UpFront: Who Made That?
By Brian J. Hogan
One of the more disturbing realities of our time is the lack of any links to the past. A century ago, a few years after the founding of Ford Motor Company, flush toilets and electric lighting were wonderful new developments. Aircraft were experimental machines with no practical applications, and areas like the Great Plains of the US were mostly dark at night—rural electrification would not happen for decades. Machine tools were manual, and lacked the guarding we now take for granted.
Today's routine part accuracies were unachievable when Henry Ford was a hard-driving automotive guy in his forties, and the roads his Model T was designed to traverse were largely composed of dirt (or mud) and ruts.
Our modern time, this most prosperous of eras, didn't simply grow like an oversized dandelion. Ingenious minds set out to solve the problems facing the people of their day, and we see the results around us in excellent roads, potable drinking water, sewerage, cheap and abundant electricity, and tremendously productive manufacturing operations.
In a time when great accomplishments are dismissed, or regarded as an inevitable outgrowth of some weird historical law, it's worthwhile to insist that people create technology. Our annual Masters of Manufacturing article is intended to highlight the career of an individual who has made a great contribution to manufacturing technology. In the past we've profiled such figures as the late John Parsons, the originator of numerical control, and Richard Morley, the father of the programmable controller. This year we highlight the career of James Bryan, who developed the telescoping ball bar.
Every manufacturing facility in the world has made use of the innovations that emerged from the minds of Parsons, Morley, and James Bryan, as well as our other "Masters" subjects. And in every manufacturing facility in the world, there is scarcely a soul who can tell you the name of the individual responsible for the development of numerical control, the PLC, or the telescoping ball bar. And that is not good.
All of us need to remember that we are where we are because of our predecessors.Young manufacturing engineers, in particular, need to know that a magnificent career, one with an impact that stretches across time and continents, is possible in manufacturing.
Manufacturing is not a dead end. It is the branch of applied science that takes the discoveries of scientists and the ideas of design engineers, and creates the physical means of meeting human needs of every sort. Manufacturing is a very worthy endeavor, and our "Masters of Manufacturing" series honors the remarkable personalities who created today's manufacturing technology.
This article was first published in the July 2007 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.