The History of Manufacturing Technology

Maurice Bouri may have become a success in the manufacturing industry, but he knows he is standing on the backs of giants. A long lineage of technological innovations precedes our current age of efficiency and prosperity, and the history of these technologies never ceases to amaze Maurice Bouri.

At one time, manufacturing was carried out by hand on a household by household basis. Families in Europe, for example, spun their own wool or cotton and then wove their own textiles, or wove them to provide to a merchant who could sell them. But by the late 1700s, the way that goods were made was about to change, and the textile industry would lead the way, kicking off the Industrial Revolution.

The changes in the textile industry were driven by the invention of several separate machines that greatly increased efficiency. The flying shuttle doubled the production rate of a single weaver, while the power loom increased the rate of spinning 40 times and the cotton gin allowed the removal of seeds from raw cotton at 50 times the previous rate. These technologies allowed nations like Britain and the United States to become world leaders in the production of export textiles.

Other industries also changed. The price of producing iron and steel came down due to coke-fired furnaces. The price of coke itself also fell thanks to an improved pumping system that allowed larger, deeper mining operations. Perhaps most importantly, tools were developed to manufacture precise metal components, allowing for consistent quality and precision in steam engines and industrial tools.

Although we often think of the Industrial Revolution as the age of steam, steam power was slow to take off. This was both because stationary steam engines were expensive and because of unreliability. Most early factories depended on either water power or animal power, or sometimes even human power. Running water was by far the best free energy source, and most industrial centers were located on rivers. Places with natural waterfalls, like Minneapolis, quickly became prominent centers for milling lumber, flour milling, or textile production.

By the late 1800s, steam power was more reliable and large-scale, mechanized production was the norm. But the revolution wasn’t truly over. The 20th century brought almost nonstop improvements in manufacturing processes, with ever increased levels of automation. The 20th century also saw massive improvements in the level of worker safety, with safety features built into most industrial equipment and safety training required by law.

Today, computers dominate the manufacturing industry, but human hands and human know-how remain crucial. Even in the most highly automated factories, human workers are essential to completing production and making sure everything runs smoothly.

What do you think will be the next breakthrough in manufacturing technology?


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