In any environment, technology is typically restricted by these two factors.
Furthermore, both values can be divided into two levels. The first is what is physically possible; what we can achieve with the tools and machines available. We could make drill bits and needle points a few atoms wide, but the process and required expenditures [Time & Money – Another blog waiting to happen] to achieve such heights can be astronomical.
That is where commercially-feasible values come in. Products have to be designed with cost in mind, because inventions are “dead in the water” if no one is willing to purchase them.
Thus, noticeable changes in consumer products usually do not happen right after a form of technology is invented. Rather, it is the perfection of its mass manufacturing (dozens of products per hour) that allow a purchase to be marketable. While physical limits are pushed by scientists in the lab, process engineers are constantly playing “catch up” with commercial limits.
Let’s talk about both a little bit more in detail.
How weak of a signal can your phone detect and process? What is the maximum rate graphics cards can refresh your computer monitor? How cold can your freezer get to and maintain? What depth can a submarine obtain before “folding under pressure?”
Limits are also a blurred line. Pushing device limits usually have detrimental effects besides the simple works/fails scenario. Product lifetimes are strongly affected based on how far its limits are stretched. A smaller product will work, but under the right conditions [I know I’ve been through my fair share of tiny drill bits]. A computer chip can overclock (push its limit) until it reaches a certain temperature and shuts down before the accumulated heat permanently alters its clock speed.
While many forms are audible, most manufacturing noise is indiscernible. Noise comes in many forms, each having to be dealt with separately. Take the simple “motor-to-hammer” device shown below. Many sources of noise can be “filtered” out, as in surge protectors and voltage regulators in external power. Others have to be actively monitored and corrected for in-time, utilizing position sensors to read hammer location/orientation to execute error correction maneuvers.
The level of noise control ($$$) utilized in technology is a business decision that reflects the product quality and targeted audience. And that is the difference between the earphones given out on the airplane (free) and brand-name, high-fidelity headphones (>$100) manufactured for the audiophiles at heart.
That is where industrial specialties including “quality engineering” and “six sigma” come into play. Noise is carefully studied not just to improve product quality but to also maintain consistency. A company doesn’t want to manufacture a gear where only 60% of them fit. They want >99.99% of their products to be functional. It reduces disposal, eliminates product filtering, and keeps your customers happy.