UpFront: Let's Remember the Big Guys
By Brian J. Hogan
Joseph Engelberger, the subject of our cover story in this issue, is the latest notable manufacturing figure to be recognized in our Masters of Manufacturing series. Previous honorees have been John Parsons, the originator of numerical control; Richard Morley, the father of the PLC; Eugene Merchant, who made major contributions to our understanding of the physics of metalcutting; and Joseph Juran, a giant in the field of manufacturing quality.
We acknowledge these men as Masters of Manufacturing because they played major roles in the creation of modern manufacturing. And, we regret to note, they are pretty much anonymous, insofar as the general population and even most manufacturing professionals are concerned.
We believe that a career like that of Joseph Engelberger should be widely celebrated. His work in industrial robotics has had worldwide impact in manufacturing, and has touched the lives of many millions of people.
We also want to make the point that it is possible to accomplish things in manufacturing that can ring down through the years. Parsons, Morley, Merchant, Juran, and Engelberger all spent long careers addressing the challenges of manufacturing, and their work has changed the modern world. We're confident that there are manufacturing engineers now beginning their careers, or in mid-career, who will also achieve very great things. Manufacturing matters. And we insist that manufacturing can be a way of serving humanity of far greater value to humanity than writing bad poetry or smearing paint on a piece of stretched canvas.
All of us who believe that manufacturing is important need to remember people like Joseph Engelberger and our other honorees. All too often, we see the general press promoting the career of some performer, athlete, or politician. But those people are of no real importance to society.They're like the facade on a building—it's what an observer sees, but behind the façade is a structure of concrete and steel, with deep foundations.The people we've acknowledged as Masters of Manufacturing are part of industrial society's structure, not its glittering surface.
Widespread ignorance about persons like Joseph Engelberger reflects a most unfortunate situation in US society, and perhaps in all of the great industrial nations. In the aftermath of a successful effort to solve significant problems or achieve important goals, that success is often assumed to have been inevitable—and therefore it's not particularly valued. In our time, manufacturing has achieved levels of productivity that were previously unattainable, and poverty in the industrialized nations has been overcome. The reaction of the world outside manufacturing is to assume that such progress was only natural. It wasn't. That progress originated in the minds of brilliant, driven personalities like our Masters of Manufacturing.
This article was first published in the July 2006 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.