We are well into the third century of automation and control. While the progress of automated manufacturing was slow for the first couple centuries, it caught fire in the last quarter of the 20th century and has continued to advance at a fast pace.
The history of automation began when the US Patent Office opened in 1790. The third patent was issued to a flour mill automation plan. The patent was signed by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. One of the highlights of automation’s history was the Ford’s River Rouge Plant. Iron ore went into one end of the plant, and a finished Model T came out the other end.
Some of the most significant advances in automation have arrived in the young 21st century. Check out some of these advances by clicking on the photo below.
In 1790, the first year that the US Patent Office opened, three patents were granted. One was for automated flour milling machinery designed by Oliver Evans. The patent was signed by George Washington, Attorney General Edmund Randolf, and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. (Source: Friedrich Kick, Flour Manufacture, a Treatise of Milling Science and Practice)
Hey Kground. When manufacturers moved their facilities out of North America, they generally were not seeking SKILLED labor. They were indeed looking for cheap labor. If they wanted skilled labor, they would have stayed.
Skilled labor is always needed, although some programs, (like ISO9000) are aimed at reducing the level of skill required. The fact is that some things just require a lot of skill and insight, and just compiling a set of instructions about how to do the job is of marginal value. There are a lot of things that require talent as well as skill. BUT cheap labor that only needs to follow simple instructions without thinking is much less in demand now than in just a few years past.
I just love slide 1, the 1790 Flour Mill. Makes me almost wish we lived back in those days; with our innovative minds, just think how much low-hanging fruit there would have been to get first dibs – or first patent rights on. It seems like it may have been easier to get ahead 200 years ago, as our field was not nearly so crowded.
Yes, back then, you didn't need significant funding to develop something patent-worthy. Abe Lincoln is the only president who holds a patent. He developed a tool for getting flatboats unstuck from sandbars.
This slide series is fascinating. One thing I noticed (and I might be incorrect here Rob) is all of the automation technology was contributed by manufacturing and engineering and did not have origin with academia. This proves to some degree we all are looking for a "better mousetrap". Need and experience seemingly continue to rule the day. During my university days, I worked as a coop for a gentleman who always said: "if it's repetitive, it can be automated". He felt any repetitive work was drudgery. Thinking and "inventing" were the most creative endeavors and man was intended for those two efforts. Excellent post.
Interesting point, Bobjengr. I think you're right about the absense of academia. Perhaps much of the raw technology that engineers bring to their solutions comes from academia. Probably vision systems, lasers. Deployment, though, seems to come from engineering solutions.
Rob, this was a lot of fun and I learned a few things, too, like about Elmer and Elsie. Thanks for a great slideshow. A possible Slide 14 showing entirely robotic assembly with no humans involved could be a still shot from this video of assembly of the BMWi3's Life module: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htuVoxuMQFQ
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