UpFront: Who Did That?
By Brian J. Hogan
You've seen touch probes. They're used in almost every manufacturing facility of any size. Did you ever wonder where they came from?
Well, our Masters of Manufacturing subject for this issue, David McMurtry (Sir David, if you're British), developed the touch probe to solve a measurement and inspection problem while he was working for Rolls Royce plc. After that invention came years of struggle to establish a company, defend patents, and win acceptance for this new technology of electronic touch probing.
The touch probe is ubiquitous because it's useful. Like the PLC and CNC, it's a component of the manufacturing enterprise that is simply part of the background noise of our lives. McMurtry's innovation has become as casually accepted as cutting fluid or carbide tools, and yet very few manufacturing practitioners realize where it came from.
None of the equipment or technology that we encounter in today's manufacturing world simply emerged from primeval ooze. All of it is the product of the mind and imagination of some individual who worked in manufacturing, encountered a problem, and devised a creative solution to that problem.
Modern manufacturing is a result of that intellectual activity. Manufacturing has been carried to its present level of productivity by individuals who have made careers in manufacturing that are significant not only in their own time, but for posterity. In one form or another, it's safe to predict that David McMurtry's touch probe will be used by manufacturing engineers at least throughout this 21st Century. Persons who imagine manufacturing to be a dead end should consider McMurtry's career, and the careers of the other individuals profiled in our Masters of Manufacturing series. When fashionable athletes and entertainers and politicians have gone into history's dustbin, the devices and techniques introduced to manufacturing by these Masters will be meeting human needs all over the world.
Manufacturing truly matters. It's the specialized field of technology that takes the discoveries of science and the ideas of design engineers, and converts those discoveries and ideas into products and devices that enable people to live better, more prosperous lives. Without manufacturing, genius remains trapped in the laboratory or in a designer's mind. Manufacturing is the bridge, and the enabler, that has allowed the development of our modern world.
We welcome David McMurtry to our Masters of Manufacturing honor roll, where he joins John Parsons (inventor of NC), Richard Morley (the PLC), Eugene Merchant (scientific metalcutting), Joseph Juran (quality in manufacturing), Joseph Engelberger (industrial robotics), and James Bryan (telescoping ball bar and determinism).
This article was first published in the July 2008 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.