced.

So, to answer: most things involving fabric are a hell of a lot less mechanized than people think. Sewing is hard.
posted by asperity at 10:34 AM on October 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

There are a class of religious silver items than can only be made by cold-raising and hammer-burnishing. The item is never "polished" by being rubbed with a grit, as most items are. It is hammered with smooth-headed hammers, until an incredibly hard (work-hardened), high-polish surface is achieved.

I know someone who does this; he may not have a half-dozen "competitors" on this continent. And no machine does it, although that's partly because there's not enough volume to encourage building it - but the cold-raising is custom work, and that requires a human.

At this point.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:41 PM on October 9, 2013

Goldleaf is made by hand.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:40 PM on October 9, 2013

Goldleaf is still made by hand sometimes although it can be made with a mechanical hammer.
posted by yohko at 4:59 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

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