Modern manufacturing: How craftsmen can fuse technology with traditional skills

By Nicola Clements, Marketing Manager at Haddonstone.

Our love affair with one of a kind, handmade products has continued to blossom in recent years. The so-called ‘craft economy’ has gained significant ground as more consumers turn away from meaningless, throwaway items and opt for unique designs that will be treasured for a lifetime.

Online craft emporiums are taking a leaf out of US-based Etsy’s book, with a surge in digital stores like Folksy and Shopify now connecting artisans to customers at the touch of a button.

Digital transformation has affected almost every industry across the globe. In our modern age of manufacturing, products can be prototyped, designed and produced at scale within days. It’s almost the very antithesis of how traditional craftsmen create their lovingly handmade designs.  But can traditional crafts meet technology halfway?  Is there space for specialist craft skills, honed over many years and passed across generations, to coexist, when time is of the essence? 

A hybrid craftsmanship model 

A careful balancing act must be struck if manufacturers are to retain traditional skills whilst introducing new technological innovations into the design and production process. Whilst getting products ready for market quickly and efficiently is paramount, there are ways that we can preserve and celebrate craftsmanship without sacrificing real artistry in exchange for convenience.  With the right processes in place, the two can certainly work together harmoniously, meeting business demands as well as almost ritualistic workmanship.

Technology gives artisans more time to refine their design process

At Haddonstone, we produce architectural components for building and construction projects worldwide. We use traditional patternmaking to create the wooden models and moulds that are used to cast our clients’ designs.  Predominantly, our craftsmen do this manually, applying age-old techniques and taking time to hand carve each wooden framework using traditional knife, file and chisel tools. Our team even produce the decorative wrought iron domes used to crown our classical temples and the structural metal reinforcements for our heavy, load-supporting architectural components.

Wherever possible, they also supplement the process using modern machinery. This significantly speeds up the procedure but also allows our team to focus on creating some of the more intricate designs required by some of our clients. For example, we were recently commissioned by designer Anouska Hempel to produce a number of highly intricate cast stone brackets for the opulent boutique Monsieur George Hotel & Spa in Paris.

Modern technology is also allowing our team to meet our clients’ project requirements without needing to step foot outside our Northamptonshire manufactory. Earlier this year we were approached to perfectly replicate and produce a stone baluster for a Scottish castle. By working with a local 3-D scanning specialist third-party company, we were able to obtain the exact design specifications of the baluster’s profile via a digital file and then go on to produce an accurate replica in our studio, without needing to leave the county. The production time was significantly reduced, whilst our design team had more time to concentrate on the overall design and manufacturing process. 

It saves time to cater to demand

Technology is also enabling us to prepare our products for market quicker. The British Standard for cast stone specifies that a minimum curing time of 14 days is required before cast stone should be transported. Whilst this method clearly adds to the production lead-time, it is essential for ensuring the long-term structural robustness, durability and appearance of cast stone items. It also prevents damage during transportation, which is essential if you are shipping designs around the world.

The good news is that advances in industrial science have enabled this time to be significantly reduced and we can now take advantage of an accelerated curing process. Vapour curing, the process of curing the dry mix cast stone in an environment with high-pressure steam and water vapour, reduces the curing process from a fortnight to just 24 hours. This fast-tracked curing process significantly reduces the length of time a product takes to travel from the production floor to our end client’s door.  

Traditional skills will always rule over machines for creativity

Marrying craftsmanship with modern technology can clearly work to a manufacturer’s advantage, saving time, resources and increasing production efficiencies. However, where traditional skills are required to translate a client’s exacting requirements into a bespoke, one of a kind design, there is no question that a machine will struggle to replicate this.  

Craftsmanship shouldn't become a lost nostalgic art, but by combining modern technology with our unique human skills, we can ensure there is indeed space for honouring specialist craft skills when time is of the essence.

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