The Japanese factory that uses 40-year-old software to design its traditional textiles

Originally published at: The Japanese factory that uses 40-year-old software to design its traditional textiles | Boing Boing


Aren’t punch cards from the 60’s and 70’s?


For computers, yes. They’re been used for much longer in the textile industry.


Brilliantly tied together here:

ETA: James Burke would be astounded that I could not only quickly find the GPS position he narrates in the first few minutes, but that I could google street view the place and move along the street to see the aqueduct.


And making the punched carts for the Jaquard looms used to be a specific trade, complete with apprentices, journeymen, masters. Ye olde programmers, if you like. I used to know a guy who learned this craft in the mid 1950ies. A dying breed even then. He retrained for electronics in the late 1970ies.


The punched card tabulating machine was patented in 1884 by Herman Hollerith, the founder of IBM.


The MZ-80 is only used to control the machine that punches the cards for the looms. They use modern CAD software to design weaving patterns (which someone presumably has to transcribe by hand into the MZ-80), and the punched cards themselves are more durable than magnetic tape.


Semyon Korsakov proposed using punched cards in informatics for information store and search in 1832. And apparently Charles Babbage looked into it, but didn’t go anywhere with it. Which is a bit of a pity, considering.


It’s kind of neat that a punch-card programme on a computer is helping design textiles, which was the original use of punch cards.


I used to watch Connections when I was a kid–absolutely fascinating series.


I used to use clips from a few episodes in my history classes, but it just got too dated.


The embroidery industry still uses the term “punching” to refer to the process of translating an image into a series of machine steps that control the sewing machines.

Despite advances in digitization technology that have made the process easier and faster, there is still an artistry to selecting the right kinds of stitches to elegantly represent an image in thread. But automation has been improving over the decades, and now I suspect AI may soon eliminate the human job.


The Heinz Nixdorf museum has a working punch-tape loom (link) from 1805 that they fire up every so often. I got to see it in action, pretty cool.


You’d be surprised how many factories run on ancient software.

A friend (since departed), who worked in a window manufacturing company, once told me that the reason they were still using the old computers was that to upgrade to the new software required replacing the entire production line, not just the computer. The cost back in 2012 or so, was $2 million, which the company just could not afford. I expect this is not an unusual story.


Not surprised at all. You just don’t have the economies of scale that you do for mass market software like a web browser, or a word processor, or a spreadsheet. Microsoft can sell tens of millions of copies of Word. How many factories are there stamping out car bodies? A few hundred? And every factory is going to be a bit different. Software that you are only going to sell a few copies of is going to be EXPENSIVE. So you’re going to go a long as possible before replacing it.


You’d be somewhere between mildly surprised and downright terrified how many medical devices run ancient, unpatched software unsecured.


Until virtualization really took off, there was a looming problem of what to do when you simply couldn’t buy hardware that would run the old software too. I’ve seen industrial sites with VMs running Windows NT 4.0, just to keep old software alive.

“It works, don’t touch it!”

To put people’s minds at ease, the production or safety was not depending on NT4. This was UI / reporting software. It only needed to work a few times a day. But there was simply no business case to be made for upgrading.

That part doesn’t worry me. It’s when they insist on connecting these devices to a network so that IT can support them that I freak out. No! Maintain the air gap at all costs!


I studied computer science at school in the 1980s and never saw a punch card.


A friend recently worked in a weaving factory and did all the designs on graph paper, which he then transferred to 3.5" floppy disk, using Windows XP and something like paint. This was then converted to whatever the weaving machine could understand, again to floppy. Then walk it to the weaving machine in another building.
He was always looking for sources for floppy disks.


I see what you did there