Mature Technology

In 1650, French gunpowder was 75.6% Potassium Nitrate, 14% charcoal, and 10.8% sulfur. As the US Army went over to the smokeless powder 30 US cartridge (30-40 Krag) in 1892, the black powder it replaced was 76% Potassium Nitrate, 14% charcoal and 10% sulfur. The similarities in the recipes suggest that making black powder was definitely a mature technology in 1650. Still, a 1662 inventory shows that five out of six guns in the British Royal Army were matchlocks – while the energy source was a mature technology, ignition still had a lot of development to go through. The Alden gun, brought to America with the Plymouth Colony in 1620 was a wheellock, and the oldest flintlock on display (King Louis XIII’s) was built in the same year. There were probably some earlier – but the ignition had to move from sparks to chemicals, then from percussion caps to primers. But such is the story of mature technologies.

When we look at electric cars, electric motors are definitely mature technology – so mature that I have all the tools needed to make an electric vehicle in my garage – and over a century worth of reference materials on electric cars, bikes, trucks, tractors, etc. The challenge is the battery. Gasoline beat the battery in the early years of automotive development – but it may be that battery technology just advanced slowly.

The dishwasher I have now should be mature technology. I got it’s predecessor used in 2000, and it ran nearly flawlessly for the next 15 years, needing only the occasional cleaning. Today’s dishwasher took the mature technology, added the congressionally mandated water savings, and became a flawed technology – in order to get the water savings, the designers added a dedicated single-purpose computer on a motherboard, and the motherboard dies every couple of years. It’s annoying and expensive.

Renata’s search criteria for the machine was how available warranty service was on the machine. I think my search criteria for the next machine will be how simple it is, and how long a record the design has for working without failure. Great service technicians are good – but a machine that never needs one is better.

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