Nothing in the world is permanent, and this is especially true when it comes to business and technology. Thanks to centuries of human invention and technological advancements in automation and robotics, the shop floor has been transformed from “dark, dirty, and dangerous” to clean, high-tech centers of efficiency offering challenging and highly skilled jobs. It’s a different manufacturing world today.
Let’s take a look back at a few of the awesome inventions that have changed the manufacturing industry to what it is today.
The lathe machine is one of the earliest, most versatile, and most widely used machine tool. It is so revolutionary, it’s considered the “Mother of Machine Tools”. Machining is one of the most important processes of removing material in manufacturing technology. This collection of material-working processes includes drilling, shaping, sawing, planing, reaming, and grinding, just to name a few. A lathe is generally used in metalworking, metal spinning, wood turning, and glass working.
When Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908, it was an instant hit. His small plant in Michigan, which initially produced just 11 cars per month, was not able to keep up with the demand. Ford had to move the company to a new production complex. By 1913, his company developed a rudimentary assembly line to make the production process more efficient. In the assembly line, conveyor belts were used to move parts down the line with 140 workers completing one simple task at a time. This helped reduce the time it took to produce a car from 12 hours to less than 3 hours. As a result, the price of the car also dropped by $300, making it again a success. The assembly line significantly changed the American manufacturing industry and gave rise to the modern automotive industry. It started a movement known as Fordism in the name of the creator, impacting other industries as well, ushering in an era of large-scale production and high wages.
Building on the foundation laid out by Ford’s assembly line, George Devol produced the first manufacturing robot in 1954. This product was named “unimation”, and was first sold to General Motors in 1960. It wasn’t until 1970 that Devol bought the patent for the very first computer-controlled robot from a professor at Stanford University. From there, he developed his initial design into a product named PUMA, standing for Programmable Universal Machine for Assembly. PUMA resembled an arm, and immediately started to challenge the status quo in high-speed assembly work. Now that industrial robots and automation are the norm, manufacturers are able to produce much faster, and are no longer burdened by costly, error-prone manual labor.
Computer Aided Design (CAD)
CAD machining changed the way the manufacturing industry designed and manufactured parts. Before CAD, designers used paper, pencils, rulers, compasses, and other tools for drafting and designing. It was cumbersome, time consuming, and a nuisance at times, especially when there were design changes. In the 1950s, computer scientist Patrick Hanratty developed the first commercial CNC programming system called PRONTO. By 1963, a PhD candidate from MIT named Ivan Sutherland created Sketchpad for his thesis paper, which is considered one of the first computer aided design (CAD) programs. CAD machining set the foundation for modern engineering designs and continues to influence how engineers draft new parts and products.
3D printing, also known as rapid prototyping or additive manufacturing, was first created by Chuck Hull, founder of 3D printing giant 3D Systems. 3D printing depends on CAD technology to turn a computer-generated model into a physical object. Today, businesses with access to a 3D printer can print parts, print their own tools, draft an idea for a new product or component, and have it made within minutes. Aside from its prototyping applications, 3D printers have been used to produce a range of actual, functioning products, including surgical implants, jewelry, and even food!
Which inventions do you think changed manufacturing? Let us know.